By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. Close

Forums - Nintendo Discussion - Perception of Nintendo Handhelds vs. Home Consoles pre-Switch

The Nintendo Switch as we know is a hybrid home/mobile gaming system that you can play either docked to a TV, or un-docked in Handheld or Tabletop modes. At nearly 130 million units sold worldwide, it continues Nintendo's long standing strength and dominance in dedicated portable gaming.

But prior to the Switch, I always had the feeling that for the longest time in the eyes of gamers, developers, and even Nintendo themselves to a degree, that their Handhelds were Nintendo's primary market and business, while their home consoles were seen as these niche boutique platforms designed primarily for the big new Nintendo games with some third party support.

This was especially prevalent with the Nintendo 64 through Nintendo GameCube eras, where Nintendo alienated a lot of third parties with their decision to use cartridges for the N64, which left it with just Nintendo's own games, and a handful of mostly western third parties supporting it. The Game Boy however, saw a massive resurgence in popularity with the release of Pokemon, and combined with the Game Boy Color, saw revived developer interest in the aging brand, with franchises like Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil, which were largely absent on N64, get Game Boy Color entries. Nintendo even started the trend of bringing some of their older console titles to handhelds with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe and Donkey Kong Country.

Then in 2001, Nintendo entered the 6th generation with the Game Boy Advance first. Its 32-Bit hardware and attractive price made it an instant hit at launch. The GBA also started the trend of Nintendo handhelds lifting features from their consoles. In this case, the console's new link cable allowed up to 4 player multiplayer on the go for the first time, a feature first introduced on N64. This allowed series like Mario Kart, Mario Party and F-Zero to finally make it to portable form in a viable fashion. Nintendo also began to dive even further into their console backlog by porting its SNES titles over including the full DKC trilogy, Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island, and A Link to the Past. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued to alienate third parties with the Nintendo GameCube, by utilizing a proprietary mini-disc format. While the console saw some improvement with support later on, it was still primarily seen as a Nintendo box, while GBA was perceived as an all-round gaming platform with great third party support, and great first party, including the still unstoppable juggernaut Pokemon.

I think Nintendo themselves thought this to an extent as well. They placed a big focus on connecting GBA to GameCube early on in the system's life. I feel like this was primarily a way to get GBA owners interested in the company's AAA console offerings on GCN since the GBA was THE handheld to own, especially among one of Nintendo's key demographics, children and youths.

In other-words, Nintendo for the longest time, treated their handhelds as ubiquitous lifestyle products, while their consoles were treated like niche, high-end showrooms for their latest games and technology that the handhelds would quickly adopt.

But the Switch has finally tried to marry those two dichotomys, a solid mobile gaming platform with tons of third party support, while also having the latest AAA Nintendo games. I think it became obvious by the time we got to Wii U that Nintendo needed to put an end to its home consoles being seen as "Nintendo boxes" and so they decided to solve that problem... by making their next console double as a handheld, which further tells me that the company in a way, always saw its portable gaming business as its primary market.
 


Around the Network

I wouldn't call their consoles niche. They were just unnapelling to anyone but Nintendo fans. Nintendo consoles audience were a mix of hardcore gaming enthusiasts who buys everything every gen and fans of Nintendo IPs

Lack of good games compared to Playstation is what made Nintendo sales decrease. Not saying there aren't good games on N64, GC and Wii U but their libraries pale compared to anything Sony had in the same generations. Wii somehow reversed this giving a reason for people to buy Nintendo, they could get something out of Wii they couldn't get with Playstation/Xbox. Wii U didn't have such lucky

Switch still lacks many Playstation, Xbox and PC titles but now we are at a point where the biggest console IPs tends to take many years to be released and sometimes we have only one game to spawn two generations (Hello GTA and Elders Scroll)

Nintendo been two generations behind can provide a software pipeline much faster than Sony or Xbox first parties and this make up their lack of 3rd party support. There is enough high quality games on Switch to completely offset the absence of some AAA IPs. Not to mention those IPs are completely irrelevant in Japan anyways.

