Even those that have never owned or even played a video game, Nintendo and its iconic roster of characters (including Mario, Pokémon, Zelda and Donkey Kong) will be familiar. Many of these franchises have enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to the phenomenal success of the Japanese gaming giant's latest console: the Switch.
The Switch, which was released in March 2017, has broken numerous sales records in its first year. Early in 2018, Nintendo announced that the Switch had become the fastest-selling console in U.S. history, and beat out all other rival consoles to be the top-selling console in the U.S. in December 2017. In Japan -- another important market -- its sales figures increased steadily throughout 2017, and global sales surpassed 10 million units in its first nine months. Nintendo recently said it expects to sell more than 15 million units by March.
The success of the Switch was unexpected, mainly due to its ill-fated predecessor, the Wii U. The story of that console is almost antithetical to that of the Switch. In the UK, the Switch has outsold the Wii U already, despite only being on sale for 11 months, versus the five years the Wii U was available.
"Unfortunately what ended up happening was that tablets themselves appeared in the marketplace and evolved very, very rapidly," Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo executive and creator of Mario told NPR in 2015. "The uniqueness of [the Wii U's tablet] features were perhaps not as strong as they were when we had first begun developing them.”
Nintendo’s recent resurgence and subsequent stock price jump has been built largely on the back of the new console. The popularity of the Switch, which was far from guaranteed according to many industry commentators, was achieved thanks to a few key factors.
First is the Switch’s cheap, simple hardware. The console cannot (and does not expect to) compete with Microsoft’s XBox One, or Sony’s PlayStation in terms of processing prowess. Its internal components are outdated next to those consoles, incapable of running many of the latest AAA titles. However, the Switch has a trick up its sleeve, which has proven to be a major selling point: its modularity. The console exists basically as a tablet, which can be set into a dock and used on a TV, but which can also be seamlessly lifted out of that dock and played on the go. For Nintendo, a company with a long history of handheld gaming, this handheld/TV hybrid is an obvious next step, and one that has left its competitors trailing.