The Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s latest video game console, was released earlier this month. So far, reception and sales for the console have been positive. With an explosion of interest its first week, Nintendo has sold more than 1.5 million Switch units, surpassing the first-week sales of its highly popular predecessor, the Nintendo Wii.
However, between the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo Switch was the unique, yet poorly received Wii U, which was regarded as a failure by many industry analysts. Its bulky controller, lack of unique features, and general audience misunderstanding made it a disappointment, despite introducing some innovative new ideas.
So what is Nintendo planning to do to keep the momentum of the Switch going?
The Indie Game Factor
One of Nintendo’s best selling points over the years has been its lineup of recognizable, lovable properties, including Super Mario, the Legend of Zelda, and Star Fox, and the Switch promises to offer plenty of first-party content to keep those franchises running; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has already received enormous critical acclaim amidst the Switch’s launch.
But what might mean even more to Nintendo with the Switch is their lineup of independently produced games, which the company is calling “Nindies.” Already, Nintendo is planning to release more than 60 Nindies in 2017, from massive-scale games that rival AAA titles in complexity, to simple, one-man development projects that hearken back to gaming’s roots. With the plethora of indie titles available to its customers, players will have unlimited reasons to keep coming back to the system—and developers will be eager to work with Nintendo.
Why the Switch?
Independent games certainly aren’t new; in fact, they witnessed a surge in popularity thanks to smartphones and mobile devices, where users can cheaply and easily download new content. Freemium games, which are free to play but come with optional extra features for paying customers, account for billions in annual revenue, and their audience is, essentially, anyone with a phone.
So why would game developers choose the Switch over developing for a mobile device? The secret is the Nintendo Switch’s flexibility. It’s a home console with impressive processing power that can stand up to its generational counterparts. At the same time, it’s an approachable home console system that children, families, and non-gamers can enjoy equally.
Also at the same time, it’s a portable handheld gaming station that’s perfect for simple, fun titles. On top of that, the Switch has more conventional types of control inputs—relying on buttons and joysticks, rather than taps, touches, and swipes. This is a huge relief for mobile game developers, who often find these new gestures limiting and frustrating to deal with.
This gives developers a range of flexibility they don’t have with any other system, as well as a diverse audience to match. According to insiders, Nintendo has thus far been very open and accommodating to its independent developers, recognizing the importance of their new games to the console’s overall success.
How the Partnership Can Succeed
If the partnership works, it’s going to be beneficial for everyone—indie game developers, gamers, and Nintendo alike. However, for the relationship to work, Nintendo will need to depart from some of its usual policies. The company will need to become more open to indie developers (which it’s already doing), and be willing to adapt to changing developer demands.
In addition, it will need to give third-party developers more visibility and attention, similar to how Sony and Microsoft have in the past, rather than focusing attention solely on its first-party titles. It’s impossible to tell whether the relationship can succeed at this point, since much depends on how the relationship is nurtured over time.
Where It Goes From Here
Assuming Nintendo is able to make the relationship mutually amiable, it could fundamentally change how independent developers work. Currently, developer attention is split between two main modes of development: consoles and smartphones. The Nintendo Switch bridges that gap, and gives developers a platform that can harness the best of both worlds. If successful, future consoles will likely try to emulate this approach, offering more simplistic forms of input and engagement alongside conventional console structures.
Additionally, this relationship could open the door for solo developers and underfunded game studios to step into the limelight. Succeeding as an independent game developer is notoriously difficult, but a more open relationship with major game distributors could completely change the indie scene. The move could inspire more developers to work on independent projects, and give existing indie developers more options to keep their doors open.
Finally, the move could have a massive effect on gamers’ preferences and how they view consoles. The introduction of a more diverse range of titles could open the Nintendo Switch to gamers beyond just hardcore Nintendo fans who have fallen in love with the company’s franchises over the years. Gamers would, in turn, have higher expectations for virtually any consoles to come in the future.
It remains to be seen whether Nintendo can fulfill the expectations that gamers and indie developers are already forming, but after learning the harsh lessons associated with the launch of Wii U, it’s a perfect time for Nintendo to reinvent itself. If you own a Switch, keep an eye on the Nindie titles to come later this year; we may all be in for a new age of indie gaming.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.