I’ve read a lot of articles on the Nintendo Switch, most of them from the perspective of reporters who had access to information about the console before anyone else. These reporters also had the Switch mailed out to them before the launch so they could review it. I haven’t read much that details an average consumer’s experience with learning about and purchasing the Switch, so I thought I’d document my experience for the sake of speaking up for an underrepresented party.
Phase 1: Announcement of the Nintendo Switch
This was a pretty good time. The commercial (under 4 minutes in duration) was fairly succinct about communicating what the Switch would be capable of, not to mention that it was efficient in generating anticipation with its short screen shots. They didn’t release a whole lotta information about the exact date of the release, what games would be released with it, or how the release would proceed, but it didn’t matter. There were still a couple of months to sort those details out. I didn’t worry.
Phase 2: January
Leading up to this point I knew that the Switch would be out in March, and I could do the basic math to figure out that Nintendo really didn’t have that much time to release information. I figured Nintendo would upload videos to Youtube of some of their employees interacting with the hardware or the software. From this people would get a general feel for how they would interact with the product.
Sometime in January (can’t remember the exact date) Nintendo announced the specific date and launch games for the Switch. I liked this. Now I had a date to circle on my calendar. Now I could reason that February was the shortest month and I wouldn’t have to wait that long until March. Now I knew the exact timeframe Nintendo had to deliver information on the console.
I specifically remember reading articles where Nintendo executives said that they would not have the same stock problems that the NES Classic had. They planned to ship 2 million units worldwide. That number meant nothing to me because I didn’t know what a big number was to ship worldwide. I just took their casual reference of “There won’t be any stock problems” as a good sign that I wouldn’t have to enter a death match outside Best Buy in order to ensure that I get a console. I was relatively calm at the time.
Phase 3: February
Weeks passed by. I did searches for Switch news more often than I’d like to admit, and I wasn’t getting much information. I had no idea what the user interface would look like, what their online services would provide, or if there was any reason to buy this device other than using it as a Zelda machine.
I had not pre-ordered it. This was the result of me hearing “There will be no stock problems.” I started to frequently check for pre-orders. They didn’t exist, except for that one time Best Buy put out some new ones online and I practically cursed myself for not being available for that extremely small window of time. This missed opportunity only made me go online more and check the availability. I was hopeful that some more would get released, and I didn’t want to fail at getting one again. Fail is a strong word, but it’s correct here. That’s actually what I felt. I didn’t feel like I was working hard enough for it.
I reasoned that that the lack of information might have been part of Nintendo’s new approach for updating their customers. In recent years they’ve delivered digital presentations and been pretty quick to disperse content right after them (I noticed this a lot with Sm4sh). I’m thinking, Maybe that last week they’ll have some big Nintendo Direct where they fuse an exploration of Breath of the Wild with using Nintendo hardware. But I didn’t know anything. I was speculating. I was anxious.
Phase 4: The Week of the Launch
I checked the news a lot for where the Switch would be released at midnight. I figured I’d take off work a little earlier, wait in line, and secure a good chance at getting one. The articles only told me that stores would have consoles available for people who didn’t preorder and supplies would be limited. I started performing absurd math with the 2 million consoles they planned to ship worldwide. They didn’t have to ship half to the US but they definitely had to ship at least a third. So I low-balled it and evenly distributed these 666,666 consoles to the 50 states. That’s 13,333, which is probably wrong but I didn’t have time to develop a distribution of the 50 states that properly scaled with their population or demand. I don’t remember how I did the next freaky part of the equation—fairly certain I divided it by five (the number of retailers distributing it, I believe) and then did some rough estimates of how many Best Buys there were in my state. I came up with about twenty. This math is ridiculous and stupid and tenuous, but it’s what I did when I lacked information and had too much free time, and since Nintendo and the retailers were not releasing any info about how many consoles would be available (not even average numbers for respective stores), I had nothing to go on. This is how insane the dearth of information made me.
