Silence, Rumors, Success: The History of the Nintendo Switch

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When the Nintendo Switch, codenamed the NX, was first announced, details about the console were… well, non-existent.

Yet that doesn’t mean the console is without a story to tell. From leaks, rumors, supply chain issues, sales figures and more, this article will cover the Nintendo Switch’s origins and beyond.

This is… the History of the Nintendo Switch.

Hope in a Skeptical Future

To truly understand this tale, we need to go back to March of 2015. Here, Nintendo had been at a loss from underperforming sales of the Wii U and 3DS, and investors feared that the newer, much more profitable smart device gaming industry, would surpass and even replace traditional dedicated video game consoles.

After all, smart devices have easily become a mainstay in the everyday person’s life. Other dedicated devices that seemed irreplaceable have been almost completely phased out by smart phones, such as music players, alarm clocks, digital cameras, etc…

Like Apple has coined, there’s an app for just about everything, and chances are high you’re reading this article on a mobile device right now.

Making matters worse, a mobile game, Puzzles & Dragons, had largely propelled GungHo to a higher market cap than Nintendo itself on the Osaka Stock Market just two years beforehand.[1]

So, what is there stopping Nintendo, and video game consoles as a whole, from becoming obsolete?

According to Nintendo, two things. The company called for a business and capital alliance meeting to address these issues head on.

Speaking on behalf of Nintendo, the (late) Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co., had countered fears that console-based games were becoming less successful in recent years. Backing his claim were sales of 3DS games, which had been selling at a record-breaking pace: [2]

“Last year, an unprecedented thing in the history of the Japanese video game market happened: Five titles for Nintendo 3DS sold more than two million copies each in the latter six-month period of 2014. As this record-breaking incident attests, video game software sales have been progressing smoothly on dedicated video game hardware even after smart devices have become widespread in [Japan].”

– Satoru Iwata [3]

Citing the success of Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon Alpha Ruby/Omega Sapphire, Monster Hunter 4G (Monster Hunter Ultimate in the West), Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits/Fleshy Souls, and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters, [3] Iwata brings to mind a key question:

If video games were truly heading to a mobile-only future, why is it that the games mentioned above, games on a dedicated system, have made industry-wide, record-breaking sales within 6 months of their release?

Clearly, consoles and handheld devices weren’t done yet.

Iwata also states that there’s one huge factor separating Nintendo’s dedicated use hardware from a plethora of smart devices: their own software and Intellectual Property.[3]

When we further analyze the situation, Nintendo’s strength lies in … Nintendo IP, such as our software and characters, and we have been creating and nurturing them together with the history of home video game entertainment. [3]

Here, alongside announcing their partnership with DeNA, Nintendo stated they would be releasing mobile games to utilize smart devices aggressively. [3]

But mobile games weren’t the endgame for Nintendo. They were a means to target a larger audience than ever before; In essence, mobile games were a way to further spread recognition of Nintendo’s IP, and to give mobile players a small taste of the experience they would have on handhelds and consoles.[3][4]

Iwata states, Nintendo has decided to deploy its video game business on smart devices but it is not because we have lost passion or vision for the business of dedicated video game systems. On the contrary, now that we have decided how we will make use of smart devices, we have come to hold an even stronger passion and vision for the dedicated video game system business than ever before. [5]

In fact, to further prove that Nintendo wasn’t abandoning its stance and philosophy on video game hardware, Iwata publicly made an unexpected announcement:

“While this is not something directly relating to the collaboration that we have announced today, here is one thing I would like to mention to avoid any misunderstandings. …. As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business, let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept under the development codename ‘NX.’ It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project, but we hope to share more information with you next year.”

– Satoru Iwata [5]

And then, on March 17, 2015, the world began to learn of the Nintendo Switch. Or, as it would be known for the next year and a half, the NX.

The Silent Mystery of the NX

Nearly two months later, at the close of Nintendo’s March 2015 fiscal year, The company had held a Q&A session, during which questions about the NX were naturally raised. But Iwata held his stance on the reveal; No news about the project until 2016.

