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Opinion Trailer GameSpot: How Nintendo’s Greatest Failure Led To The Switch

IbizaPocholo

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The Wii U is Nintendo’s greatest console failure, but, in hindsight, was a fortuitous misstep that led to one of its greatest achievements: the Switch.

Join Kurt Indovina for this episode of Remember When as he looks back on how Nintendo went from making one of the most accessible and successful video game consoles ever made, the Wii, to completely squandering its success with the Wii U.

From the confusing announcement, to Nintendo’s pivot to the Switch, Kurt seeks insight from CNET editor Jeff Bakalar, and GameSpot’s very own Miranda Church, Michael Higham, and Tamoor Hussain, to help make sense of the motivations that led to the Wii U and how it all went wrong.
 
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Hudo

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Biggest failure is still the Virtual Boy, IMHO. It prompted Gunpei Yokoi to leave Nintendo and also was the first major device from Nintendo to actually fail in the market.

Also: Nintendoland is the most underrated Nintendo game of all time, IMHO. They managed to pop out a game that out-partied Mario Party by a severe margin.
 
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UnNamed

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Biggest failure is still the Virtual Boy, IMHO. It prompted Gunpei Yokoi to leave Nintendo and also was the first major device from Nintendo to actually fail in the market.
In terms of sales, yes.
In terms of project no. Virtual Boy was a product of it's time, the best VR tech at the lower price possibile with the '90 technology. Also VB wasn't meant to be released, according to what Miyamoto said in one of the Iwata Ask.

WiiU was a failure in terms of specs, brand, support, price. The Nintendo Arrogance at it's finest.
 
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Hudo

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In terms of sales, yes.
In terms of project no. Virtual Boy was a product of it's time, the best VR tech at the lower price possibile with the '90 technology. Also VB wasn't meant to be released, according to what Miyamoto said in one of the Iwata Ask.

WiiU was a failure in terms of specs, brand, support, price. The Nintendo Arrogance at it's finest.
I see where you're coming from but on the "project"-metric, I would still disagree.
How didn't the VB project fail if it wasn't even meant to be released but was released anyway? That sounds more like a failure of "project" (whatever that means) than the WiiU, which had very bad marketing, yes, but was meant to be released at least.
 

UnNamed

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I see where you're coming from but on the "project"-metric, I would still disagree.
How didn't the VB project fail if it wasn't even meant to be released but was released anyway? That sounds more like a failure of "project" (whatever that means) than the WiiU, which had very bad marketing, yes, but was meant to be released at least.
For some aspects, ok few aspects, Virtual Boy wasn't a failure. It has a good tech and there was a good idea behind it, it had a good CPU capable of some 3D graphics. It was released because Nintendo was desperately trying to replace the original Gameboy with it's poor sales at the end of it's life cycle. After the VB failure, Nintendo revamped GB sales with the new GB Colour. Mistake were made promoting it as a portable console (because the GB replacement), but the project made it in that way with that tech had some sense. It's the same with Playstation Vita: it has lost against smartphones and tablets, but this doesn't mean it wasn't the best portable on the market with a huge potential.

WiiU was a failure in every single aspect:

-specification: a tri core CPU based on Wii was a huge mistake. Wii CPU was very weak, so WiiU CPU was the same. Also, despite the huge software lineup, there were many developer who had never developed on Wii, so it didn't make any difference having this compatibility. I remember lot of discussions debating why Nintendo didn't choose AMD: PS4/XONE APU probably wasn't available at the time, but they could reach better specs than WiiU CPU with a multi core Athlon at the same price. A console powerful as Switch since 2012.

-branding: Wii U? Even long date gamers struggled to see difference with Wii: same form factor, same color, same name, compatibility with the same games. Most of the Wii owners didn't see any difference. It was perceived as a Wii add-on.

-support: with PS4/XONE near to their release, many developers shifted to the next gen. While we can see Switch as a current gen console with weak performance, since it's architecture is relatively up to date, WiiU was already old at it's realese. Developers didn't want to specifically support a very different hardware just because "Nintendo". With that weak CPU, then... Even indie support was very poor for the first two years, things changed a lot with Switch for this very reason.

