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The Switch is wildly popular. It's Nintendo's home console AND handheld. So why is 3rd party major studio / retail support so atrocious? [roundtable]
So, just to set the stage here, the Switch had 10 of the top 20 selling games in America this past December. Specifically, NINTENDO had 10 of the top 20, as literally all of them were 1st party. It does very well in Europe and Japan as well. It has already outpaced the Xbox One worldwide and is usually topping the charts across the globe.

And yet, the 3rd party major studio / retail support is not good. Well, no, to be more precise, it is VERY bad. And I can't quite put my finger on why.

There is the usual explanation of "Nintendo's own games do so well they crowd out the rest." Ok, fine. But at least on the Wii, Nintendo's last wildly popular console, 3rd parties tried! This isn't an exhaustive list, but I was looking through the game lists trying to find stuff that got decent reviews and is semi-unique to the platform, or at least not a port of an old game, and this is what I came up with:

Wii: Little King's Story, No More Heroes 1/2, Zack & Wiki, Boom Blox 1/2, Trauma Center / Team, Red Steel 1/2, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Monster Hunter Tri, de Blob 1/2, MadWorld, Muramasa, A Boy and His Blob, The Last Story, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Sonic Colors, Rune Factory Frontier, Rayman Origins / Legends, Resident Evil / Dead Space / House of the Dead light gun shooters, etc.

Say what you want about Wii 3rd party support, there were at least some solid attempts. And we got a lot of stuff we wouldn't have seen if the Wii didn't exist. Meanwhile...

Switch: Mario V Rabbids, Astral Chain, Octopath Traveler, Valkyria Chronicles 4, (upcoming) Monster Hunter Rise, No More Heroes 3, ???

Again, not definitive, but like... the Wii had much better 3rd party support? Is it BECAUSE of 3rd parties trying on the Wii and not seeing the results they wanted that they stopped trying? Or maybe the Wii had more unique hardware with the motion controls that gave developers some ideas, while the Switch doesn't to the same degree?

Also, keep in mind that THIS IS NINTENDO'S HANDHELD AS WELL. Where the everloving F is the support that the DS / 3DS got? I think it is fair to say that, despite the Switch technically being a handheld, pretty much no developers, including Nintendo really, are actually treating it like Nintendo's next handheld. It's just not even remotely comparable to the DS / 3DS 3rd party situation. But, why exactly? What is stopping it from getting "handheld" type support? Hell, what is stopping it from getting "handheld" type support from Nintendo? Remember when we were like "hey, Nintendo can focus on a single platform now, it will get a TON of games!" What happened? Was it just Covid?! But even before Covid we didn't see the output that some of us expected.

I guess one thing that should be mentioned here is that indie support on the Switch is much, much better than it was on the Wii. It gets almost all of the major indie games that the other two consoles get, and a few exclusives to boot. Is this related somehow? Are indie sales crowding out the smaller / niche market that 3rd parties used to find?

I NEED ANSWERS. What do you think is going on?

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01/17/21, 21:17    Edited: 01/17/21, 21:55
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I don't really pay attention to the AAA gaming scene, but my perception is that the Switch gets more ports of Xbox and PlayStation games than any Nintendo console before it? It seems to be doing pretty well from that perspective.

So maybe back in the Wii days, in order to capture that market, publishers felt like they had to try something new and innovative, since they couldn't just port their existing games over. Whereas now, when some team lead asks their producer if they can make a unique switch game, the higher-ups ask them why they'd want to do that when they already have all these PS4 games that they could just port.

I mean, the real answer is organizational incompetence. Or maybe some weird incentive structures. But I think about this a lot in general, especially the past year. All of these "greedy, profit-maximizing capitalists" could've been a lot better off if they'd let people work remotely ten years ago, but there wasn't a single one who moved to exploit that strategy and gain a competitive advantage because... they're dumb? They're conformist? Bureaucracy? Fear of getting sued?

