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How and Why the Nintendo Switch is the Fastest Selling Console



Nintendo announced early yesterday morning that the Nintendo Switch has become the fastest-selling home video game system in U.S. history. According to Nintendo’s internal sales figures, the system which launched March 3, 2017, has sold more than 4.8 million units in the United States in less than a year. That’s the highest total for the first 10 months of any home video game system in U.S. history, surpassing Nintendo’s own Wii system, which was the previous record holder with more than 4 million units sold during the same timeframe.

“Fans across the country have experienced the joy of playing their favorite games at home or on the go,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s President and COO. “Now that many more people have received Nintendo Switch systems for the holidays, we look forward to bringing them fun new surprises in 2018 and beyond.”

Last week, Famitsu reported that Nintendo sold about 3.3 million Switch in Japan. Last month, Nintendo also reported that it sold more than 10 million Switch consoles worldwide as of December 10th. While we haven’t yet received an official update on the Switch’s total global sales, they’re likely to be released at the end of the month, but by the looks of it, the Switch is on pace to sell a whopping 20 million units before the end of this year. So the question is, how and why is the Nintendo Switch doing so well? As someone who works as a marketing manager by day, I thought it would be fun to sit down and write about why I think the Switch is such a huge success.

The Mystery Box

Way back in April 2015, Nintendo announced they were releasing a new video game console codenamed the “NX.” It was buried on page three of its quarterly financial report, with an announcement about a new Kirby game and a statement about how well amiibo were selling. The company promised the NX would be a “brand-new concept” and would launch the NX globally in March 2017, and that’s pretty much all Nintendo was saying about the NX. It was a strange way to announce their next piece of hardware and worse, fans had to wait months in anticipation before Nintendo finally revealed the Switch into the wild. But what perhaps nobody, including Nintendo expected, is that during that time, there were probably more articles written about the console than there has been since its release. Just think about it. Nintendo didn’t need to advertise the Switch throughout 2015 because the internet did the job for them and in the best way possible. In today’s ad-saturated world, some of the most successful campaigns don’t look like advertising at all. Mystery marketing is a great way to grab the target audience’s attention and encourage people to seek more information about a company’s products or services. The fewer people know about a product the more anxious they get, and this especially applies to gamers.

Marketers view Millennials as an evasive generation to market to because of how Internet-savvy these consumers have become. And in an era where social media dominates our lives, the nature of the game has completely changed. Consumers are able to easily post reviews, spread rumours, educate themselves about products and even interact with companies more easily than ever before. There’s no better way to market your product than to stay in the conversation, but with so much information being fed to us by the minute, it’s hard to stay in the headlines before eventually being pushed down by everything else happening around the world. So how do you keep the conversation ongoing, especially when you’re trying to promote a product? Simple, you create a mystery and keep people wanting more. And that’s exactly what Nintendo did.

When looking to promote its new game Titanfall, Microsoft released a serious of commercials that ended with binary code. The first person to notice was a Reddit user which started a conversation online as fans attempted to solve this mysterious ad. With the Switch, Nintendo didn’t tell us anything at all about the system apart from a release date. There were no photos, no binary code, no commercials – we had nothing to work with but our imagination, hopes, fears and countless rumors circulating the world wide web. Chances are, if you’re reading this you most likely read dozens and dozens of articles in 2015 speculating about what exactly the Switch would offer. If you browsed any gaming, tech or business website, regardless of the size, chances are you saw a new article every week breaking down the latest rumor or rumors about the system. That was the beauty of Nintendo’s decision to not reveal any information whatsoever about the console until they were ready. Of course, we will never know if this was intentional or not, and chances are it wasn’t. Perhaps the company kept things under wraps because they weren’t ready to market the console and/or feared an early negative reception. Whatever the case, keeping the system a mystery for so long paid off in spades. By the time the hour-long event in Tokyo rolled out, Nintendo was very much in the limelight and just about every gamer was curious to know what exactly the NX was.

The Big Game

As a part of Nintendo’s effort to ensure that the Switch would be a success, the company aired its first-ever Super Bowl ad during Super Bowl 51 to promote the new console. The $5 million Nintendo spent for the commercial slot is a little pricey, but the investment paid off in spades. As reported by Nintendo Life, a video advertising analysis company called Ace Metrix determined that the Nintendo Switch Super Bowl 51 commercial was the fourth most popular ad that aired during the big game and the buzz surrounding the Nintendo Switch didn’t slow down, with the extended trailer on YouTube amassing 3.6 million views in a couple of days. And while $5 million is a lot of money, when compared to regular television spots, Super Bowl ads are actually a bargain. A normal add on television still runs a company anywhere between $200,000 to $500,000 per 30-second spot and not only does it reach fewer viewers, but chances are, half of the audience isn’t even paying attention when the ad is running whereas everyone watching the Super Bowl watches every ad that airs. Super Bowl ads also generate discussion for days afterward and can draw millions of additional viewers online. Purchasing ad space for the Switch was a no-brainer for Nintendo since the March 3rd launch date made the timing just so damn right. Over 111 million people reportedly watched Super Bowl 51, and I’m betting most of those people had no idea that Nintendo was releasing a new video game console.

