- Nintendo Switch is only behind the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo DS in the number of units sold since its launch.
- The Switch provides access to a vast library of games tailored to the Japanese market.
- The handheld console fits perfectly in the life of an average Japanese gamer.
- Switch not being a direct competitor to home consoles is one of the factors that help it sell so well.
Nintendo Switch has been the most popular handheld console in Japan and the whole world ever since it came out in 2017. Despite being around for about six years and featuring outdated hardware, how does Switch manages to attract new customers from all over the world?
Nintendo Switch has sold over 122 million units since its launch, making it one of the best-selling consoles of all time. The only other consoles ahead of Switch in numbers are the legendary PlayStation 2 and the classic Nintendo DS. Both of these consoles are only about a million units apart in sales, with PlayStation 2 selling 155 million units and Nintendo DS selling 154.02 million units.
However, from the looks of it, Switch will continue to dominate and grow even more with time. The handheld console is at its peak right now, with multiple exclusives coming its way, such as Metroid Prime 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Despite its prominent outdated hardware issue, it doesn’t look like Nintendo will stop promoting the Switch anytime soon.
Nintendo has all the right to do so. After all, Switch is nothing short of a worldwide sensation, with its popularity centered around its land of origin, Japan. But how is Switch so popular in Japan? Why have other current-gen consoles, such as the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series S|X, failed in a country where Switch reigns supreme? Check out the video below to find out.
Why Is It Popular?
Switch’s popularity in Japan isn’t due to some coincidence or work of fate. First, Nintendo Switch lets the player play incredible-looking games on the go. Many previous handheld consoles made the same promise and delivered on it to some extent. However, what makes Switch much better than previous handheld consoles is its ever-expanding library of games and the number of features it provides.
For all these years, handheld consoles have suffered from one problem that home consoles deal with quite efficiently. Home consoles are innovative, have strong hardware, and do not suffer from not having enough battery life, while all these issues are present in handheld consoles. They lack the computing power to run most modern titles efficiently.
However, Nintendo Switch offers a solution for all these issues. It may not be a graphical powerhouse that can run all modern games at 4K 60 FPS like current-gen home consoles, but it can surely run a fair share of AAA titles on playable FPS. Despite its shortcomings, the countless AAA titles in its library are another factor that makes Switch so good.
But the fact that you can play modern titles on a handheld console alone is enough to make the console popular in a country like Japan, where an average person spends most of their time commuting to and from work and school. According to a survey by the NHK Culture Research Institution in 2015, an average working person in Japan spends about 1 hour and 19 minutes on public transportation.
When you have to wait that long to reach your destination every day, having a handheld console like Switch is a godsend. It is also one of the reasons why home consoles struggle to gain popularity in Japan. While there are proud gamers even in Japan with their powerful PC setups and current-gen home consoles, Switch is still a better option for the average person who wants to enjoy games amidst their packed routine.
Nintendo – A Cultural Icon
While the Switch is blessed with the perks of being a modern handheld console, it isn’t the only thing making it so popular. Another reason behind the success of the Switch is its maker, Nintendo. Nintendo has become a national icon for Japan in the past few decades. The company not only generates billions in revenue for the country but also holds a place of extreme significance in Japan and the rest of the world by extension.
Nintendo has created some of the most iconic and influential media IPs of all time. Who has not heard of Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, and even Metroid? All these names are some of the IPs created by Nintendo, and even people who aren’t that familiar with gaming might’ve heard about these at some point.
Let’s take a look at Pokemon. How many properties can you name off the top of your head that are as influential as Pokemon? The franchise has been influencing all types of media for decades and is nothing short of a global icon today. Pokemon is one of Nintendo’s proud creations and is also easily the most recognizable franchise of all time.
While Pokemon is popular all over the globe, there are Pokemon-themed airplanes in Japan. These planes are owned by “All Nippon Airways.” There’s even a Pikachu parade that takes place every year in the city of Yokohama. And it just doesn’t stop there; Pikachu was even made the cultural ambassador of the city of Osaka in 2017.
When people see something like that all the time in their daily lives, it makes them want to try these games and not feel left out. It gives off a unique feeling of participating in a cultural activity that is bigger than themselves. It only gets better when the games are even more fun than they initially expected, making people love the franchise even more.
