We’re all waiting in breathless anticipation for Nintendo’s big Switch press event in just a few days on Jan. 12, which should be the biggest info dump about the system to date. So far, information has only trickled out about the system through official channels, with the bulk coming from leaks. Nintendo debuted a three minute trailer for the Switch this fall which revealed its handheld/home console split functionality, but the spot almost raised more questions than answers, and Nintendo has been tight-lipped since.
One point of speculation has been about the price of the unit, and it seems everyone more or less has the same idea in mind. After the system was first announced, analysts said that Nintendo probably couldn't price it higher than $300. Last November, there was a retailer leak that put the Switch’s price at $250, but that was mostly seen as a placeholder rather than inside info. Now, Nikkei, the Japanese paper, is predicting a ¥25,000 for the Switch, or about $215 in the US given the current exchange rate. Given different international pricing, that may end up being rounded pretty far up to $250 overseas, which was the original price of the Wii at launch.
All of these are essentially just estimates, but the idea is clear, Nintendo would be pretty crazy to price the Switch any higher than this.
The Wii U had a higher base price of $300, which certainly was not the only factor it floundered, but it was a higher barrier of entry to than the Wii. The common thought is that the base model of the Switch will be $250, and perhaps some upgraded, higher storage version may be $300 at worst.
Price has been a big point in Nintendo’s favor the last few console generations, with the Xbox One and PS4 starting out at $500 and $400 respectively, and the PS3 famously going for $600 at launch. It seems unlikely that even with a device that combines handheld and home console functionality, that Nintendo would want to skirt above the $250-300 range.
The problem? Nintendo has not been great about making prices come down over time for both software and hardware. Wii U’s are still incredibly expensive to this day and Nintendo games rarely come down in price the way you see with most PS/XB titles. So while you’re getting money off up front, if you enter later into the console’s lifecycle, you’re not really saving much. The message is clear. Buy this console/game now, as it won't do you any good to wait.
The Switch would seem to do a lot for $250, acting as both a handheld and console, but this raises a question I’ve had for a while now, one we still don’t know the answer to. It’s more or less being implied that Nintendo will phase out the 3DS after this year, which would leave both its division working on one unit, the Switch. Now, it’s great that Nintendo has a device that does both, but Nintendo’s handhelds have been enormous sellers by themselves over the years, and now scaling back to only one device implies they’re really going to want to increase hardware sales to make up for that. But they’re in a tough spot because the Switch’s price point isn’t combining two hardware SKUs for something like a $500-$550 asking price, so that simply relies on them selling a ton of units to make up the difference.
Not that Nintendo can’t do this, but is it likely? Ehhh.
Just this last generation, the Wii U sold 13.3 million units. The 3DS sold 61.5 million units. Yes, the 3DS will continue to be sold this year, but after that? Will it continue? Will Nintendo actually make a new handheld? Who knows? But if not, and if the Switch becomes the end all, be all of Nintendo’s hardware offerings, is it really going to sell 70 million units in this current climate? Maybe, but that's an incredibly tall order.
There are a lot of other factors at play here including Nintendo making new inroads into mobile revenue streams and opening up its IPs for branding opportunities in other industries (the theme park!) but there’s a whole lot riding on the Switch, and that may be especially true after this year.