-Price: 349 dollars. They said it was Gamepad fault. Naah, Gamepad had a very simple hardware as homebrewer suggested. It was pricey because Nintendo. And the 32GB, the most selling SKU cost like a PS4.

-perception: the biggest mistake Nintendo did with WiiU. They thought they sold 100million consoles to gamers, but in fact probably 85million consoles were sold to casual who only wanted "the next big thing", the new trend. Few years later, people were already used to smartphone and tablet, Wii appeal was no more. They try to sell WiiU to this people but they were already disinterested. Only gamer were left, but they choose PS4/XONE instead. The few who bought WiiU were Nintendo fan only. Here's why the poor sales.
 

Naibel

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Biggest failure is still the Virtual Boy, IMHO. It prompted Gunpei Yokoi to leave Nintendo and also was the first major device from Nintendo to actually fail in the market.

Actually, that isn't true. Yokoi wanted to leave Nintendo as soon as 1991, when he turned 50. Virtual Boy was supposed to be his last project at the company. Its failure prompted Yokoi to delay his departure by a year in order to work on the Game Boy Pocket, so that he doesn't leave Nintendo on a sour note.

On topic, the Wii U could have been at least a semi-successful machine like the N64, had the branding and marketing strategy been up to snuff. The "Wii U" name was such a terrible mistake on Nintendo's part, I knew it as soon as the machine was announced. The machine was also pretty underpowered but then again, Nintendo was struggling with HD development so going straight to PS4/XBO power level would have been a disaster.

As is, it's a pretty nice machine with a very underrated library of games (Mario 3D World and Xenoblade X are still exclusives and they're awesome) and lots of homebrew applications. It will be sought after in a few years, if it isn't the case already. I will keep mine safe, that's for sure :)
 
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Kerotan

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Biggest fall from grace ever but Nintendo managed to minimise profit losses and turned it around dramatically. The switch won't beat the DS but it most certainly will in terms of profits.

Sony fared similar although by brute force they made the ps3 a sales success with about 90M. Disaster for profits though and like the switch dramatically turned it around with the ps4.

Great to see true gaming giants like them thrive side by side.
 

Porcile

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It led to the Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade X, Fatal Frame 5 and Mirage Sessions so I got some enjoyment out of it, but yeah, worst Nintendo console that I've owned. It's not even close to the Wii or Gamecube or N64. I'm glad they used it is a way to get hardcore Japanese games back on Nintendo systems though.
 

Honey Bunny

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Its core concept was bad. Looking away from your screen to see the minimap or item screen is not revolutionary and in most cases isn't even an improvement. And that's what 95 percent of games used it for.
 

deriks

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"Wii U is Nintendo's greatest failure", because the Virtual Boy never existed or even the deal with Sony that also can't be mentioned
 

Punished Miku

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I loved mine. Almost every first party game was a 10/10. The games were so good they're still carrying the Switch. Lots of amazing games too that never got ported, and virtual console as well, and played all wii and gamecube games.

Mine worked anywhere in my apartment so to me it basically functioned like a switch. Could play it off TV in any room.

Miiverse was also the best system UI ever made.
 

Hudo

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For some aspects, ok few aspects, Virtual Boy wasn't a failure. It has a good tech and there was a good idea behind it, it had a good CPU capable of some 3D graphics. It was released because Nintendo was desperately trying to replace the original Gameboy with it's poor sales at the end of it's life cycle. After the VB failure, Nintendo revamped GB sales with the new GB Colour. Mistake were made promoting it as a portable console (because the GB replacement), but the project made it in that way with that tech had some sense. It's the same with Playstation Vita: it has lost against smartphones and tablets, but this doesn't mean it wasn't the best portable on the market with a huge potential.

