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Misguided Marketing of the Nintendo Switch May Have Doomed It from the Start

Nintendo is floundering with its marketing of the Switch, and the consequences could impact handheld gaming for good.

Nintendo has made a bold move with the Switch, defying traditional expectations of console-owners in a big way. When the official announcement trailer was released last week and showcased the Russian-doll of controllers known as the Nintendo Switch, audiences everywhere went absolutely bananas over the possibilities outlined by Nintendo -- and I don't really blame them.

The concept is just damn cool -- a console that seamlessly transitions to a handheld device, with LAN capabilities and tiny multiplayer controllers to boot. What's not to get excited about? A lot, really. 

Combining a traditional console with the mobility of a handheld device is an innovative, daring feat which also is, if the trailer is of any indication, a misguided one. Upon repeated viewings of the trailer, one realizes that, for all of its impressive functionality, the Switch appears to be most useful within the imaginary scenarios offered by Nintendo -- not in real life. 

Take the rooftop party scene at 2:10, for example. Generic Young Gamer Lady enjoys a bit of Mario silliness in her loft, when suddenly a pained wailing can be heard outside of her window. She investigates, and surprise! It's a group of buddies on a nearby rooftop, beckoning her to join the fun.

In a bold and somewhat antisocial maneuver, she arrives at the party with her Switch in hand and interrupts everyone to show off her new console. This clearly confuses and possibly frightens everyone present, with the guy in the back being the exception -- he's really stoked that he's seeing the Switch ahead of release.

Gamer Lady proceeds give a tiny controller to an unsuspecting, possibly drunk victim, and the two engage in some hand-cramping multiplayer action. But wait a minute. When Gamer Lady left her home, she was playing a single-player Mario game! What the hell is happening here? My only guess is that the hapless victim is pretending to control an imaginary character on-screen and has no idea what is going on.

It's a ridiculous scene, to be sure, but it also leads to some inconvenient questions about the Switch: Where would you put that thing after you're finished with it? Actually, how would you carry this big thing around in the first place? Will that nice screen get scratched and pulverized if I carry it inside of my backpack? Will it shatter to pieces the first time I drop it? All of these are important questions to consider when your new handheld carries a console-sized price tag.

In some ways, it seems that Nintendo's ambition outweighs its good sense when it comes to marketing the Switch. Based on the trailer, Nintendo's target audience for the Switch appears to be young adults between 25 and 30 years old -- the people who would be least likely to use it outside of the house on a regular basis. Adults work a lot, drive a lot, and try to socialize in what little free time they have. When are they going to bring this thing to a party like the aforementioned Gamer Lady, or to the gym? Not very often, I imagine.

When the gimmick of "extreme versatility" outside of the home is impractical for Nintendo's target audience, why would the target audience be interested in spending hundreds of dollars for it? All along, the Switch was designed, perhaps unwittingly, for a younger demographic.

Camera shots of kids using a Switch on the school bus, in the backseat of their parents' cars, and during boring family reunions could have established a more effective narrative for the Switch. It seems obvious that kids have more time to spend playing handheld games, and they are much more likely than adults to find other participants for multiplayer sessions. With all things considered, it feels like Nintendo missed an easy target.

If Nintendo's target audience isn't interested in the handheld capabilities of the Switch, will they still want to use it as a console at home? Maybe, but it's a tough sell. Why bother shelling out for Switch instead of a more traditional console if one has no use for a large, clunky handheld?

Exclusives will certainly draw Nintendo fans to the Switch -- but success otherwise may be limited if Nintendo doesn't adjust its marketing approach to a more practical audience. Then again, the ability to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild while on the toilet may make it worth every dime.

To its credit, the Switch brings a lot to the table in terms of handheld gaming and flips traditional console conventions upside down. Considering Nintendo's historical eminence in that niche and consistent innovation, we shouldn't be too surprised. In its endeavor to revolutionize the handheld experience, however, Nintendo may find itself with a flop instead of another iconic console. What this would mean for handhelds in general is anyone's guess, but the ripples of such a disaster would certainly reach far and wide.

What do you think about the Switch? Do you agree with this perspective? Let us know in the comments!

Published Oct. 31st 2016

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