Reviews were starting to come out about the Switch. Pretty much everyone said they liked it, but they didn’t say it without prefacing their concerns. Voice in my head goes, Shit. The critics were not big fans of the JoyCons. They told me to buy the pro controller. They said the kickstand sucks. The charger is in a weird place. You can only charge the JoyCons in mobile. Voice in my head goes, Fuck. Then I started reading widespread reports about the left JoyCon having issues connecting with the Switch. Voice in my head goes, Goddamnfuckingshit, Nintendo. You only have to cleanly launch the one item you’ve been working on all 2016 because you gave up on the Wii U. This is supposed to be your big entrance back into the main fray of video games and you’re going to botch it because of a hardware issue.
My consternation was no longer limited to just getting a Switch; now I had to be concerned if it was even going to work properly.
Still, I ignored everything telling me to wait to buy the Switch. I started calling stores around Wednesday (the Switch would be released on a Friday). When I could get a hold of someone they’d tell me that yes they were going to have Switches available for those who didn’t preorder but they didn’t have any idea how many would be available or when would be a good time to start lining up. The impression I got was that managers were either withholding information because they’d been told to or they didn’t have the information themselves.
I couldn’t be mad at these workers. They were just doing their jobs and were probably in difficult positions. However, it’s hard to believe that less than 48 hours before the release there weren’t electronic documents somewhere listing how many Switches would be delivered to each respective store. Hard to believe some surprise package would arrive right before midnight and employees across the nation would be scrambling to distribute the consoles.
I decided I’d drive around on Thursday to get a feel for the stores and develop a plan for getting the Switch. I was chewing my nails and wondering what hoops I’d have to jump through on Thursday night.
Phase 5: Launch Day (Odyssey)
It was finally launch day. At work I fantasized about how I’d take off early, scout out the stores, and find the best one to set up camp at. Four hours before midnight was what I would have dedicated to getting one. Seemed reasonable. How many people are crazy enough to exceed four hours of waiting?
I got off work, went to the nearest Best Buy that was doing a midnight release. At 5 PM there were already people outside in their winter coats and sitting in their foldout chairs (it was particularly windy that day). They looked like they had been waiting there for hours. I think, Hm, didn’t expect that. So I go in and ask a representative how they plan on conducting this. He said people are just going to line up and we’ll see how it goes from there. He wasn’t allowed to release any numbers of how many they had for those that didn’t pre-order. The actual advice he gave me (not making this up) was to come back around 11:00 and see if I could cut my way up in line. That’s how crazy this was going to be. I went back outside and did a head count. About ten people already. Well, in a few hours there might be more, and how many extra consoles are they going to have? This doesn’t seem like a good location. Let me go across the street and check out GameStop.
GameStop had six extra consoles. No line to speak of. I asked a worker how they planned on conducting this. He said if people want to start lining up he’ll figure out how to handle it. No one in line. If I come back here in a few hours maybe I can secure a spot. Let me pick up food so I can go home and eat with my fiancé.
I went home and ate. I called a different GameStop that was closer to me and asked what was going on. Lady said that people had already been lined up for a long time. The extra consoles had been claimed. She said I could still show up and if someone moved I could just cut in given the right opportunity. Shitshitshit.
I was sitting around at home from 6:00 to 7:00 with a tight stomach and a conscience telling me to stop wasting time with my significant other and go out and wait in line. My chances were slipping away with every minute.
I headed out earlier than I originally planned, at around 7:00. When I arrived at the GameStop I scouted earlier people were already in line. I approached and asked if the Switches were all claimed. Yup. And the people in line said that all the GameStops around there were hopeless. I didn’t doubt them.
The Best Buy I went to earlier was not far away. I figured driving by there wouldn’t hurt. Now that I knew Gamestop had six extra consoles I could get back to wacky math. Let’s see: there’s about four or five Gamestops for every Best Buy. Means there should be close to thirty up for grabs. Outside the Best Buy the crowd had grown since I last saw them. At least thirty people.
I had been counting down the days and planning on staying up all night for a midnight launch. I was determined.
I drove thirty minutes, two cities over to the next Best Buy conducting a midnight launch. There were another thirty people lined up at this one. I could count the number of people who wanted it more than me, who were willing to sacrifice more time for this than I was, which must have been at least six hours.