WiiU was a failure in every single aspect:

-specification: a tri core CPU based on Wii was a huge mistake. Wii CPU was very weak, so WiiU CPU was the same. Also, despite the huge software lineup, there were many developer who had never developed on Wii, so it didn't make any difference having this compatibility. I remember lot of discussions debating why Nintendo didn't choose AMD: PS4/XONE APU probably wasn't available at the time, but they could reach better specs than WiiU CPU with a multi core Athlon at the same price. A console powerful as Switch since 2012.

-branding: Wii U? Even long date gamers struggled to see difference with Wii: same form factor, same color, same name, compatibility with the same games. Most of the Wii owners didn't see any difference. It was perceived as a Wii add-on.

-support: with PS4/XONE near to their release, many developers shifted to the next gen. While we can see Switch as a current gen console with weak performance, since it's architecture is relatively up to date, WiiU was already old at it's realese. Developers didn't want to specifically support a very different hardware just because "Nintendo". With that weak CPU, then... Even indie support was very poor for the first two years, things changed a lot with Switch for this very reason.

-Price: 349 dollars. They said it was Gamepad fault. Naah, Gamepad had a very simple hardware as homebrewer suggested. It was pricey because Nintendo. And the 32GB, the most selling SKU cost like a PS4.

-perception: the biggest mistake Nintendo did with WiiU. They thought they sold 100million consoles to gamers, but in fact probably 85million consoles were sold to casual who only wanted "the next big thing", the new trend. Few years later, people were already used to smartphone and tablet, Wii appeal was no more. They try to sell WiiU to this people but they were already disinterested. Only gamer were left, but they choose PS4/XONE instead. The few who bought WiiU were Nintendo fan only. Here's why the poor sales.
Fair points. It seems we have a different point of view with regards to when a project is a failure. I think from your perspective, your argument that the Wii U is the biggest failure "of project" that Nintendo had makes sense. I was looking more at the fact that the VB got released even though engineering and management probably knew that this was, at best, premature and ill advised, is already what constitutes a failed project for me.
I think with WiiU, they did it how they thought it would be best way to go forward but failed. From the outset, it does seem like a good idea to use a tri-core CPU based on the PowerPC architecture because development pipelines could be more easily adapted and backwards compatibility could be more easily ensured and also they could harvest the knowledge they already had (That's usually far more important than any new and spectacular tech, unless it's as easy to learn as the tech before). In hindsight, it was a mistake, yes. But it was a solid (albeit conservative) decision in the planning stages, IMHO. For me, that is a big difference. I also try to look at what a company learns from failed projects and I think the Switch is just the WiiU project but reexamined, I don't see what Nintendo have learned from the VirutalBoy other than "let's not do that again.". Althought I believe some of the knowledge gained there they might have applied to the 3DS.

That the Wii U didn't catch on and the third-party support wasn't there is another factor that is a business failure. But that doesn't mean that the WiiU, as a project, was a failure. There are quite a few instances where manufacturers happend to produce solid products that didn't catch on or only had a limited reach. As there are also instances where shit got released and people bought it like crazy.
So it depends a bit from what point of view you judge a project, I think.

From a strict business point of view, both projects were failures, obivously. From a consumer point of view, which I get is your point of view as well, both are also failures but the VB even more so, IMHO because the WiiU got at least some excellent games.

By the way, all consoles that are released are built on old hardware because that makes the most sense (same for XSX and PS5). You want to have tested stuff out that people know how to program for and where people know how the development pipelines should look like, unless the gain of new technology vastly offsets the time needed to develop whole new tools and development pipelines (like the jump from 2D to 3D). Sony tried to ignore that with the PS3 and it turned out to be a bad decision after all (Parallel programming wasn't that ubiquitous back then for most devs, that of course has changed nowadays where you've got massivly parallel programming concepts executed in CUDA/OpenCL or OpenMP, if you're on a CPU).

Actually, that isn't true. Yokoi wanted to leave Nintendo as soon as 1991, when he turned 50. Virtual Boy was supposed to be his last project at the company. Its failure prompted Yokoi to delay his departure by a year in order to work on the Game Boy Pocket, so that he doesn't leave Nintendo on a sour note.