When asked for any hints about the machine, a release date, and whether or not the NX would replace the 3DS and/or Wii U, Iwata responsed: (as translated through Google Translate,) As of today, I can’t talk about when it’s going to be released, what it’s like, but I’ve said that it’s a new concept. The idea of ​​’simply replace’ is not used. [6]

When asked if home consoles and handheld consoles would be disappearing, Iwata acknowledged the changing climates regarding how people play designated game machines globally, but also echoed the vision he had for the NX in the last question: [7]

“I want to produce a game machine with a new concept.”
– Satoru Iwata [7]

Other questions were asked about the NX, such as the NX having an E3 presentation, as well the possibility of the NX being region-locked, but Iwata claims the former would be an empty presentation, while the latter would be considered.[7]

Other than that? Silence. Nothing else was answered about the NX, and to many a fan, that silence was deafening.

E3 came and went, without so much as a nod to the NX. The Nintendo Directs were just as quiet about the system too. All anyone knew about it, was that it wasn’t replacing the Wii U, nor was it replacing the 3DS, but that it would be its own new concept, with details to come in 2016.

Leaks Break the Silence

After nearly a year of silence, it wasn’t until October 2015 that concrete information about the NX began to come to light. But this information came not from Nintendo, but from The Wall Street Journal instead.

Reportedly, not only had Nintendo begun giving developers software development kits for the NX, but, according to anonymous sources, the console would use industry-leading chips, and would feature both a console and at least one mobile unit that could either be used in conjunction with the console or taken on the road for separate use. [8]

Slowly, the world began to get an idea about what the NX would be. From what the report described, people had thought that the console truly was a replacement for the Wii U, or at the least, could communicate with another seperate device to use with the console, like the Wii U’s portable Gamepad Controller.

Yet, nobody had gleaned what the form factor would be like, what games would be on the system, or even when the release date would be for the system. Fortunately, the last point was answered officially by Nintendo in 2016.

During a financial results briefing for the 2016 fiscal year, Nintendo had finally given the NX a global release date, with this to say:

“We plan to release our new concept game system, currently being developed under the codename “NX,” in March 2017.
We will take another opportunity prior to the release to discuss the features and price of the NX, as well as the software lineup for launch.”

– Tatsumi Kimishima, (former) President of Nintendo Co. [9]

But, disappointingly, the console still would not be getting an E3 presentation. That honor would instead go to The Legend of Zelda‘s most ambitious release, Breath of the Wild.[10]

Officially, the console would be a new concept, with a worldwide release in March of 2017.

Unofficially, it has a portable hybrid functionality, and would be powered by what would be industry leading chips, according to anonymous sources.

Collectively, many people were still just baffled by what the console really is.

A major leak, reported by Eurogamer, would just so happen to provide clarity on the system, but not without making fans skeptical either.

According to the leak, multiple sources had confirmed the console now would be an entirely portable mobile device, with two detachable controllers on the sides, and could also connect to a TV for a traditional console experience.[11]

Sound familiar?

Sources also confirmed that the system would be using cartridges for physical games, and that those oft quoted industry leading chips, would be of Nvidia‘s Tegra processor line of chips.[12]

Though no one had known it definitively, the leak was entirely spot on, but fans were skeptical that the latest console would be using mobile device chips. The leak would be taken with a grain of salt until Nintendo delivered their long promised follow-up on the NX.

The Dawn of the Nintendo Switch

Months had passed since the Eurogamer leak.

Nobody had heard any other news about Nintendo’s enigmatic NX, and true to their word, Nintendo’s E3 Presentation was entirely on Breath of the Wild, which had been announced as both a Wii U and a NX launch title.

Hoping to hear for more news in a Nintendo Direct, fans waited, and still didn’t catch any fleeting remarks on the console.

The year became late, and to many people, no news was bad news. Some were thinking the NX would be further delayed, past the 2017 year deadline. Others felt the system had never made it beyond a general idea, without a working prototype.

The climate regarding the NX had become so tense, that even Papa John’s was bombasted with tweets about the NX.[13]

Nintendo’s NX had started to look more and more like a no-show system, until the company released one video on October 20, 2016.[14]

And suddenly, the NX, now known as the Nintendo Switch, became the must-have system for any gamer-on-the-go.

