Nintendo's Fils-Aime: The Switch won't oust the 3DS

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime chats with CNET about how a device you can hold in your hand isn't actually a handheld.

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Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. That Switch held in his hand is not actually a handheld. Not primarily anyway, he tells us.
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Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. That Switch held in his hand is not actually a handheld. Not primarily anyway, he tells us.

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. That Switch he's holding in his hand is not actually a handheld. Not primarily anyway, he tells us.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Don't call the new Nintendo Switch a tablet.

And don't assume the shape-shifting device for gamers will replace the company's popular 3DS handheld, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in an interview with CNET.

With its latest gadget, Nintendo is playing to win the same game it has for decades: the one that takes place in your living room.

Revealing the $300 (£280 or AU$470) Switch on Thursday, the company hyped the modular device as part home console, part handheld and part tablet.

Leave the Switch Console holstered in the Switch Dock, hook up the two Joy-Con controllers and plug the whole setup into a TV. Voila: You can play on a big screen. Undock the Console -- which boasts its own screen -- and attach the Joy-Cons directly to it. There's your handheld. Use the Console's kickstand to prop it up like a tablet, then connect the controllers. You've got a kind of portable, mini-TV setup.

A closer look at the Nintendo Switch

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With its morphing skills and ease of portability, the Switch seems primed to take over the handheld market, perhaps even biting into sales of Nintendo's own 3DS. But Fils-Aime stressed that the Switch, due in early March, will be a home-oriented product first.

"The form factor may be that it looks like [a tablet]," he said. "But...it's a home console that you can take with you and play anywhere with anyone."

Nintendo needs that message to resonate with consumers. The company's most recent home console, 2012's Wii U, never came close to the megahit success of the original Wii, released back in 2006. In the meantime, the company has continued to build a solid business on its 3DS portable platform, even as it's experimented with releasing games like Pokemon Go, Miitomo and Super Mario Run on iOS and Android mobile devices.

To reassure 3DS owners that their beloved handheld isn't doomed, Fils-Aime said Nintendo will still be creating games for the 3DS, with its spring and summer lineup set to be announced at the E3 gaming conference in June.

Besides, with the Switch, Nintendo is envisioning a different target audience.

What's my age again?

Fils-Aime with old pal Mario.

Fils-Aime with an old pal.

Getty Images

Nintendo's reputation as a family-friendly company has sometimes driven harder-core gamers to Microsoft's Xbox One console or Sony's PlayStation 4. Nintendo is betting on the Switch to bring those players back, with games that are more competitive and engaging.

Where the first ad for Nintendo's Wii U device, in 2012, featured children and families, the first preview of the Switch had no children in it.

"With Zelda, with Kart, with Xenoblade, I think the initial consumer for Switch will be more young adults with disposable incomes, given the price points and the large library," Fils-Aime said. That doesn't mean Nintendo is ditching its core audience. The company will continue to skew toward a younger crowd with the 3DS.

"In the end, we want people of all ages engaging with Mario and Zelda and the content that's available across both platforms," Fils-Aime said.

Prepared for launch

Nintendo has announced only five launch titles for the Switch, three of which are third-party games. You'll have to wait more than a month to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and you won't get your hands on Super Mario Odyssey until the holiday season.

That pales in comparison to the Wii U's 34 launch titles, or the Xbox One's 22, or the 24 initial games for the PlayStation 4. But Nintendo is keeping the number low on purpose. The company found that the large number of launch titles for the Wii U didn't do Nintendo any favors.

"Launch day is not the be-all and the end-all," Fils-Aime said. "It really is the steady pacing of content that continually reinforces for the people who bought into the platform why they made a smart choice, as well as what compels people who might be sitting on the sidelines to jump in."

He said the Wii U lacked this reliable rhythm of game releases, pointing to titles like Pikmin 3 and Star Fox Zero that didn't stay on schedule.

That's why Nintendo is spacing out its heavy hitters for the Switch, tweeting out this tentative schedule on Friday:


"We feel we have this great ongoing march of content to motivate you to jump into the platform," Fils-Aime said.

Going online

Even Fils-Aime admits Nintendo's online gameplay doesn't have the best reputation.

"People have taken shots at us for that," he said. But a shift from a free to a subscription-based model for online play has the potential to change things.

Nintendo's philosophy with online service has been that it's part of the package and should be included at no cost. But with companies like Sony and Microsoft using a subscription-based approach, Nintendo realized it needed to follow suit.

"The reality is, the way that online experiences have progressed, it's an expensive proposition," Fils-Aime said. "The amount of servers we need to support Smash Brothers or Mario Kart -- these big multiplayer games -- is not a small investment."

Nintendo hasn't released any details yet on how much you'll have to pay, but the company is offering features like a matchmaking lobby system and voice chat. Subscribers will also get a different Nintendo Entertainment System title or Super NES game for free each month.

Connecting with friends will be on a case-by-case basis, but Nintendo is hoping to create a standardized experience. "There are no friend codes within what we're doing," Fils-Aime said, referencing the company's past cumbersome system for adding contacts.

Stay tuned, more to come

Fils-Aime stayed mum on how Virtual Console, Nintendo's system for letting people play classic titles on newer devices, would work with the Switch. With the success of the NES Classic, Nintendo has a massive opportunity to bring back games from its previous eras. Fils-Aime said the company would provide details on the Virtual Console issue prior to the Switch's release.

The tabletlike design of the Switch Console makes us wonder if it'll have tabletlike features, such as the ability to stream shows and movies as well as browse the web. No word on that yet. And besides the price of the subscription service for online games, it's not clear what kind of extras subscribers will get, or if downloaded games from the Wii U will transfer over.

Apparently with the Switch, Fils-Aime wants play a game or two of surprise.

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