On topic, the Wii U could have been at least a semi-successful machine like the N64, had the branding and marketing strategy been up to snuff. The "Wii U" name was such a terrible mistake on Nintendo's part, I knew it as soon as the machine was announced. The machine was also pretty underpowered but then again, Nintendo was struggling with HD development so going straight to PS4/XBO power level would have been a disaster.

As is, it's a pretty nice machine with a very underrated library of games (Mario 3D World and Xenoblade X are still exclusives and they're awesome) and lots of homebrew applications. It will be sought after in a few years, if it isn't the case already. I will keep mine safe, that's for sure :)
Ah, thank you for correcting this!
 
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Zog

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WiiU was a failure in terms of specs, brand, support, price.


A failure in specs? Isn't that every Nintendo console since the Wii and every Nintendo handheld?

A failure in brand, what does that even mean?

A failure in support? It has more great games (if you include the VC) than the Switch (and that is including the pathetic selection on NSO). Some of the best games on Switch are Wii U ports.

A failure in price? Like the price of a Switch compared to a PS4?
 
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Birdo

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I remember one Christmas they dropped the Wii-U price by £50 in the UK and they became so popular that stores were having trouble keeping up with demand.

I still think it's high price was what killed it, more than anything else. Aside from that sale, they remained at launch price until the day they were discontinued.
 

LordOfChaos

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It still strikes me that they never really tried to save the Wii U with major moves. 350US vs 400 for a much more powerful PS4, first off, launching a console that barely cleared the 7th gen mark right before the 8th gen launched was one thing, but it was never going to recapture the Wii's lightning in a bottle at that price. They dropped it to 300, but dropping the gamepad and selling for 199 would have made it effectively the Wii HD that it would have been better conceived as. When Microsoft came in overpriced they responded by dropping the Kinect fast, it didn't win them the generation but they would have done way worse without doing that. Nintendo just never even tried that and said it was tied to the system software, but the ties were always superficial, using a wiimote you may have to go back to the gamepad for some odd thing that could have easily been ported to support other controllers.

Never mind that the "one game that can save a platform" was delayed over and over again predictably until the Switch's launch, and the final build date on the Wii U version was many months old, so they weren't polishing it till launch on the Wii U side. And they removed the gamepad features from it, so again, why not have dropped the gamepad and dropped the price earlier to save it if THE flagship game dropped its functionality to make sure nothing about it was better than the Switch.

I'm actually enjoying my Wii U now, it's blown pretty wide open so it's a great emulation station, surprisingly I played more Wii U than PS4 during quarantine. But if I had bought it for full price at launch and received a meager 4 year life I would have been annoyed. I had a thought before on doing a writeup post on what could have saved it, or what it would have been better launched as (the Wii HD).
 
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The Wii U was two years too late. I think if they managed to launch it in November of 2010, it could have been very successful.

I don't think they expected tablets to evolve so quickly. The "tablet experience" it provided at launch was ancient compared to what was available from the competition. It also didn't help that everyone was focused on PS4/Xbox One rumors and new by the time the Wii U came out.
 
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DESTROYA

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Anyone defending the Wii U is an idiot but yeah it’s an important part of the Switch’s past
Weather anyone wants to admit it or not it was a pretty cool unique system for that time and had some really good games like Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pikmin, Wonderful 101 and BOTW as some examples.
Only idiots are the ones that make blanket statements about the Wii U that probably never owned one, sure the sales numbers weren’t great but that doesn’t reflect the quality first party games it had.
 

Punished Miku

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The Wii U was two years too late. I think if they managed to launch it in November of 2010, it could have been very successful.

I don't think they expected tablets to evolve so quickly. The "tablet experience" it provided at launch was ancient compared to what was available from the competition. It also didn't help that everyone was focused on PS4/Xbox One rumors and new by the time the Wii U came out.
The tablet still blows away the touch pad on the PS4. It was pretty advanced for a controller. People unfairly compared it to $900 tablets.
 