It wasn’t a mobile, mobile game console as many had feared. It was a device that played full-fidelity console games on both the TV, and portably just about anywhere.[15]

Going outside? Bring your Switch with you, and play exactly where you left off! On an airplane? No problem, you can play it there too, and it even has a kickstand to boot! (And yes, that was Skyrim on the Switch.) [15]

What about playing with a different controller other than the two detachable ones? Done. Use the pro controller! (Sold separately). Did you want to play with someone else, but only brought the detachable controllers (Joy-Con)? That’s fine too, as they double as individual controllers as well.[15]

Everything about the video just clicked. From the song choice, to the different scenarios of life, and even the iconic snap sound.

Unlike other consoles, this wasn’t a console that you would have to adapt your life around, it’s a console that adapts to your life. As the trailer’s song implies, all you’d have to do is be yourself, and you’ll be in for a good time.

The Switch had started to look all the more promising with the official reveal, and the trailer had even teased some new Nintendo titles as well, like Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2.[15]

But would all of that make up for the years of silence beforehand? In an age of high-powered 4K capable consoles, would the Switch really be able to stand on its own?

Those questions would be answered with a resounding YES! Nearly two years after the NX was revealed, The Nintendo Switch had released globally worldwide, and what happened next was simply astonishing.

Surpassing Demand, Supply, and Expectations

At launch, Nintendo had expected the Switch to sell at least 2 million units in the month of March alone. According to a fiscal report a month later, the console had sold 2.74 million units worldwide by the end of March.[16]

For comparison, when the PS4 launched in November of 2013, Sony’s Playstation Blog reported 2.1 million units sold halfway through its first month,[17] and Xbox Wire reported over 3 million units sold after 5-6 weeks.[18]

The numbers didn’t lie. The Switch had been performing much better than Nintendo originally projected. In fact, the demand for the Switch largely surpassed the supply, and units were selling much faster than they could stay on the shelves!

This was especially true in North America and Japan, where finding Switch consoles felt like winning the lottery. So much so, that some consumers had accused Nintendo of creating an artificial scarcity around the console, producing artificial demand to further boost sales.

In response, Nintendo made a formal post on their website apologizing for the shortages,[19] while Charlie Scibetta, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Nintendo, had sat down to an interview with Ars Technica to explain.[20]

It’s definitely not intentional in terms of shorting the market,” [21] Scibetta began.

We’re making it as fast as we can. We want to get as many units out as we can to support all the software that’s coming out right now… [21]

Alluding to Splatoon 2, an ever-growing list of eShop titles, and the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey, Scibetta’s words make sense. It would be far from advantageous for Nintendo to undercut their own console’s success, especially since the Wii U failed to sell as well as originally hoped.

Practically speaking, it wouldn’t do any good to make new software for a deliberately smaller audience. The more consoles there are, the more people are able to buy and enjoy software, which ultimately results in higher profits, not lesser profits.

Regardless, the fact remained; The Switch had become a sweeping success, selling just as quickly as it hit the shelves.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a situation right now where as quick as it’s going into retail outlets it’s being snapped up.”

– Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications. [21]

But why was the Switch having issues with with supply anyways? As The Wall Street Journal believes, Nintendo had to fight with Apple for the needed parts.[22]

As ridiculous as it may sound, there is truth to the statement. The Switch isn’t a mere console, it’s essentially a gaming tablet, so it has to compete with other mobile device makers for the needed parts.

Specifically, the shorted components were: NAND flash-memory chips, liquid-crystal displays, and tiny motors that … imitate the feel of an ice cube shaking in a glass, the WSJ reports.[23]

So, since the Switch was built like a mobile device, it now faced mobile device supply problems. These problems didn’t start when the Switch launched, however.

In fact, research director Sean Yang of DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, had reported on supply issues for NAND memory back in October of 2016, Predating the release of the Switch.[24]

According to the report, although Apple’s then newly released iPhone 7 had contributed to the NAND consumption, Chinese smartphone brands, like Huawei and Vivo, (amongst others), were also buying from NAND suppliers.[25] Yang summarizes the shortage eloquently:

“On the whole, increases in both smartphone shipments and the memory content per box for devices have led to further tightening of NAND Flash supply.”

