Nintendo Co is making its biggest bet in years with Switch, a new console aimed at unifying the worlds of mobile and home gaming that will go on sale this week. To chart new territory with the gadget, the Kyoto-based company handed control of development to a team of three managers more experienced in software rather than hardware. The Switch is essentially a tablet sporting wireless controllers that can be used anywhere, on its own in the park or plugged into the living room TV.
“The Switch is fully-loaded with many more capabilities that will allow for the kind of content you would expect from Nintendo, and I’m not just talking about games,” said Shinya Takahashi, 53, the managing executive officer who oversaw Switch’s development. “Anything is possible.” It’s a big risk, and one that so far has investors worried. Nintendo shares are down 11% since mid-October, when the company first unveiled the concept behind the Switch. The stock failed to recover even after more details, including the price, were released in January.
That leaves little room for mistakes after the Switch hits stores on Friday, March 3. Looming over the new team is the failure of Nintendo’s last console, the Wii U, which was its worst-ever selling home system. On top of that, last year’s long-awaited entry into selling its own games for mobile devices is off to a shaky start. The challenge this time around is that people are used to playing games on smartphones and TVs, fueling scepticism over whether Nintendo will find a market for a combined experience. The Switch’s emphasis on playing with others face-to-face also goes against today’s dominant trend of online multiplayer gaming and streaming, which are more focused on remote digital interaction between people.
Nintendo still hasn’t revealed the full extent of the Switch’s capabilities, Takahashi said, suggesting that the detachable controllers could lead to more hardware innovation later on. The console’s tablet could also be slotted into a head-mounted display for use as a virtual-reality device, according to a patent application filed by Nintendo in December. One scenario may include health-care applications, including infrared cameras in the Joycon controllers that can track vein patterns to measure a user’s pulse, the patent showed.