Paracelsus

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A failure in specs? Isn't that every Nintendo console since the Wii and every Nintendo handheld?

A failure in brand, what does that even mean?

A failure in support? It has more great games (if you include the VC) than the Switch (and that is including the pathetic selection on NSO). Some of the best games on Switch are Wii U ports.

A failure in price? Like the price of a Switch compared to a PS4?

Absolutely nobody wanted a non-portable Switch. Not even you.
 
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Deleted member 17706

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The tablet still blows away the touch pad on the PS4. It was pretty advanced for a controller. People unfairly compared it to $900 tablets.

Absolutely. It compared favorably to the original iPad experience. Not the same thing, obviously.

The ultra low-latency wireless video streaming tech they made for the thing still impresses the hell out of me.
 
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The Miiverse side of things was decent, I spoke to some really cool people on that who I remain in contact with to this day. Reminded me of the old Dreamcast chat rooms that were part of console, again some great people there.

It had some great games like Bayonetta 2 and Mario 3D World but I have to agree with those saying it was a couple of years too late. I remember all the hype before it’s unveiling, think it was called Project Cafe?

As for Switch I love some of the games, my only issue with it is parts of the UI/Online and Feature set, they can do much better there.
 
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Zog

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Absolutely nobody wanted a non-portable Switch. Not even you.

You call the Wii U a non portable Switch? Are you one of those people who worship the Switch, your world revolves around it, you make fan art, you make your TV look like a Switch, etc...?
 

v1oz

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Only someone that doesn't play games would say that. It's like calling the Dreamcast a failure.
 
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Ceadeus

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Such a cool system. You could play almost every Nintendo game on it, in many different way. Miiverse was so fun and had a pretty good internet browser.
 

DunDunDunpachi

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Wii U gets all the blame but the 3DS was also Nintendo's worst-selling handheld, a major decline from the DS, which is their best selling.

Wii / DS and Wii U / 3DS should be studied more closely. How does a company go from it's highest-selling console and highest-selling handheld in the same generation to their lowest-selling console and lowest-selling handheld the next generation? And how does that same company swing back with (what appears to be) a huge success in the Switch?

They consolidated their handheld and console line. I don't think we'll see a non-handheld Nintendo system for awhile (or maybe forever). Portability has always been their bread and butter, the living room TV and online play have been rough battlegrounds for them.
 
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LordOfChaos

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Wii U gets all the blame but the 3DS was also Nintendo's worst-selling handheld, a major decline from the DS, which is their best selling.

Wii / DS and Wii U / 3DS should be studied more closely. How does a company go from it's highest-selling console and highest-selling handheld in the same generation to their lowest-selling console and lowest-selling handheld the next generation? And how does that same company swing back with (what appears to be) a huge success in the Switch?

They consolidated their handheld and console line. I don't think we'll see a non-handheld Nintendo system for awhile (or maybe forever). Portability has always been their bread and butter, the living room TV and online play have been rough battlegrounds for them.

I wish we got more inside stories of what happened at Nintendo in that era. It's over now, so why keep quiet. Clearly they struggled a bit with the HD transition that everyone else had done years earlier, but also their ducks weren't in a row for all of their development houses, it never got all their flagship IPs that could have helped, the hardware choices seemed baffling. I wish we saw more of what happened, but they're essentially gaming Apple for secrecy, heck Apple seems far more open now.
 
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Rat Rage

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Virtual Boy was Nintendo's least selling console, but I doubt it was actually a mainline console. It always seemed to me it was more of a side experiment, so saying Wii U was Nintendo's biggest failure isn't wrong I think, because it was both conceptually as well as marketing wise a complete mainline console disaster. Wii U had some really great games, though, no doubt. But the way Nintendo misread the market was disastrous. It's unbelievable how the Nintendo's execs couldn't tell how stupid and shitty the two screen concept was before they brought it to market. Probably as bad as them believing Labo would catch the world on fire, to name a recent example.
 