– Sean Yang, research director at DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce. [25]

Despite what people had thought, behind the scenes, Nintendo wasn’t creating artificial scarcity for the Switch.

The Switch was released in the middle of an already strained market for its needed components. Of the units produced, many of them were being sold just as quickly as they had arrived.

So, despite fears from investors, setbacks from the Wii U and 3DS, and supply chain issues, the Switch was poised to be Nintendo’s latest triumph. But how exactly does the Switch fare in more recent years?

Quite well, actually.

The Switch Today

As of today, October 2019, the Switch continues to thrive and grow. No longer plagued by the supply issues it endured two years ago, Switch consoles have become far more accessible globally.

By the numbers, Nintendo’s dedicated video game sales report denotes 36.87 million Switch consoles sold, and 210.13 million software titles sold.[26]

Considering the console released nearly three years ago, the Switch has been selling fast.

So fast, that in the U.S., it had become the fastest-selling console of this generation.[27][28]

Backed by data posted from the NPD Group, a U.S. market research company, Nintendo proudly divulged the facts that led to the console’s new title:

“From its launch in March 2017 through November 2018, Nintendo Switch has sold more than 8.7 million units, outpacing U.S. sales of all other current-generation systems at the same point in their life cycles.”

– Nintendo, regarding data from the NPD Group.[29]

High sales numbers aren’t the only good news for the Switch, either.

Like the Nintendo DS/3DS, the Switch has finally grown into its own family lineup of consoles, consisting of the traditional Nintendo Switch, and the newer Switch Lite, as of now.[30]

The Nintendo Switch Lite, designated solely for portable play, is a less expensive alternative to the original Switch. Switch Lite consoles have controllers built-in, and come in a variety of colors. Unlike the original Switch, Switch Lite consoles do not output video to a TV, However, They do still use wireless controllers.[31]

Those who find the Switch a little too pricy, want a more personal system, or strictly a handheld-only experience may find that the Switch Lite is better-suited for them.

Certainly, with a robust library of games, a hardware refresh in the Switch Lite, and a faster growing pace than its’ competitors, the Switch is doing just fine for Nintendo, but all isn’t perfect in the world of the Nintendo Switch.

Specifically, the systems’ controllers have been known to produce phantom movements after enough wear-and-tear, a condition referred to as Joy-Con Drift.

Joy-Con Drift isn’t an entirely common occurance, but it is frustrating for those affected by it.

Fortunately, according to a leaked internal memo, as reported by Vice, Nintendo has begun fixing affected controllers for free. Customers who have previously paid for Joy-Con repairs are also to be given refunds for the repairs as well.[32]

“At Nintendo, we take great pride in creating quality products and we are continuously making improvements to them. We are aware of recent reports that some Joy-Con controllers are not responding correctly. We want our consumers to have fun with Nintendo Switch, and if anything falls short of this goal we always encourage them to visit http://support.nintendo.com so we can help.”

– Nintendo, regarding claims of Joy-Con Drift. [33]

Despite the incidents of Joy-Con Drift, the Nintendo Switch has remained a strong contender in the current-gen console lineup.

Built around the premise of playing anywhere, with anyone, the Nintendo Switch offers players an unique experience that current consoles cannot provide.

And the Switch isn’t without a strong lineup of games.

Third-party titles include Diablo 3: Eternal Collection, Skyrim, Overwatch, and Final Fantasy VII, IX, X/X-2 HD Remaster, and XII, just to name a few.

First-party titles, such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokémon Sword and Shield, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and Super Mario Odyssey have brought hype for the console.

Third-party exclusives also exist for the Switch, like Astral Chain, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, The World Ends With You: Final Remix, and Octopath Traveler (which now has a PC port.)

Regardless of where Nintendo’s latest console family goes from here, it’s clear that the Switch has made its mark on the world. The console is still relatively new, so Switch owners have only seen the beginning of what is to come.

And given Nintendo’s history of innovation, whatever comes next is sure to delight.

Sources

Sources marked with an asterisk (*) are in Japanese only. Translations will be required.

