Out of all the video game companies, Nintendo seems to be the one best-positioned to ride out the pandemic sweeping the planet. While Sony and Microsoft are enjoying an increased wave of gamers in their ecosystems as well, the realities of the console cycle are working against each company. With the PS5 and Xbox Series X expected to launch in November, existing gamers may be buying more titles for the Xbox One and PS4, but they aren’t exactly rushing out to purchase hardware. (AMD has confirmed this already, by noting that it recorded negligible semicustom console revenue in Q1 due to drawdowns in preparation for future launches).
Nintendo, though, is having no such problems. The Switch has had a banner quarter, driven by an enormous surge of interest in games like Animal Crossing. Nintendo sold 3.29M Switches in the previous quarter, up 1.33x over Q1 2019. Lifetime sales of the Switch, which debuted on March 3, 2017 are now 55.77M, larger than both the GameCube and the N64, which sold 21.74M and 32.93M, respectively. It’s also above the lifetime estimated sales of the Xbox One family, despite the fact that the Xbox One turns seven this year, while the Switch is barely three. From April 2019 – March 2020, Nintendo sold 21.03M Switches, 1.53M units higher than its previous target.
Animal Crossing, which went on sale March 20, has already moved over 13M copies in the first six weeks. It’s the fastest-selling Switch game of all time and already the 7th-highest selling game on the platform, ever. Prices on Switches have skyrocketed recently as scalpers have reportedly deployed bots to purchase stocks as quickly as they appear in stores.
According to Nintendo, the Switch is “barely halfway through its life cycle,” and Nintendo has no plans to change that view.
Nintendo Already Upgraded the Switch
One point I want to push back against is the idea that Nintendo hasn’t upgraded the Switch. Nintendo upgraded the Switch 10 months ago, when it unveiled a new model with dramatically better battery life, boosting it between 1.4x and 1.8x.
It’s true that this doesn’t count as a new model to the mass market, but the mass market was reportedly confused by the similarity between “Wii” and “Wii U”, believing the latter to be an extension of the former. It should, however, matter to those of us in tech circles. Battery life efficiency improvements across device families are few and far between, precisely because manufacturers tend to counter increased efficiency with smaller batteries or more powerful components.
The old Switch had an estimated life of 2.5 – 6.5 hours. The new Switch offers an estimated 4.5 to 9 hours. Expressed in terms that would have mattered a great deal to me as a child on family car trips: 2.5 hours barely gets you from Newburgh to Terre Haute, IN while 4.5 hours puts you in Kentland or Morocco. 6.75 hours — the midpoint of Nintendo’s guidance — is the time it takes to travel from Newburgh, IN to Hobart, IN for an Officially Approved Childhood Family Visit (aka, “vacation.”). It’s a very real upgrade, and it’s unfair to moan about how we all want more battery life from our electronic devices, only to turn around and pretend the Switch you can buy today is the same as the device you could purchase in 2017. It isn’t. If what you care about is playing games remotely without worrying about the battery dying, the 2019 Switch is a vast improvement over the 2017 model.
The one downside for Nintendo headed into Q2 is that its release schedule is looking a little threadbare. Apart from rumors of Super Mario remasters that the company has neither confirmed nor denied, there’s not much dropping in the next few months. Bayonetta 3, Metroid Prime 4, and the sequel to Breath of the Wild are all still listed as TBA titles. Nintendo hasn’t said much about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, other than noting that its development timelines may be impacted as a result.
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