Analysis: Nintendo runs its new Switch console business under an old set of rules

The new OLED Switch. (Nintendo Image)

What’s not in the new Nintendo Switch model is as interesting as what is, and that tells you a lot about Nintendo’s business strategy and how people are using the system.

Nintendo announced on Tuesday that a new version of its console, the Switch OLED, will be released on October 8, alongside the Terror of the metroids.

The existence of a new model was disclosed months ago and consumer speculation has been rampant ever since. The Switch is currently the best-selling gaming console in the world, and has been for over two years, but it’s not without its flaws.

It’s a low-powered system by design, for example, with a fraction of the power of the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Many consumers and analysts have openly fantasized about the possibility of a “Switch Pro”. “, an enhanced edition like Microsoft’s Xbox. One X, which would bring the Switch’s graphics closer to those of its console competitors.

More importantly, Nintendo has been inexplicably silent on the subject of “Joy-Con drift”. There’s a flaw with the Switch’s versatile, built-in controllers that cause them to inexplicably wear out quickly, especially if they’re used to play high-impact games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Nintendo said in a statement to GeekWire that the configuration and functionality of the Joy-Con controller has not changed with the OLED model.

A hardware refresh would have been the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to address these issues.

Instead, the improvements on the OLED Switch are relatively subtle.

It’s a significantly better technology than the launch version, revised 2019 model or Lite editions of the Switch, with a number of features that will deliver a significantly better “quality of life” to users, but it’s still the same old Switch under the hood.

A mockup of the OLED Switch packaging. (Nintendo Image)

These features include a slightly larger and brighter OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display for sharper graphics in portable mode; more than double the built-in internal storage of the previous version; an adjustable support integrated into the back of the device; and a built-in Ethernet port for wired online gaming.

The last characteristic is more important than it seems. Many multiplayer video games are very lag sensitive, especially the ones mentioned above. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so trying to read them over a wireless connection is often frustrating.

The current model of the Switch only provides out-of-the-box WiFi unless gamers invest in a $ 30 USB LAN adapter. The decision to add a built-in Ethernet port is one of the more online-friendly decisions Nintendo has made in recent times, especially for the To break scene.

Again, however, this is just a quality of life bonus. The OLED edition of the Switch is a solid package for people who have not yet purchased the system or only have a Switch Lite. But for existing Switch owners, it’s hardly worth the upgrade.

To be fair to Nintendo, if a “Switch Pro” had been on the table, this would have been a bad year for it. The current shortage of chips still affects electronics manufacturing around the world, to the point that even the Switch’s new OLED display is likely to be affected. Producing a new, more powerful Switch in today’s climate was probably a pipe dream.

So why bother with a new version of the Switch?

On the one hand, most of the bonuses of the OLED edition are specifically there to take advantage of the portable mode of the hardware. It’s easier to position, contains more games, has better sound, and has a slightly larger and more beautiful screen. This suggests that when it comes to Nintendo, the main audience for the Switch sees it as a portable system.

More importantly, releasing a new Switch now, at this point in the life of the system, is one of Nintendo’s oldest tricks. All of its older portable systems, such as Game Boy, DS, and 3DS, have undergone several hardware revisions throughout their lifecycle.

Nintendo portable systems are renowned for using multiple versions of their hardware throughout their lifespan. Left, a launch edition of the Nintendo DS 2004; on the right, a 2006 Nintendo DS Lite (Photo by Thomas Wilde)

Sometimes that drastically changed the hardware, like the switch between the original Game Boy Advance and the backlit, clamshell Game Boy Advance SP. Other times it just scaled back the existing unit, like the move from the fat Nintendo DS to the slimmer DS Lite.

It has often seemed ridiculous to Nintendo fans, but from a business standpoint, there is a method to the madness here, as the NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella explains:

Existing Switch owners may be disappointed here, and for good reason, but the OLED Switch is not for them. A handful of diehards may take the opportunity to upgrade to the next model, but the OLED is aimed entirely at new buyers, while continuing to justify the Switch’s current price tag.

It’s interesting to see Nintendo following its model from its portable systems for the Switch, as opposed to its previous generations of console hardware. While there were new end-of-life models of the NES and SNES, as well as the Jumper Pak add-on for the Nintendo 64, Nintendo tended to approach its consoles in a more traditional way. What you had in a Nintendo console on launch day was more or less what you would get if you bought one the day before they were discontinued.

With its portable systems, however, Nintendo has freely used small hardware changes and cosmetic changes to try to attract new audiences to each system. By adopting a similar practice with the Switch, it suggests that Nintendo is taking a similar strategy with all of its older handhelds. These incremental improvements and new colors aren’t there to try to milk the existing audience; Nintendo is trying to attract new buyers here.

It also seems to indicate that, at least from Nintendo’s point of view, the Switch’s portability is a major factor in its success, if not the main reason for it, and will likely continue to be a development priority at the to come up.

At the moment, however, the OLED Switch is Nintendo not trying to fix what isn’t really broken. While the Switch does have its issues, and these aren’t actually solved by the OLED, the new version is clearly the best Switch yet. On paper, it’s an easy choice for new fans, fence-sitters, or anyone planning to start traveling again, especially as the 2021 holiday season begins. The OLED Switch is certainly not what the enthusiast crowd has been looking for, but it is the latest use of a successful strategy Nintendo has been using for almost 30 years.

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