ShinNL

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Wii U gets all the blame but the 3DS was also Nintendo's worst-selling handheld, a major decline from the DS, which is their best selling.

Wii / DS and Wii U / 3DS should be studied more closely. How does a company go from it's highest-selling console and highest-selling handheld in the same generation to their lowest-selling console and lowest-selling handheld the next generation? And how does that same company swing back with (what appears to be) a huge success in the Switch?

They consolidated their handheld and console line. I don't think we'll see a non-handheld Nintendo system for awhile (or maybe forever). Portability has always been their bread and butter, the living room TV and online play have been rough battlegrounds for them.
The illusion of simplicity. Even though pretty much every tech hardware nowadays is a complicated hot mess, it's important to not to confuse the consumer with it.

DS was the brain training machine. It has a bunch of buttons and stuff, but it's main purpose was holding like a book and play with a stylus. Many consumers only used it for that.

The Wii had a nunchuck and alternative controllers. But, for most people it was a giant motion controller to play Wii Bowling.

3DS added counterproductive tech: 3D doesn't work in portrait mode.

Wii U added a counterproductive tech: you can't swing a bowling ball with that giant tablet.

Switch, while mostly a success for core gamers, still did something 'backwards'. It added back a simpleton mode: single joy-con mode. While it's hard to imagine and easy to forget while being on this forum of enthusiasts, for the majority of the world Nintendo is still mostly a family friendly console, with lots of people of all ages playing. Mario Kart with a single joy-con is not threatening to play.

Though, Nintendo did cast a gigantic wide net and it went a completely different route than what they were thinking they were pushing. Remember 1-2 Switch? That was their attempt to capture the casual crowd.

What happened is: holy shit, this is the most powerful handheld to date and it plays freaking Skyrim. They underestimated how much gamers just like games. But the marketing, I believe ran by NoA, saw the potential much better and totally nailed the message.

Now buy some third party games, darn 1st party-only gamers :messenger_pouting: I understand families buying family-friendly games because they're safe, but this is supposed to be a group of enthusiasts... :messenger_loudly_crying:
 
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DunDunDunpachi

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The illusion of simplicity. Even though pretty much every tech hardware nowadays is a complicated hot mess, it's important to not to confuse the consumer with it.

DS was the brain training machine. It has a bunch of buttons and stuff, but it's main purpose was holding like a book and play with a stylus. Many consumers only used it for that.

The Wii had a nunchuck and alternative controllers. But, for most people it was a giant motion controller to play Wii Bowling.

3DS added counterproductive tech: 3D doesn't work in portrait mode.

Wii U added a counterproductive tech: you can't swing a bowling ball with that giant tablet.

Switch, while mostly a success for core gamers, still did something 'backwards'. It added back a simpleton mode: single joy-con mode. While it's hard to imagine and easy to forget while being on this forum of enthusiasts, for the majority of the world Nintendo is still mostly a family friendly console, with lots of people of all ages playing. Mario Kart with a single joy-con is not threatening to play.

Though, Nintendo did cast a gigantic wide net and it went a completely different route than what they were thinking they were pushing. Remember 1-2 Switch? That was their attempt to capture the casual crowd.

What happened is: holy shit, this is the most powerful handheld to date and it plays freaking Skyrim. They underestimated how much gamers just like games. But the marketing, I believe ran by NoA, saw the potential much better and totally nailed the message.

Now buy some third party games, darn 1st party-only gamers :messenger_pouting: I understand families buying family-friendly games because they're safe, but this is supposed to be a group of enthusiasts... :messenger_loudly_crying:
Fully agree w your comment about Switch. The fact that it comes 2-player capable out of the box was a clear indicator as to where Nintendo was taking the system. We even got a Wii Boxing sequel (ARMS) so I'm not complaining.

I buy mostly 3rd party games on my Switch. I leave most of the bigger Nintendo games for later to see if they age well. In some cases (Fire Emblem, Daemon x Machina, Astral chain) I am glad that I waited, but others (Luigi's Mansion 3, Splatoon 2) still have my interest.
 
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