Of course, it also helps that Nintendo managed to make a great commercial chock-full of easter-eggs, starring adults and underscored to the tune of ‘Believer’ by Imagine Dragons, one of the music industry’s most popular bands in 2017. It’s a commercial that despite receiving some criticism and ridicule, managed the grab the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike. The bottom line is that while Nintendo didn’t overload us with ads for the Switch, they still managed to keep the conversation surrounding the Switch ongoing right up until the day it was released by strategically timing when and how they would divulge more and more information. There wasn’t a day that went by that the internet wasn’t buzzing about the system and chances are, even if you don’t consider yourself a gamer, you most likely heard some rumbling about the Switch before it ever hit the market. The fact of the matter is, I have more friends who don’t consider themselves “gamers” that bought the Switch than friends who are gamers. Somehow, Nintendo found a way to reach a wide audience much like they did back with the Wii.

An Amazing Lineup of Games

Of course, even with great marketing you still need a great product and the Nintendo Switch is just that – it’s fucken great. A strong library of games continues to fuel momentum for Nintendo Switch and it helps that the Switch is blessed with two of the best games of 2017. Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are not only system-sellers, but they’re also two of the highest-rated games in history. Talk about hitting it out of the park. Nintendo wasn’t looking for a home run, they were gunning for a grand slam. Nintendo Switch also had the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe  and given that the Mario Kart series is one of the company’s biggest sellers, it only added fuel to the fire. Meanwhile, fans of the first Splatoon had no choice but to buy the Switch if they wanted to play the sequel. But it’s not just about the first party triple A titles; more than 300 games created by third-party developers have already launched for Nintendo Switch including big-name brands like FIFA 18 from Electronic Arts, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Just Dance 2018 from Ubisoft, Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition from Mojang, L.A. Noire from Rockstar Games, NBA 2K18 from 2K Games, Sonic Mania from SEGA, Rocket League from Psyonix and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and DOOM from Bethesda.

And that’s not all…

Historically, Nintendo has been plagued with delays for major franchises and suffering through long droughts in between some of their biggest releases. With the Switch, Nintendo has set a more regular release schedule of big games and surprisingly they’ve exceeded my expectations when it came to releasing DLC content throughout the year on some of their biggest hits including ARMS, Splatoon 2, and Breath of the Wild. Even months after these games were released, fans still had reason to go back and play them. I myself was playing BOTW right up until January 1st thanks to “The Champions Ballad”.

Who Needs Steam When You Have A Switch?

Nintendo Switch has also received strong support from indie developers, with a steady stream of favorites like SteamWorld Dig 2 from Image & Form, Golf Story from Sidebar Games, Overcooked from Team17 Digital Ltd and Stardew Valley from Chucklefish LTD. Not only are there hundreds of indie games available to play on the Switch but several indie developers have reported that the Switch versions of their games have sold more than all other versions combined. With Switch, Nintendo was early in offering support for popular engines like Unity and Unreal and they seem to have also been delivering dev kits quite rapidly. Incredible success stories continue to be shared since Nintendo has been reportedly supportive of indie developers. Nintendo knows that their console is a natural fit for indies, and we are bound to see hundreds of more indie games on the platform in 2018, many with exclusive features or timed exclusivity, as well.

Take It On The Go

Nintendo obviously has a dedicated fanbase so no matter what sort of console they release, they are most likely guaranteed to sell a few million units in a year. But unlike the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch won back many fans who didn’t invest in that system and one of the big reasons is because of the system’s portability. The Switch is a console that caters both to gamers who prefer playing on their couch and those who prefer their games on the go, and launching a hybrid machine that runs one of the greatest games ever made is something most gamers can’t resist. I mean who doesn’t want the option to take the system on the road? As someone who works in front of a computer all day, playing games on my computer at night doesn’t really interest me. Sure Steam has an enormous library and yes the platform is known for their incredible sales, but I much prefer to play an indie game on my couch, or on the go, or even in bed. And I’m sure many people feel the same way. In fact, I’ve found myself playing the Switch in just about every scenario as seen in the famous Super Bowl commercial including on a plane, at a party, on a rooftop and even at the basketball court.

What Competition?

Technically speaking, the only real competition the Switch has is Nintendo’s own dedicated handhelds, the 2DS and 3DS, but as our Nintendo Editor pointed out, reliance on the 3DS cannot last forever, as its sales naturally show a steady decline. Yes, Nintendo seems keen to keep the 3DS alive for as long as possible but for those of us who’ve already bought a Switch, the 3DS is sitting in the corner of our rooms collecting dust. Sooner or later, Nintendo’s going to pull the plug and when they do, the Switch won’t have any competition whatsoever since neither Sony nor Microsoft has expressed interest in portable gaming devices. As it stands, most people are already making the transition or at least planning on it.

The System Advertises Itself

Speaking of the portability of the Switch, the system practically advertises itself when you take it on the go. No matter where you take it, be it on planes, trains, a coffee shop, or even a bar, wherever you go, people will invariably see you playing on the device and ask you what it is. It also helps that it has some of the best multiplayer games so if you do take it out on the road, you always have the option of breaking off a Joy-Con and handing it over to a friend, colleague or family member who hasn’t yet had a chance to try out the console.

Artifical Demand

Last but not least, Nintendo created artificial demand. Of course, we can never prove that they did this intentionally but Nintendo managed to release just enough hardware throughout the year to get it in the hands of millions of people but still sell out within minutes so those who didn’t have a Switch would feel the need to buy one immediately before it was too late. By creating artificial demand, marketers play with the psychology of a customer. It’s a human tendency that if we get any product very easily or is readily available than we don’t value it much but if it sells out, we value it more. It’s controversial sure, but it is also proven to work when you have a dedicated fanbase. An Artificial Demand for a product will leverage the popularity of the product.

So why is the Nintendo Switch such a success? I’m guessing it has everything to do with what was mentioned above and more.

Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.