This generations power leaps had been used almost only to increase resolution and FPS of last gen games, meaning there is no FOMO for mass market to rush into Xbox/Playstation/PC. Nintendo can now provide a good amount of AAA games that don't feel generations behind.


I don't know if Nintendo can replicate this again though. I believe Switch 2 will be fine and sell over 100 million units, but they will eventually reach a roadblock where they cannot spend 6 years to put out all their AAA games like other publishers do.

Mostly because Nintendo likely won't monetize their games to long range profit like GTA Online, if they do they are losing one of their main appeals which is distance themselves from AAA western publishers



I'm curious to see how Nintendo will manage to put out 4K development. Develop to system with PS4 level of graphics is not easy. Let's how they manage it



During the Gamecube/GBA era, handhelds were about 80% of the revenue, but the home consoles were about 80% of the expenditure. I think you're right, that during the Gamecube and Wii U eras particularly, Nintendo did feel more like a handheld company. But (and this is me personally), I still considered the N64 to be the main platform during its time, even though GB was booming and bringing Nintendo popularity to new heights - a lot of that was the Pokemon crowd. But that's only my personal feeling about the N64. Objectively speaking, the handheld sector was bigger during the N64 era with few exceptions (mainly the Goldeneye 007 period).

The Wii and DS were a different story, the Wii sold fewer units but likely had a lot more people playing it from the heavy multiplayer focus of the console, they were probably somewhere around 50/50, but the Wii generally felt like the lead platform that generation. With the Wii U, I found it really difficult to find anyone who wanted to play anything on it unless it was Just Dance and copious amounts of alcohol were involved.



I describe myself as a little dose of toxic masculinity.

IcaroRibeiro said:


I don't know if Nintendo can replicate this again though. I believe Switch 2 will be fine and sell over 100 million units, but they will eventually reach a roadblock where they cannot spend 6 years to put out all their AAA games like other publishers do.

Mostly because Nintendo likely won't monetize their games to long range profit like GTA Online, if they do they are losing one of their main appeals which is distance themselves from AAA western publishers



I'm curious to see how Nintendo will manage to put out 4K development. Develop to system with PS4 level of graphics is not easy. Let's how they manage it

Well Nintendo's games aren't as insanely high budget as most other AAA titles, so I think they'll be fine so long as they're adequately staffed and have the right tool-chains. A big reason why they struggled going into HD was because they went in using their old Wii/DS era development tools and didn't have enough staff to get those launch titles out. Their Wii U output slowed to a crawl as a result.

But Switch not only has the benefit of consolidating their handheld and console game dev resources, but Nintendo's also completely changed the way they assign people to games, and have embraced new engines like their own NintendoWare Bezel Engine to make development faster for certain games. This is part of the reason they're able to keep up a steady stream of releases.



Jumpin said:

During the Gamecube/GBA era, handhelds were about 80% of the revenue, but the home consoles were about 80% of the expenditure. I think you're right, that during the Gamecube and Wii U eras particularly, Nintendo did feel more like a handheld company. But (and this is me personally), I still considered the N64 to be the main platform during its time, even though GB was booming and bringing Nintendo popularity to new heights - a lot of that was the Pokemon crowd. But that's only my personal feeling about the N64. Objectively speaking, the handheld sector was bigger during the N64 era with few exceptions (mainly the Goldeneye 007 period).

The Wii and DS were a different story, the Wii sold fewer units but likely had a lot more people playing it from the heavy multiplayer focus of the console, they were probably somewhere around 50/50, but the Wii generally felt like the lead platform that generation. With the Wii U, I found it really difficult to find anyone who wanted to play anything on it unless it was Just Dance and copious amounts of alcohol were involved.

