There are a ton of reasons I can think of as to why the Switch has maintained spectacular commercial success for so long. The first of these is low expectations. With the exception of the Wii, if you looked at Nintendo's long-term trajectory in home console sales, the outlook had been growing consistently worse each generation: the NES sold better than the Super NES, which sold better than the Nintendo 64, which sold better than the GameCube, which sold better than the Wii U. The Wii was the exception to this rule. The rule was a long-term decline for Nintendo's performance in the home console market. And even their handheld system, the 3DS, just wasn't faring as well as previous Nintendo handhelds had by that same point in their respective lifespans with mobile phones now starting to eat into the handheld gaming market. People didn't expect that much from Nintendo by the time the Switch came around. The thing about low expectations is that they're easy to exceed. When people expect little of you, it's easy to impress them. So when Nintendo launched with titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and an upgraded version of Mario Kart 8 right out of the gate, soon followed by Super Mario Odyssey, alongside a string of other first-party releases like Splatoon 2, Arms, and others within months, their dedication to strong first-party support for the new system was very clear immediately. Breath of the Wild, in fact, was considered revolutionary for the survival aspects it brought to the franchise. It was a solid start that quickly brought the core Nintendo fans on board, alongside many others. Something must also be said about the genuine brilliance of the ability to play this system both on a TV AND portably. This hook gave it access to both console gamers and those who prefer gaming on the go. Anyway, this start far exceeded expectations in general.
Since that time, strong first-party support has generally continued and the system what's more, owing in no small part to its portability, has become the go-to platform for lovers of indie games (like yours truly). The Switch has quickly accumulated the definitive library of independently-developed titles and that has brought in a whole new audience. Notching titles like Fortnite early on didn't hurt either.
Then, after a couple two and a half years when rivals typically release upgraded versions of their existing consoles to get their existing core players to buy the same machines a second time, Nintendo brilliantly took the exact opposite approach and, rather than launching a higher-tech version of the Switch, instead released a handhold-only version of the system intended to reach more casual gamers, thus not only securing double-sales from hardcore gamers, but also expanding their player base at the same time.
Then, of course, COVID-19 hit, which benefited the entire games industry to an extent because people now had few other things to do that were safe all of a sudden. Both console and video game sales in general increased during this period. And during this same time, Nintendo also began to focus more on expanding their player base to include more casual gamers with titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Ring Fit Adventure, and so on, giving them the maximum commercial benefit from the situation.
And this brings us to today, where...and it really pains me to say this as a Series X owner, but frankly Sony and Microsoft opted to launch their new systems prematurely, before the COVID-19 pandemic had gotten under control and adequate supplies of key parts could be secured. This has led to a situation of simultaneous declines in the sales of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One WHILE massive shortages of the PlayStation 5 and Series X/S have been experienced. This situation has left Nintendo's Switch really the only system in town. At this point, the Switch wins commercially by default not because it's necessarily the best machine on the market, but because it's the only one. What's a gamer who planned on buying a PS5 but can't find one to do with their money in the meanwhile?
Those are some of the reasons that come to my mind. Those things and good pricing and lots and lots of advertising. Bottom line: it's just been the right combination of brilliant hardware innovations, smart marketing, happenstance, and poor strategic moves by their rivals.
I'll add that, not to fault the big N for much right-deserved success, but I do have some worry about a future characterized by total market domination by one single company on the level we currently seem to be moving towards. Companies often start behaving differently, and more arrogantly, when they totally dominate the market, I find.
Last edited by Jaicee - on 20 February 2021