Don’t Switch it Up: Nintendo’s Formula For Quiet Success

Me and my Switch. I use mine in the handheld configuration, as seen here, but every Switch comes with a dock to connect to a TV and a bracket to hold the joycons as if it were a controller, unless you buy the Switch Lite, which is only the handheld mode. Photo by Oliver Fox.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropped on Nintendo Switch on March 20, and was one of the most highly anticipated games of 2020. It sold 5 million copies in its first month on the market, more than five times the sales of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild over the same period of time. And while it certainly is a godsend in the time of social distancing and shelter in place measures, it highlights exactly how Nintendo has put itself in a truly godlike position in the gaming industry.

Nintendo started as a playing card company in Japan in 1889, when they made playing cards for the Yakuza. They eventually diversified, branching out into video game consoles in the late 90’s with the Color TV Game 15. Nintendo gained prominence through the 90’s with games like Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Metroid. Most of these franchises are still around today, which brings us to the first pillar of Nintendo’s quiet dominance: the quality of their games. 

I own Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which are all excellent games. Breath of the Wild won Game of the Year in 2017, Animal Crossing has sold over 13.41 million copies as of this writing, and Super Smash Bro remains a solid way to prove your dominance over your friends any time, any place. Nintendo is also older than most major game studios, excepting Sega and Activision, and most of its franchises are almost as old as it is. Mario’s earliest iteration was what launched Nintendo to prominence, and Mario Odyssey launched the same year as the Switch. Their time on the playing field speaks to the quality of the games. But what are good games without good consoles?

Nintendo has made 16 consoles during its time in the gaming industry, most of them met with positive reception, excepting the Wii U and the Virtual Boy. The Nintendo Switch is still very difficult to find, as there was a mad rush of people looking for some of that sweet, sweet Animal Crossing juju right at the start of quarantine. One part of Nintendo’s success with consoles is their pioneering spirit. They introduced and perfected the handheld console, and gained a lot of popularity with the Wii as a home console. While the Wii U was less of a success than they might have hoped, they learned from their mistakes, and made the Switch an excellent console that they can rely on for years to come.

But the real magic relies on something else—the exclusivity of Nintendo. If you want to play an Assassins Creed, you can do so on multiple platforms, which makes that series popular. And while Playstation and Xbox have their own exclusives, most games on the market can be played on either console while Nintendo games can only be played on a Nintendo. This is why Nintendo will be around for awhile. People will keep playing Nintendo games, as the first generation of kids who played Nintendo games are passing them on to their kids. If that cycle continues, Nintendo will outlast everything on this earth, and we’ll be playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 45 on the moon, while our old Xbox 20s gather dust on orbit.

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