1. Dr. Serkan Toto, “PUZZLE & DRAGONS MAKER GUNGHO REACHES US$15 BILLION MARKET CAP – MORE THAN NINTENDO,” http://www.serkantoto.com/2013/05/13/puzzle-dragons-gungho-reaches-us15-billion-market-cap/, (May 13, 2013).

2. “Business and Capital Alliance Announcement,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/corporate/release/en/2015/150317/index.html, (March 17, 2015), 1.

3. ibid.

4. “Business and Capital Alliance Announcement,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/corporate/release/en/2015/150317/03.html, (March 17, 2015), 3.

5. ibid.

*6. “Question-and-answer session,” Nintendo,
https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/events/150508qa/02.html, (May 8, 2015), 2.

*7. ibid.

8. Takashi Mochizuki, “Nintendo Begins Distributing Software Kit for New NX Platform,” Wall Street Journal,
https://www.wsj.com/articles/nintendo-begins-distributing-software-kit-for-new-nx-platform-1444996588, (October 16, 2015).

9. “Financial Results Briefing
for Fiscal Year Ended March 2016,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/events/160428/04.html, (Apr. 28, 2016), 4.

10. ibid.

11. Tom Phillips, “Nintendo NX is a portable console with detachable controllers,” Eurogamer, https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-07-26-nx-is-a-portable-console-with-detachable-controllers, (July 30, 2016).

12. ibid.

13. Papa Johns. Twitter Post. October 4, 2016, 12:27 PM. https://twitter.com/PapaJohns/status/783342816671981569

14. “First Look at Nintendo Switch,” YouTube video, 3:37, “Nintendo,” Oct 20, 2016,
https://youtu.be/f5uik5fgIaI.

15. ibed.

16. “Financial Results Briefing for Fiscal Year Ending March 2017,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2017/170428_2e.pdf, (April 28, 2017).

17. Andrew House, “PS4 global sales update,” Playstation Blog, https://blog.eu.playstation.com/2013/12/03/ps4-global-sales-update/, (December 3, 2013).

18. “Thank You for an Epic 2013”, Xbox Wire,
https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2014/01/06/xbox-one-january-thank-you/, (January 6, 2014).

*19. “Apology and announcement of the shortage of ‘Nintendo Switch’,” Nintendo Co., https://www.nintendo.co.jp/support/information/2017/0622.html, (June 22, 2017).

20. Kyle Orland, “Nintendo: Switch shortages are ‘definitely not intentional’,” Ars Technica, https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/06/nintendo-switch-shortages-are-definitely-not-intentional, (June 22, 2017).

21. ibid.

22. Takashi Mochizuki, “Nintendo Battles Apple for Parts as Switch Demand Rises”, Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nintendo-battles-apple-for-parts-as-switch-demand-rises-1496136603, (May 30, 2017).

23. ibid.

24. Sean Yang, “NAND Flash Prices on Upswing in Fourth Quarter as Supply Shortage Becomes More Severe, Says TrendForce,” Trendforce, https://press.trendforce.com/node/view/2644.html#esukQxPDm3zYp1AR.99, (October 11, 2016).

25. ibid.

26. “Dedicated Video Game Sales Units,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/finance/hard_soft/index.html, (July 30, 2019).

27. Piscatella, Mat. Twitter Post. January 22, 2019, 6:19 PM. https://twitter.com/MatPiscatella/status/1087852382724141056

28. “Nintendo Switch is the fastest-selling video game system of this generation,” Nintendo, https://www.nintendo.com/whatsnew/detail/nintendo-switch-is-the-fastest-selling-video-game-system-of-this-generation/, (December 17, 2018).

29. ibid.

30. “First Look at Nintendo Switch Lite: New Addition to the Nintendo Switch Family,” YouTube video, 6:29, “Nintendo,” July 10, 2019, https://youtu.be/59yuBFRSZdg.

31. ibid.

32. Patrick Klepek, “Internal Nintendo Memo Instructs Customer Service to Fix ‘Joy-Con Drift’ for Free,” Vice, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xzzva/internal-nintendo-memo-instructs-customer-service-to-fix-joy-con-drift-for-free, (July 23, 2019).

33. ibid.

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