Nintendo thinks the Switch is well-placed for post-pandemic life

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The Switch is nearly five years old and facing increased competition from new and powerful consoles from Sony and Microsoft. But despite all of this, Nintendo’s E3 2021 presentation this week was arguably the highlight of this year’s event — even if the long-rumored Switch Pro failed to make an appearance. Nintendo showed off the much-anticipated sequel to Breath of the Wild, revealed that the mythical Metroid Dread is launching later this year, and peppered in a handful of other announcements to excite fans. As always, the company continued to exist in its own world, divorced from the technological rat race that typically defines these debates.

In fact, the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X appears to have had very little impact on Nintendo, as the Switch is selling as well as ever. Doug Bowser, president of Nintendo of America, believes the reason is simple: there’s still nothing else like the Switch on the market. While he notes that new console launches “bodes well for the industry,” Bowser tells The Verge that the hybrid nature of the Switch means it still occupies “a unique position” that differentiates itself from more traditional consoles. And it’s a proposition that has proven to be surprisingly enduring.

As with most gaming companies, the past year has been both a challenge and an opportunity for Nintendo. With everyone stuck at home, many turned to games like Animal Crossing as a form of escape or social interaction. The pandemic meant that more people were playing games, but conversely that games were more challenging to develop.

“We’ve seen video games really grow in terms of the number of people playing, and the amount of time that they’re playing overall,” Bowser says. “For us at Nintendo, our focus first and foremost has been keeping our employees safe, and ensuring that we’re providing safe environments for them to work within. And while there have been some challenges, what I can say is I think the teams have adapted very well, and it’s allowed us to be effective in the various environments where we may be working overall. I think the lineup that you’ve seen so far this calendar year bodes well.”

Outside of an increased appetite for games, he says that there have also been some changes in player behavior during the pandemic. For starters, there’s been a change in who is playing games on the Switch. “Demographics are changing,” Bowser says. That includes more casual players, as well as more women playing on the Switch. (Bowser previously noted a similar audience expansion when the Switch Lite launched in 2019.) Unsurprisingly, those new players are also spending a lot of time using online features. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons again fueled a lot of that,” says Bowser. “But it’s carried through and, for instance, even more recently Monster Hunter Rise has been the source of a lot of online play overall for us.”

He also adds that, despite its absence from the company’s E3 presentation, New Horizons remains a big part of Nintendo’s future. “While we didn’t talk about it [during the E3 Nintendo Direct], we absolutely have plans going forward to ensure the 33 million people who have islands out there have new and fun activities to engage with,” Bowser says. “Look for more to come.”

Looking ahead, it’s likely those behaviors will shift again, as various places open up and stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. Bowser believes this will be yet another advantage for Nintendo. “I think that’s going to be really important as we emerge from this pandemic, and people are looking to engage in other activities, hopefully travel, vacations, etc.,” he says. “Nintendo Switch is one of those devices that they can take with them as they embark on various travels. The positioning we still think is incredibly relevant.”

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