It's easy to be an armchair CEO, but some of the decisions these companies make really are baffling. Why would the executives at CD Project Red rush to release a broken game and get all this horrible press when they could have waited another year and had a classic on their hands? Why does Ubisoft put out an Assassin's Creed game every year when GTAV took five years and is one of the best-selling games ever?

So, "why don't AAA studios fund unique, inexpensive AA games?" is a great question. But you can take it to its logical conclusion: Stardew Valley was made by one dude and has sold a zillion copies. Why don't AAA studios fund talented one-to-three-person teams to create games that could potentially have a millionfold ROI?

And the answer is... who knows!? Companies hire 100 talented people and tell them exactly what to do like robots because that way managers can't get yelled at by the board of directors if something goes wrong. But if people were actually capable of thinking probabilistically, they'd hire 100 talented people and then let them goof off and do absolutely whatever they want with no direction... because even if 99 of them slack off, one of them is bound to come up with a billion dollar idea.

But then if some year that doesn't happen, the bureaucrats get mad at the "wasted money." And that's why no one listened when the weirdo programmers who think in terms of expected value and exponential growth started warning everyone about a dangerous virus last January...
01/17/21, 22:01   
Edited: 01/17/21, 22:01
The Switch has been getting ports but I wouldn't say it is to some remarkable degree compared to say, the Wii, which ALSO got a lot of ports. Though I guess I'd need to actually look deeper into the data to make that comparison, maybe the Switch is getting more than I realize and I'm just not that interested in most of them.

Remember when the Wii got a port of Dead Rising? That was such a goofy decision, but I look back on it now and think wow, we complained at the time but there were attempts made. Even if they were sometimes bad ideas, lol. The Wii U kind of killed 3rd party support and then the Switch, despite selling way better, never recovered it.

But isn't this a handheld as well? Where is the handheld support?! I'd say maybe handheld stuff doesn't sell as well on the Switch as the DS / 3DS, but it feels like there have been so few attempts that there isn't even any data to base that on. No one wanted to give it a try?

Like, just off the top of my head, is there potential on the Switch for a $40 Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton type game?! Or is that just not a thing that can exist anymore?

I love the Switch, but I feel like the "console + handheld, best of both worlds!" experiment hasn't really panned out so far. It's a console you can play on the go. It doesn't really have that handheld feel (outside of indie stuff I guess.) Hell even the PSP and Vita got some scaled down versions of the bigger games on the other consoles. Is that a thing that can even exist anymore either? Some like $40 handheld-style GTA game or something?

Because if none of these handheld style games can exist on the Switch, for whatever reason, I'd hate to pull a Grant but I think I would kind of want a dedicated handheld to return again in the future. But is that even possible now?!

Hmm, and I also don't want to give up the handheld aspect of a home console now that I have it though. I'm not sure what I want?! Well, obviously what I want is for developers to treat this like a Nintendo console AND a Nintendo handheld, but that seems unlikely at this point.
01/17/21, 22:05   
Edited: 01/17/21, 22:14

I think you're conflating "handheld" with "AA." Or "B," or whatever. Lower-budget productions that are usually a little more experimental. In a world where there are no handheld gaming devices other than the Switch, and where phones have supercomputers in them, the idea of a "handheld" game being any different from a console game seems a little antiquated. They just put out Shiren the Wanderer 5 on Switch, and they're coming out with Bravely Default 2, and those are both series that were on handheld once upon a time... but before that they were on console.

There might be something to be said for games that have shorter standard playtimes, but I don't know if most of people's favorite handheld games were actually designed that way to begin with! Do you really want to shut off a tense Phoenix Wright case when you get to your train stop?

To me, "why are there no handheld games?" is the same question as "why are there no AA games?" And I think the answer is that these studios have absorbed their smaller teams (which they had to have because they were constrained by tech limitations at the time) into their AAA teams to make their next HUGE game marginally HUGER.
01/17/21, 22:21   
I think you did answer some of the reasons yourself, especially with how well Nintendo's games are selling on Switch and drowning out the rest.

There are some other possibilities I can think of as well. One is that for physical games, the cost of producing Switch game cards is higher than the media for other systems, especially the larger-capacity cards.