That is an interesting way to think about it.  When I think about how much success Nintendo has had with home and handheld systems (roughly in revenue and profit), it is probably something like this:

NES: 100%
SNES/GB: 75/25%
N64/GB: 50/50%
GCN/GBA: 25/75%
Wii/DS: 60/40%
Wii U/3DS: 25/75%
Switch 100%

Nintendo started out extremely dominant and on one platform.  Then they gradually transformed from a primarily home console company to a primarily handheld console company.  Now they are back on one platform again, and they're the most profitable they've ever been.  It makes you wonder if spitting their resources between home and handheld systems was ever a good idea.



Around the Network
Jumpin said:

But (and this is me personally), I still considered the N64 to be the main platform during its time, even though GB was booming and bringing Nintendo popularity to new heights - a lot of that was the Pokemon crowd. But that's only my personal feeling about the N64. Objectively speaking, the handheld sector was bigger during the N64 era with few exceptions (mainly the Goldeneye 007 period).

For the first half, I agree. But after Pokemon and Game Boy Color revived interest in Game Boy, Nintendo spent much of the later half of N64's life trying to funnel the new Game Boy Color user base to N64. Things like Pokemon Stadium, Mario Sports, and Perfect Dark all having connectivity with the GBC versions, for example. They would go even harder on this with the GBA and GameCube gen.



Nintendo handhelds have always had the perception of popularity, save perhaps for the first 6 months or so of 3DS with the launch price and software people didn't care about.
NES/Famicom and SNES/Super Famicom were very popular. NES was borderline unopposed, with only the Sega Master System being a blip on the radar. SNES had stiff competition from Sega in North America and some other regions but was the clear leader globally by the end of the generation.
N64 had a strong start in sales and public perception despite droughts. But after even Ocarina of Time in late 1998 couldn't even start to close the gap with PS1, the writing was on the wall. After FY 99-00, N64 had a soft death in hardware sales. It was also the start of a soft death in software. The big first-party games globally on N64 in 2001 were games that had already released in Japan in 2000. Ultimately, PS1's CDs in comparison to N64's cartridges was perhaps the biggest factor to why globally N64 was only a moderate rival to PS1 for the long haul. And in Japan, PS1 destroyed N64. Even Sega Saturn narrowly outsold N64 in Japan, despite not even selling 10 million units globally.
GameCube continued the problems of the N64 with an unfriendly format. Yes, miniDVDs were cheaper than cartridges but also capped out at about 1.46 GB. Even 2 GameCube discs was still over a 1.5 GB less than one standard PS2 or Xbox disc. GameCube (up to that time) was the worst-selling Nintendo home console and seen as the kid's toy thanks to its lunchbox design and lack of quality M-rated games. Suffice to say, GameCube was destroyed by PS2 in every market we can think of. Even a newcomer like Xbox managed to outsell GameCube by over 2 million units globally.
Wii was a fluke. It was seen as for kids and grandparents, with nongamers and casual gamers in general. But it sold like hotcakes. But there was not a balance in terms of its sales. Hardware sales dived in 2011 and a lot of quality software was drying up too. Not to the extent of the less popular Nintendo platforms, but way more than Switch.
Wii U brought back Nintendo's lack of popularity in the home console space. We went from Nintendo's best-selling home console ever to their worst. After selling 3.06 million units in the calendar year of 2012 (Wii U launched in November and December), Wii U absolutely tanked after. If your console is only surpassing 1 million units per quarter in Q4, you're doomed. Q4 2012, 2013, 2014. and 2015 were the only quarters that Wii U sold more than a million units.
TL:DR - Nintendo's handheld platforms are very successful, their software is very iconic and profitable, but their home console popularity is very inconsistent.



Lifetime Sales Predictions 

Switch: 156 million (was 73, then 96, then 113 million, then 125 million, then 144 million, then 151 million)

PS5: 115 million (was 105 million) Xbox Series S/X: 48 million (was 60 million, then 67 million, then 57 million)

PS4: 120 mil (was 100 then 130 million, then 122 million) Xbox One: 51 mil (was 50 then 55 mil)

3DS: 75.5 mil (was 73, then 77 million)

"Let go your earthly tether, enter the void, empty and become wind." - Guru Laghima