There’s something to be said about American values towards entertainment here, but this article isn’t about that.
I was feeling very dejected. Visiting any other GameStop would be futile, as would any other Best Buy doing a midnight launch. The only feeling I can relate this to is the one you get when you’re in a basketball game, there’s about a minute and a half left, and you’re down about ten points. Yeah, it’s possible that you could come back and win this one, but it’s going to be one hell of an uphill battle with amazing plays and a bit of luck. You know you can win, but you believe you’re going to lose.
I started preparing for the next day. The Best Buy closest to me wasn’t doing a midnight launch but they would have some in the morning. I asked the representative how many they would have. She said, very nicely (after talking to her manager through an earpiece), that she couldn’t tell me that. How early does one have to get up for a morning release? Are people going to surprise me again with their eagerness? Do I want this badly enough?
While driving, I felt defeated. I had not given up but it seemed like I was going through the motions. Still pursing the desired midnight release, I resorted to a different retailer that I’ve been trying not to give any business to because of their treatment of their employees and their overall impact on consumerism in America.
While in transit, I was entertaining fantasies where I was alone with Kimishima-san and Reggie Fils-Amie and I was cussing them out for saying that there would be no stock problems. I told them to stop it with all the boneheaded decisions. I told them you can only make so many mistakes in a row before you alienate your consumer base. This doesn’t paint me in a good light, and I have no pride for these kinds of fantasies, but, honestly, it was what I did.
It was a little before 9 PM. I arrived at the retailer that happens to stay open for 24 hours. When I got to the back of the store there was no line in the electronics department. This looks promising. I asked a worker if they were doing a midnight release. She basically went into a lengthy automated speech about how they were having a midnight release and no they didn’t know how many Switches they have and they hadn’t started lining people up and I couldn’t wait around in the electronics department because they didn’t want a mob forming. Jeez. Cool it. I decided to walk around and lurk like a vulture until they started lining people up. The retailer’s plan was to start at ten. I watched other patrons, attempting to determine if they would be competition against me. I was literally walking in circles around the store trying to get a Switch. A man stopped me because he wanted to talk about the conventional view of God as a man. Planes were flying overhead (because of a nearby airport) and the entire store would rumble with deep moan. It was a very strange period.
On one of my passes by the electronics department I found that they had started to line people up, earlier than they’d planned, 9:45ish. I walked toward the end of the line, barely beating out someone else who was trying to get there, and this guy started talking to the people in front of me, and then he didn’t move (he obviously didn’t know these people). He wedged himself right in front of me. I could have said something, but I could already read his body language and smell the entitlement. He seemed like one of those types that doesn’t get out much because they’re either playing video games all day or ranting online: thin scraggly beard, greasy hair, corpulent and flabby, everything said is preceded by a nervous laugh because he’s excited someone is actually speaking to him. I could have said something, but I already sensed the resistance, and I envisioned myself in some petty exchange that stereotypical shoppers associated with this retailer might partake in. It would have gotten very trashy. I wanted to retain some sense of dignity, so I bit my tongue.
I will not describe the amount of swearing and denigration going on in my head at that time.
I was about twenty people back in line. They still hadn’t announced how many consoles they had. I might have been waiting for nothing. My stomach was a knot. I was questioning my values as a human being. I was reflecting on what I’d gone through so far and was not feeling proud of anything I’d done. Someone arrived with a handful of tickets. Time slowed down as the line crawled forward, each person basically ensuring their copy and taking away my chance of getting one. Everyone was jutting their heads out and trying to count how many tickets were left in the stack as they approached. Mind you, this stack was practically paper thin and in no way visually countable.
I got my ticket. I asked if this meant I was definitely getting a Switch. They said yes.
Relief, for the first time that night.
The workers told us that we were free to wander around. So long as we had our ticket a console would be waiting for us if we returned at midnight. Most people did not budge from the line that had already formed. A few people left. That person who butted in front of me briskly walked to a break in the line when people didn’t move up fast enough.