I believe there have before been discussions on this site about the fall of the mid-budget game, which is largely due to the rise of HD systems. Unfortunately, the Switch is also an HD system, so its dev costs are much higher than the Wii and especially the DS and 3DS, which is probably one reason we're not seeing much of those kinds of projects anymore.

Like the Wii, the Switch is significantly less powerful than the other systems, with the gap widening even more now that PS5 and Series X are out. This makes Switch ports cost more resources and money, for less potential return. Most of the ports the system gets are from PS360 games since they're more equal in power. Perhaps if the other platforms weren't already so lucrative for third-parties then they might take more risks on Switch.

While some of the exclusives have done decently, they haven't really matched the numbers third-parties can get on the other platforms. The Switch is dominating Japan though so we'll probably mainly see Japanese third-party support.

There's also the possibility of some behind-the-scenes stuff that's difficult to substantiate. I have heard some things such as Nintendo charges higher royalty fees, and provides less technical support for their dev kits, but I have no idea if these things are true.
01/17/21, 22:45   
Yeah, it's shameful. At least the Wii gave us stuff like Boom Blox. From EA, even! Now they can't even make a real sports title for the most globally successful platform on the market. Just port Boom Blox! Or make a timed exclusive Mass Effect or Dead Space or Mirror's Edge remaster. And make an online-enabled compilation of sports classics! NHL '93, Madden '94, ... some other dumb sports game...

And Take Two seriously can't port a single GTA game to the Switch? When the latest entry came out on the Xbox 360?

Whatevvvs. There's a good business adage: You will never get fired for doing the same wrong thing as everyone else. AAA gaming is like a cartel. They want that large barrier to entry so that they can stay at the top of the heap by inertia alone. So they make people think that they need the AAA drug with copious amounts of advertising, and then they manufacture and distribute the drug to meet the demand that they created. Even if the drug that they rush through testing is poor quality and has nasty side-effects, what's your other option? Where else are you gonna go? You need that hit of AAA!

Or whatever. So that kind of explains Western third-parties. But Japanese third-parties are a bit harder to understand. They seem to be trying to keep up with the big AAA boys, but most don't really have the cash and get overbid at the poker table. All to chase overseas success. Except the Switch is leading the global market, so wtf. If they still want to put games on PS4, they can, but most Japanese games should be developed using the Switch as a base platform. Then they can be up-ported to the PS4/PC.

The Nintendo audience doesn't prioritize first-party software because they only like Nintendo games. They do it because Nintendo's best efforts absolutely crush the half-assed third-party leavings and downports that most other publishers poop out onto their platform.

The concept of business loyalty may also be stronger in Japan.

Also, maybe publishers, in general, don't have the resources to make risky, unique software for the Switch because those resources are now going to mobile and (freaking) VR (of all things).

I think I've ranted long enough. At least some of the Japanese third-parties like Capcom are coming around. Rise is a real, no-foolin' third-party effort. And a new Makaimura game, too! Throw in a new Bionic Commando and Strider and I'll stop whining!

Konami just had a huge-ass hit with Momotaro Densetsu, too. The return on investment for that game must have been freakin' enormous. That'll turn some heads. And then we'll be drowning in low-budget board games! But the joke's on them! I love board games!!

Culdcept 2021!!!
01/17/21, 23:23   
Mop it up said:
Unfortunately, the Switch is also an HD system, so its dev costs are much higher than the Wii and especially the DS and 3DS, which is probably one reason we're not seeing much of those kinds of projects anymore.

This kind of depends on the approach though. Tiny indie devs are producing low budget games for the Switch without worrying too much about HD costs. The kind of stuff I'm thinking about, like say... Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton, Trauma Center, Castlevania, Henry Hatsworth, Bangai-O, all that kind of stuff doesn't necessarily become much higher budget on an HD console.

But yeah I think the cartridges are a barrier right? It's like $10 more to do cartridges than disks or something? But DS and 3Ds had cartridges too, right?!
01/17/21, 23:23   
@Zero Right, the part you quoted removed the proper context, we were specifically talking about the mid-budget or "AA" kind of game, not indies.

