The measure of Switch’s success

A week ago Nintendo Soup put out an article on how the Switch is selling three times faster than the PlayStation 4 in Japan. It’s a pretty straightforward chart. However, Just looking at the data isn’t really all that useful outside bragging rights, as it’s just Japan. Going back some three months ago, Gamespot had a bit more robust write-up on Switch sales topping two million, outselling more than its two competitors.

Long story short, the Switch is seemingly selling a lot more than its competitors. However, that’s not exactly the measure I’d make the Switch stand against. What the Switch should be compared against is Nintendo’s past consoles, and I don’t mean just one single of them. The Switch is a hybrid console, meant to encompass both the home and hand held console markets. As such, the plural doesn’t mean whole slew of the consoles at a time, but e.g. the Wii U and the 3DS as a whole. Granted, that’s not the best hardest challenge to beat.

However, something like comparing the Switch’s sales to Wii’s and DS’s sales would be more apt. Not only because both Wii and DS were runaway successes, but also because they also hit the similar sweet spot as the Switch does in overall terms. It’s all a bit relative in this terms, but the Switch seems to meet the wants and demands the public has now, which more or less moves gaming away from the living room and the usual stuff. The library of course is the main attention grabber, with Nintendo’s own IP’s currently making the most sales.

That said, I can’t say it’s enough to outsell the Wii/DS combo. The macro-economics we have now are very different than what it was a decade ago, with prosperity in the spending countries being higher and people having more money to throw at trivialities. Like games and consoles. I can’t say everything sells, but the situation is much better now. The Wii was a low-cost console for the public that could use the occasional, almost arcade-like breather with a controller that didn’t require too much effort to put in and that was good. The Switch, while not exactly Shakespearean console, does have a level more finesse to its, from the classical console perspective, where a solid, classical controller is a must.

Another thing that raises the bar for console sales overall is the increase in population. A population usually grows some in a decade, and new generation enters into work and gains more income than what they had previously. Spending on games generally has increased from what I can tell, and this is mostly because gaming has managed to have a somewhat steady market expansion despite the developers and publishers wanting to cater to the Red Ocean market, overall.

This is something most of these people comparing console sales tend to forget, that thirty years ago we had a smaller population and consumer base for video and computer games overall. A direct comparison of sales and revenues generated from them need to be adjusted to changes in inflation and population growth. It’d be easy to proclaim sales of some console to a direction or another just based on its sales figures alone. For this reason, Wii U’s sales are overall worse than they might appear at first. With the increase in overall consumer population, rising trends in macro-economics and the possible transfer from Wii’s userbase, the Wii U bombed worse than any of Nintendo’s other consoles. The only true contender against it is the Virtual Boy, though I would almost say Wii U gets the edge in this comparison as it was Nintendo’s mainline console and had more development and production put into it.

There’s no doubt that the Switch has a lot of success under its belt already. The media shouldn’t half-ass their criticism on it, however, and remember its hybrid nature. Nintendo is not going to put out a full-fledged home or handheld console in the foreseeable future until. Whether or not Microsoft or Sony are going to release a full-fledged Ninth Generation console at some point is somewhat a moot point, as Nintendo reacts mostly on themselves, sometimes on what Sony does. After all, Microsoft holds jack shit in terms of gaming market in Japan, making second-hand Xboxes pretty damn cheap overall, with some of the rarer software titles stupidly expensive.

That’s another ingredient to throw into the mix; regions. One region can religiously support one console over another, while another region does the opposite. There was an interesting split in the past few generations, where it seemed that the US preferred the Xbox, Japan preferred Nintendo’s consoles and Europe was a whole lot of mixed, changing from nation to nation.

Maybe the concept of a console “winning” is moot to a large extent, as it would seem most of the Red Ocean consumers would like to disregard cold sales statistics and concentrate on more personal views, emotional values or whatever point of comparison they would have for quality. Of course, we could use an academic view for high quality games, but I’ve yet to see a peer reviewed research paper that would establish the guidelines for such thing. Naturally, a high quality game for one differs from another, we all have a different taste after all and none is really any better than the other.

So, what is the measure of the Switch’s success in the end?  For normal everyday conversation its sales numbers compared to the 8th generation competitors is probably what you’ll see the most, whereas a more in-depth discussion should concern comparison to other more successful consoles all the while taking the whole population and consumer base expansion into notion with the positive macro-economic trend we have going on. That is probably what it should be contrasted against, though somehow I see discussion always moving towards the discussion of personal favourites and what sort of quality we value as individuals. Taste is the only thing we can properly contest over, after all, as you can’t really argue against cold data.

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