For a while I went into a kind of sleep mode. My emotions were spent and I didn’t really want to face myself.
I got my Switch—or, rather, earned it—a little after midnight. I reasoned that I would not get mugged in the parking lot because I was bigger than everyone else in line and there were easier people to mug than me.
I got home and played Zelda until about 4 in the morning. I was so drained that I couldn’t stay up any longer.
Phase 6: Assessing the Nintendo Switch
After playing the Switch for a couple of days, I can say it’s a great console. It plays Zelda well, even if it doesn’t do much else. I have confidence in Nintendo fill out this machine by the end of the year. I haven’t had any issues with the left JoyCon, thankfully, but I might just be lucky in this respect from what I hear. Overall, it was a good buy. If you want to read an in-depth review, they’re all over the internet. I would just be repeating others at this point.
Did it Work for Nintendo?
So, despite all Nintendo’s missteps in launching the Switch, I still felt inspired to buy one. It even sold out everywhere around me. A million and a half units sold, allegedly, at this point in time. One could argue that this entire process was a success for Nintendo. That may or may not be true. Time will tell.
What I will say is that there has to be a better way of doing this, a method that doesn’t inspire such antagonism towards Nintendo. I’m not going to justify my behavior or thoughts when I was trying to get a Switch. It was mostly inexcusable. But I did these things because time and again I either wasn’t supplied with information or I was given false information. This is what drove me crazy.
I worked at a concert venue for a few years. Organizing a concert is like controlling an spurt of chaos. I assume that’s because you are dealing with self-important musicians that function on their own schedule. Everything for show-time has to come together at 9:30 and has to remain stable for just two hours. The stage gear becomes available when it arrives. The sound crew will give the go-ahead when they’ve got the balance just right. The artist goes on stage when they’re ready. Given the nature of that business, this is probably an acceptable mode of operation. This is what the launch of the Nintendo Switch felt like, which is totally different. They were selling a product, not a performance. I don’t see why they had to conduct themselves like secretive managers who would only give information on a need to know basis, or give it out right before the last moment.
Would it have hurt Nintendo to allow stores to tell people how many Switches they’d have available at least a few days in advance? Would it have hurt these stores to post messages about the specifics of a ticket distribution schedule so that people could plan ahead and store managers wouldn’t have to give sketchy advice for securing a console? I saw the people lined up. They were going to buy a Switch no matter what. So what was the point in withholding information?
I’m doing a lot of complaining here, but things look good for Nintendo right now. They needed to sell a bunch of Switches and they did. But think about Nintendo’s main goal. Often stories have covered Nintendo’s struggles to reach a broader audience, and representatives of Nintendo have discussed their strategy for reaching a broader audience, so they’re definitely concerned about it. Well, one of the reasons they’ve had trouble branching out is because their hardcore fan base is so frustrated with their implementation. These fans will stick with Nintendo until the end, and they’ll continue to put their money towards them, but they’re also tired of servers crashing when everyone wants downloadable content, they’re tired of consoles that don’t transfer purchased games or saves, they’re tired of paying more than full price for Amiibo because scalpers took advantage of the limited early supply, and they’re tired of wondering if there’s actually going to be a working Switch available for them at launch when they’ve been assured there won’t be a stock problem. They’re tired of all these kinds of issues, and they’re not going to praise Nintendo to any of the customers that Nintendo is trying to pick up because Nintendo has forgotten to take care of its core fan base for a while now.
Take care of your hardcore customers and more will flock to you.
There’s a lot of negativity surrounding Nintendo, and I hate to add to it. Most of the stories I see involving the company (not specifically the games) are critical and it seems like a trendy way to pick up hits for your story (I am currently filled with even more shame for contributing to this). Even so, it would be wrong to deny my irritation.
Maybe Nintendo can continue to plead ignorance, saying that they hadn’t anticipated such strong demand for certain products, or that they didn’t foresee their customers having an issue with the specs of their console. However, if they do this and the same problems continue, then they shouldn’t be surprised if their sales figures remain unchanged in the upcoming generations.