For the specific games you mentioned, they're niche stuff that never sold much, so that probably has something to do with Secret_Tunnel's explanations such as the big companies chasing after the next big thing with big games.

3DS and especially DS game cards were still cheaper than Switch game cards because they were a lot lower in capacity, and I think they also used a type of tech that was cheaper than the kind used in Switch game cards. Coupled with the relatively low dev costs compared to the disc systems, it balanced out.
01/17/21, 23:45   
Edited: 01/18/21, 00:01
I think @Secret_Tunnel, @Mop it up, and @Anand all covered a lot of the reasons behind it.

I agree that it seems like the "AA" game (or whatever you want to call it, the mid-budget game) is beginning to disappear. With past handhelds, you could do 2D stuff or quirky stuff and still make a tidy profit with the handheld market of kids and casual gamers. Now, that market has started to fragment off into mobile land and the nonsense that that brings with it like microtransactions and gacha elements.

I'm still wondering where the next Ace Attorney game is, but we do get some mid-budget games from time to time from third-parties. Some that come to mind that you didn't list in the OP are Trials of Mana, Sakuna (if this counts, it's made by a small team but feels just like those quirky, solid Wii games of old), Mega Man 11, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, Super Bomberman R, and Dragon Quest Builders 2. Most of those are/were also mid-priced at around 30-40 bucks upon release. So there's still a market for these types of games, but I think devs often don't want to make them full price alongside their biggest-budget stuff, so there's likely a smaller profit margin.

I do still miss the massive, high-quality third-party stuff though. Dragon Quest XI S scratched that itch tremendously for me, but it was still a (very enhanced) game that released on other systems first.
01/18/21, 01:03   
I think it’s mostly having to “downgrade” the games to make the able to run on the Switch. It’s definitely not lack of an user base.
01/18/21, 06:50   
I'm annoyed there hasn't been Madden or NHL on a nintendo console in years. It just doesn't make sense.
01/18/21, 21:30   
@Secret_Tunnel Looking at what's on EA Play, they've published a few smaller works, such as Unravel and Unravel Two (both beautiful games, check 'em out people).

Zero said:
Remember when the Wii got a port of Dead Rising?
While Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop started out as a port, it's probably a bit of a stretch to call the end product that. It was heavily overhauled from its original version to work on the Wii, which includes major changes like greatly reducing the size of the playable world, and reducing the active enemies count down to one-eighth of the original, which also prompted them to redo the weapons. In the end, it's probably closer to something like Dead Space Extraction, which uses the original story with different gameplay.

I think the Wii got more ports from PS2 and earlier systems than it did from PS360, though as I think about it, I s'pose it did get more than I first thought. I probably forgot about stuff like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Skylanders, since those franchises are pretty much defunct now. I don't know if it ever got ports of what would be considered "AAA" though, with the lone exception of Call of Duty games.
01/18/21, 23:47   
Edited: 01/22/21, 02:05
Same as their other recent systems. If it takes any more effort than lazily porting a multi-platform game, then third parties aren’t interested. Game development is too expensive and risky for exclusives these days. I think that’s the long story short of it.

Indies are thriving on the system with their small budget games, of course.
01/19/21, 01:26   
Edited: 01/19/21, 01:28
Zero said:
Because if none of these handheld style games can exist on the Switch, for whatever reason, I'd hate to pull a Grant but I think I would kind of want a dedicated handheld to return again in the future. But is that even possible now?!

Hey, that wouldn't be the worst decision in the world!

But to the question at hand...is it really that bad? I mean, sure Switch doesn't have it's annual Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed games (well, I guess technically Switch *does* have Assassin's Creed). But there are a LOT of third party games out on the system. Ubisoft has probably been the best as far as Western developers go, by releasing some of their major titles on the system and even making sure two of their newest IPs made it to Switch (Starlink and Immortals: Fenyx Rising).

