Consumer Insight, Innovation and Bravery: A case study of the Nintendo Switch

Why putting all of its eggs in one basket has paid dividends for Nintendo.
By
Ronan Hegarty

June 11, 2018

Nintendo have achieved something truly profound in the gaming world. The creative gurus have spotted a weak spot in the thick armour of the Microsoft and Sony, mobilised their best IP and created a truly revolutionary product with all the right lures to attract a previously out of reach gaming audience.

It is important to lay out the groundwork of what we mean by ‘revolutionary’ here. In its purest form, a change in direction is exceptionally hard to do. Many companies love the buzzwords of ‘innovation’ or ‘ground-breaking’ but they will readily sacrifice creativity, entrepreneurialism and ultimately, risk, in favour of the same products with the same story. They are resigned to be another voice in the crowd claiming, ‘we are different’. Profitability and reliable forecasts are steady when you adopt the mentality of ‘continuing the course’ and this is no different in the gaming world.  Games are incredibly expensive to make and thus established formulas are the norm. There is a reason Call of Duty, FIFA and the vast majority of all genres stick to tried and tested experiences.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all faced the same riddle. Consumer research revealed that people wanted a device that could facilitate handheld gaming and home console gaming. The technology to pull this off based on today's standards has existed for quite some time (the graphics capabilities on the Switch is not as powerful as the original PS4 that came to market in 2013). Back in 2003, Nintendo originally responded to this dilemma with the launch of the GameCube, a home console with hand held capability but only when paired with the Gameboy Advance. Shortly thereafter in 2004, Sony responded with the launch of the PSP, a handheld device with a strong graphics output to compliment the hugely successful PlayStation 2 console.

The astute among you will notice that neither of these 2 products fully encapsulated the needs of gaming consumers. This is because Nintendo were entrenched in the handheld market and naturally did not want to risk losing this if the GameCube would flop. Sony in much the same vein were stepping cautiously into Nintendo’s handheld market and did not want to bet it all on a system that may not succeed. The GameCube made a host of launch mistakes that could have been avoided if they listened to the crystal-clear consumer data at the time: ‘Good launch games, Mario and a DVD player please’. Nintendo ignored these formulas for success to their detriment and as for the PSP, yes it sold well but it died a slow death. Compatibility with the PS2/PS3 and access to a great host of games would have given the PSP much needed lifeblood of any successful gaming device, content.

Fast-forward to 2017. Mobile gaming had exploded and was subsequently eroding the handheld console market. On top of this Nintendo’s latest console the Wii U was performing poorly.  The simultaneous failure of both the Wii U and decline of handheld devices was the catalyst to perhaps the biggest bet in game branding history. Nintendo launched the Switch and in doing so really did break the rule of ‘putting all your eggs on one basket’. It worked. 

Image: © Nintendo


There wasn’t an abundance of content but there was the ‘right content’. Video game icons Mario and Zelda lured core gamers back into the fold and simultaneously didn’t alienate their core family market or casual gamers. Highly social games like Mario Kart coupled with two controllers encouraged social play, maintaining the essence of what made successful Nintendo consoles great.  The quirky feature this time was a practical need for gaming consumers. Core gamers' desire to game on the go with friends or lazily game in bed was jubilantly fulfilled.

 


The unprecedented sociability of the gaming device coupled with brand positioning and unique content is a special recipe. It serves as a legitimate avenue for non-gamers to be exposed, attracted to, and ultimately buy. This is the ambitious plan of Nintendo and after 17.7 million sales and extensive third-party support, the console is certainly on the right track. By winning over such a diverse range of demographics, Nintendo have achieved what many considered impossible.

We here at Morar HPI understand the challenges and wider industry influences on your perceived marketing constraints. We can provide you with cutting edge research, insight, brand strategy & consulting to help you be truly ‘innovative’ in a way that separates you from the competition. Please get in touch with us to find out more.

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