Nintendo Switch Development History: Where It All Started

In 2014, Nintendo was still reeling from its repeated Wii U losses. Sales were at a record dip, and the company suffered several successive quarters of reported loss. This Friday 3rd March, Nintendo will release their latest hardware. The Nintendo Switch promises to right every wrong committed by the Wii U and looks set to launch Nintendo back into the hands and living rooms of happy consumers. But how did this change come about?

Satoru Iwata developed plans in 2014 to aggressively revitalise Nintendo’s market strategy. Facing the mobile market encroaching ever more on their casual gaming space, and pressure from tech powerhouses Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo needed a game changer and fast. Iwata set plans in motion to finally push Nintendo into the mobile market, a direction they had vehemently resisted until no longer possible, and create a new piece of hardware to distance themselves from the Wii U’s failures. In doing so, Iwata was convinced they could ramp up their original IP production and retention, and reinstate Mario and his buddies as game industry staples.

Iwata’s death in July 2015 left Kimishima in charge of the company, and crucially of Switch development. Kimishima brought a new outlook to the project that prioritised the originality of play style that had made the Wii so immensely popular back in the day. Aimed to represent a play style that radically departed from that of the Wii U and 3DS, Kimishima wanted a piece of hardware that would leave a larger impact on the market than the Wii U could ever have hoped for.

The audience that Nintendo was keen to reclaim with their new console saw the company focusing on young adult and older players’ behaviours. They found variations in student behaviour and socialisation in Japan and the West, and decided to create a console to not only suit both but unite these cultural differences. Studies informed developers that Japanese students spent more time together after school, with a large part of this being gameplay time. Meanwhile, in the West, students typically have a busier schedule and rely on socialisation on the fly during hectic days. The home / handheld console idea was therefore born to meet these two lifestyles in the middle and appeal to both audiences.

However Nintendo then decided it wanted to take things further. The company has always prioritised human relationships in its manufacture and design, even since the playing card days. So it made sense that the Switch would follow in this design schematic along with its predecessors. What changed, however, was Nintendo’s willingness to make a direct departure from traditional modes of video gameplay. Forcing players to face each other, and not look at the screen, became a mainstay of in-house production. Ultimately leading to the detachable, highly responsive JoyCon controllers, Nintendo wanted to further the Wii’s success in social play. 1-2-Switch is a direct descendant from this thought genesis.

Nintendo had an invested interest in reducing the split between the handheld and console market. Arguably, there is no other company as invested in both markets simultaneously, so it made sense for production to focus on both after these gameplay aims were outlined. The name Switch was born from Nintendo’s desire to reflect the console’s capacity for movement between the handheld and console design as well as their intention to reduce this industry divide itself.

Throughout its development, the Switch was never designed to respond to the work of Sony or Microsoft. For years now, Nintendo have been adopting an island policy that ensures their work is unique and original. By not following the advances made by their competitors, the Wii U was disastrously behind. However, Switch’s adoption of this approach to design may have come at just the right moment as more and more consumers are actively seeking more ways to play, spurred on by the successes of VR. Nintendo are playing to their own strengths, not their competitors’.

Yoshiaki Koizumi was the general producer of the Switch during development, and employed younger members of the company to be the primary designers on the project. This freed up Miyamoto, Takeda, and Iwata to put their industry-leading heads together to work solely on software for both the upcoming console and mobile markets.

In March 2015, Nintendo Switch made its first public announcement. Alongside news of Nintendo and DeNA’s partnership the console, codenamed NX, was advertised as a “brand new concept”. That famous Nintendo branded silence followed the announcement until April 2016, when an investor’s meeting yielded the news that Nintendo planned to release the console the following March.

June’s E3 was silent on the matter, save for the crowd-splitting announcement that Breath of The Wild would release on NX as well as Wii U. All this silence began to foster suspicion in crowds, and Nintendo’s continued lack of information allowed rumours to run wild with some blaming the company for not providing more details in the face of this hysteria. Miyamoto since stated that Nintendo were fearing for the design of their hardware in this period of time. The silence surrounding the product was the result of worries over other companies copying their plans if they revealed anything too soon.

In October 2016, Nintendo officially announced the name of the Nintendo Switch alongside a teasing trailer detailing the look and basic features of the upcoming console. After their full January press release, marketing for the Switch went full throttle. After confusion surrounding the Wii U’s purpose proving fatal to the console’s sales and lifespan, the company weren’t taking any chances with clarity. They’ve told us exactly what the product is and what it can be used for repeatedly, and their sales will reflect it. Long advert slots, keynote walkthroughs, their first ever Super Bowl commercial, and a collection of sampling events across the US show just how much Nintendo has invested in its latest product.

All that brings us up to the present day. A mere 4 (pretty much 3) days away from launch day, and the Nintendo Switch is looking as appealing as ever. If they’ve managed to break with the curse of Wii U, the console will likely springboard Nintendo back into fans’ good books and, hopefully, market share.

2 thoughts on “Nintendo Switch Development History: Where It All Started

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    1. Thank you! Glad you liked our rundown, we’ve also got a piece coming out on Wednesday that looks into how the Switch is make or break for Nintendo and the gambles it actually represents (as well as loads of other Switch discussion and buying guides) so stay tuned for Switch week!

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