Is Nintendo's Switch debut at the Super Bowl, a warning or parting shot at the mobile market?

Nintendo Switch at the Super Bowl

Nintendo’s Super Bowl debut this weekend will see it attempt to cement a positioning for its Switch console that industry experts believe will need to tap into the Candy Crush Saga and Mobile Strike players, rather than tackle the high-end consoles head-on.

Just shy of a month before the console's 3 March US launch, Nintendo will touch down at its first ever Super Bowl (although it no doubt tested the waters with the Pokemon Company's 20th anniversary slot in 2016).

With an investment of at least $5m for the ad (watch below), the company will leverage the time showcasing the inarguably unique features of the hybrid console to a broad house of gamers, it will, however be the casual mobile gamer it hopes to captivate, reliving the universal success of the Wii.

The Switch hopes to bridge the gap between home and portable consoles, said, Serkan Toto, chief executive of game industry consultancy Kantan Games, adding that from a hardware perspective, Nintendo has nailed the concept. "Users can take the console out of the dock and immediately start playing on the go - exactly at the point where they left off, seamlessly. This is a feature no other company offers right now."

"It is poised to replace the 3DS, the only handheld with a scaled user base today. In that sense, the new machine essentially removes the gap between portable and home gaming, as all Switch content will be covering both use cases. The challenge will be how software makers will come up with games that can be experienced on a big screen but also consumed while on the go. Session lengths are different (shorter on portable, generally speaking), the touchscreen can't be used as a user interface while the console is in the dock, etc."

The Switch enters an already ultra-competitive market, facing off the likes of high-end consoles such as the Xbox One and Playstation 4, as well as the saturated mobile space where 350 games a week are published.

Looking at gaming’s growth areas, top mobile titles are making more money than small economies. In July 2016, on Apple's App Store alone, free-to-play games like Pokemon Go, Mobile Strike and Game of War – Fire Age raised an average of $1.6m, $1.2m and $865K respectively – per day. That’s not taking into account any profits generated on the Android system.

From the Switch's perspective, the price of its new hardware is now in direct competition with the price of smartphones, which can host a universe of free games that can be played in a move, all hosted in a one-size-fits-all device.

In terms of mobile, the Switch offers little, just parental control and an online play app that are scheduled to be released later this year. Furthermore, it is disconnected from the iPhone and Android ecosystems and Nintendo has yet to showcase anything close to the functionality of these operating systems.

"Mobile game or app makers aren't too worried. Sure, the Switch will take attention and money away from the app space to some extent but the effect is very limited,” said Toto.

Jack Kent, director of operators and mobile media at IHS Technology expanded on this point: "The mass scale of the mobile gaming market, thanks to the billions of smartphones in use, means that the Switch launch is unlikely to impact trend in the overall market.

"In terms of the overall market, the Switch will likely be complementary to existing smartphone and tablet gaming. Nintendo is itself making a much bigger push on to smartphones with the launch of Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem on mobile thanks to its partnership with mobile specialist with DeNA. If the Switch proves successful, mobile developers may look to bring their titles on to the console but it isn’t likely to disrupt their existing business."

Even if the Switch sells 100 million units (like the Wii did), and much more than the Wii U's 13.5m, the mobile game market today is home to the biggest number of gamers that has ever existed. That's why Nintendo has no choice but to serve both markets.

"Certainly there’s a concern that it sits uncomfortably between mobile and console alternatives. And of all the platform holders, Nintendo has arguably been hit the hardest with the popularization of mobile gaming. But where Microsoft and Sony compete on spectacular visuals and hardware, Nintendo continues to emphasize ‘fun’ as a key differentiator," said SuperData Research chief executive Joost van Dreunen.

"By positioning the Switch as a hybrid device, it offers Nintendo a unique market position, allowing it to cater to audiences that love the firm’s well-known IP. With companies like EA and Zenimax making some of their most popular titles available, the Switch is set up to provide an inventory of both first and third party titles that can all be played on the road. That is a strong difference compared to Sony and Microsoft."

But It is ecommerce, not hardware that will spell Nintendo’s future however, argued Brian Baglow, Grand Theft Auto writer and former Rockstar international PR manager.

“The reason the iPhone succeeded was its rich app ecosystem, the App Store was integrated and once your credit card details were entered, it was remarkably easy to access content.

“Nintendo’s online experience, access to content both old and new games, has always been secondary, and it is lagging behind Xbox Live and the PlayStation network especially. Subscribers to these networks get free incentives such as games and discounts, something Nintendo appears to have really scaled back on.”

One saving grace is that the company is likely to charge a fraction of what its rivals do for online access, as little as £14 a year, claims Wired.

Baglow continued, "the games sector has always had a problem with its back catalog sales channel, bringing about the phenomena of abandonware, old games that are no longer available. Generations of Nintendo games remain unaccessible through legal means. It remains an untapped revenue stream".

"The Wii did something revolutionary, it released games like Wii Fit that was not aimed at gamers. Some of the biggest titles on the platforms were not games, they experienced massive sales. You can open up new markets this way, Nintendo needs to tap into the Candy Crush Saga and Mobile Strike players."

Those are the people that are ripe for buying a dedicated on the move console but forcing this fickle audience to change their habits will be ultimately difficult, he concluded.

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