But there have been some other stuff, even those "handheld-like" games you mention. Level-5 hasn't made a Layton game in a while, but the last one they did (Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy) is on Switch. Konami doesn't make their 2D Castlevania games anymore, but thankfully IGA is making up for it with Bloodstained. And yeah it's weird Rockstar hasn't put out a GTA game, but Switch doest at least have Saint's Row and L.A. Noire, for whatever that's worth.

We've also seen a lot of those visual-novel games on Switch that were popular on DS and 3DS. The Zero Escape series may be over, but the writer is still making games of that ilk, not the least of which is AI: The Somnium Files which yes, it on Switch.

And hey, give props to Square-Enix, who has kind of a hot-and-cold relationship with Nintendo sometimes. We got a great version of the latest Dragon Quest, plus exclusive stuff like Octopath Traveler and the upcoming Bravely Default II.

All that said, I do understand what you're saying, but I don't feel it's all doom and gloom. Third party support *should* be better for what is now the world-leading platform, but honestly I think companies need to recover a bit after the disaster the Wii U was. All things considered, support for the console/handheld hybrid isn't bad at all. I wouldn't be surprisede if initially, companies wrote Nintendo off completely after their last console.
01/20/21, 12:15   
I mean it has to just be about money. The more complex these games are, the more staff and support a company needs to keep on even after a game releases. Since these ports to Switch are probably much more complex than say, the kinds of games you'd even see on N64 or GameCube, I'm sure it's even more costly now to provide support to a Switch port. And then you have the fact that unlike that era, companies aren't hurting for platforms to release their games on. A publisher can put out a game to XBox, PS5, PC, and maybe Mac without very much effort, depending on the game. I also don't know what kind of licensing fees Nintendo asks for these days, or how much it takes for publishers to put games on the game cards. I imagine some of these companies are content making one game across 3 or 4 platforms. And then don't forget, even within THOSE platforms, they have to do more work for the different versions of each console. I'm not sure if all of these factors weigh more than the amount of money a publisher could potentially make on Switch, but I'm sure these obstacles don't help them make Switch a priority.

On a side note, even Nintendo's output the last couple years has been pretty minimal and conservative. I know it's for different reasons than third party companies, but I feel like their output has been a bit surprising, given that they only have one platform to support (outside of mobile). So, outside of some stellar indies, I feel like Switch has had things pretty quiet across the board over the past couple of years.
01/21/21, 02:34   
I was looking at the list of games on Wikipedia which sold one million copies or more, and I think that paints part of the picture as well. There aren't very many third-parties games on Nintendo platforms on these lists, and of the ones on them, most aren't much more than one million. Most of the successful ones are from Japanese publishers, which is probably part of the reason they're more willing to keep trying.
01/21/21, 21:12   
@Mop it up
Which Western third-party games on Switch do you think should have had a shot at selling a million copies?
01/22/21, 00:59   
@Anand I have no idea, ha ha, I don't follow that stuff. Just thought it might be interesting to list some stats to chew on. Perhaps someone more versed in other devs can answer your question.
01/22/21, 01:14   
Edited: 01/22/21, 02:06
Anand said:
Which Western third-party games on Switch do you think should have had a shot at selling a million copies?

I would assume something from Ubisoft...Mario + Rabbids perhaps? Or maybe that new IP, Immortals: Fenyx Rising since it has such strong Breath of the Wild vibes....?
01/25/21, 00:15   
Pretty sure that Mario and Rabbids sold a million. It definitely deserved to!

I think that Fenix Rising kind of underperformed, in general, though.

FIFA: Halfass Edition probably cleared a mil, too... And probably MK11?

I wonder how DOOM and Skyrim did. And those 2K ports.
01/26/21, 03:47   
Edited: 01/26/21, 03:48
@Anand Mario Rabbids sold at least two million. And probably a lot more, because that was very early on.

I legit wonder what the sales would have been if it was (more or less, as much as would be possible) the same game but without Mario stuff. Probably a tiny fraction, no? Mario really does drive sales.
01/26/21, 04:11   
Edited: 01/26/21, 04:12
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