Just like Pokemon, Nintendo has become a part of Japan’s culture. Thousands of people play these games daily, benefiting Nintendo’s marketing loop exponentially. And since Nintendo owns many world-class IPs, such as Metroid, Pokemon, Mario, and Zelda, any new game they release has millions of people rushing to stores to buy Switches.
The point is that people want to play these games. And the only way to play these Nintendo games is on Nintendo’s own hardware, which in turn results in people spending money on the Switch. That is not the only reason behind Nintendo’s success in Japan as a company. Nintendo creates mostly family-friendly and wholesome games, which the Japanese audience prefers a lot.
Specifically Tailored Games For The Japenese Audience
Western audiences and most people over the globe prefer realism and grit, compared to Japanese people who prefer lighthearted content in their games. You’ll notice the emphasis on the sense of exploration and wonder in most games created by Nintendo instead of violence and gore. In fact, it is quite common in cultures like japan to censor violence and blood in video games to make these games appeal to a broader audience.
Nintendo knows what the people of its country want, and it gives them exactly that. The company also encourages innovation over graphical fidelity, which is one of the reasons why it produces creative content to this day. Another thing that makes Nintendo stand out is that the company is never afraid of taking risks compared to some other modern big publishers.
It is also why they don’t have to introduce a successor to Switch already. Nintendo knows its own product’s hardware better than anyone else, and it would squeeze every last ounce of power out of it. If Switch can handle the games Nintendo will release in the next six months, then there is no practical need for a successor till then.
As we know, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is going to release soon. If its predecessors are any indication, this game will be phenomenally better than the work of art Breath of the Wild was. Thousands of people will buy the handheld console to try the game out, not just in Japan but everywhere in the world. That is how much the fans trust Nintendo because, unlike most big publishers, it actually delivers good content.
Switch Vs. Other Platforms In Japan
Another reason Switch is so successful in Japan is that the pay difference for different professions is very low. Most people in Japan cannot afford to spend too much money on powerful PCs and expensive current-gen home consoles. Fortunately, Switch is there to save the day as it offers great value for money for the average Japanese gamer.
Aside from being a domestically made product, Japanese people buying the handheld console are, in turn, supporting their own economy. It is no surprise that Switch is available at the lowest prices in its home country compared to anywhere else in the world. Paired with the fact that you don’t have to buy any TV or additional accessories such as a keyboard or mouse with it, Switch is easily the most affordable way to play games in Japan.
On paper, Switch is already 40% cheaper than the PlayStation 5 as the Switch costs about $300, while a PlayStation 5 is available for roughly $500. But, during the COVID days and with all the inflation due to shortages in consoles, many people went for the slightly inflated Switch instead of spending at least a thousand dollars for the PlayStation 5.
Switch fills a similar role in a western gamer’s life as Steam. It is a platform that can instantly give you access to thousands of games that you probably wouldn’t find anywhere else but are sometimes restricted by the language barrier. A Japanese user would have access to the entire collection of games available at Nintendo’s eShop for Switch, but English users can’t play most of those games.
These innovative and creative games are made specifically for the Japanese market, and all these games appeal to that specific audience. This raises another question: why would anyone buy a home console such as the Xbox or PlayStation 5 when everything they could ever want is available on Switch, which is also a much more affordable option?
And then, there’s the argument that Switch is not a direct competitor to stationary consoles. If anyone buys a PlayStation 5, chances are that they would be skipping over Xbox and vice versa. But these consoles are completely stationary and are quite expensive compared to a Switch. It means that a person who already owns an Xbox or a PlayStation 5 can also purchase a Switch to enjoy gaming on the go, which will still be justifiable.
It is one of the many reasons why people that already own a home console also tend to own a Nintendo Switch. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Switch’s ability to avoid the console war is one of the factors that help it sell so well in Japan and the rest of the world.
Nintendo Switch is designed in such a way that it fits perfectly in the life of an average Japanese gamer. It is portable, affordable, doesn’t require you to invest in anything else, features a vast library of games, and can run most modern titles. Despite its shortcomings, it is everything you’d want from a handheld console. Additionally, it is a product made for the people, by the people.
There is no definite secret behind Switch’s popularity in the land of the rising sun or anywhere else. It does its job pretty damn well as a handheld console, which is precisely what the average Japanese user needs. However, it still makes one wonder how Nintendo will follow up on the Switch’s success in the future.
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