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Pokémon: What Nintendo Didn't Say...

Over at ihobo today, I put myself out on a limb and predict a new handheld device from Nintendo that literally nobody else thinks is possible. Check out my reasoning with Pokémon: What Nintendo Didn't Say... over at and see what you think!

Update: I took the post down for reasons explained in the comments, but you can still read the original article in the comments to this article, below.


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I'm fascinated to see what you were going to say here, but the page seems to be down.

I very strongly doubt that Nintendo will ever make another dedicated handheld system. I think the main reason the Switch exists in the first place is that Nintendo proved unable to sustain support for two systems ever since smartphones caught on. When everyone could get games on the go for free or very cheap, the only way to justify a 30- or 40-dollar handheld game was by raising expectations of standards. Before the DS, Nintendo had entirely different teams working on their big console releases and their simple handheld games. With the DS and then the 3DS, this changed, with their most prominent teams making handheld games at the same standards expected of their console games.

Nintendo is not a company that expands quickly or easily, because they develop and promote talent slowly from within their own ranks. By the latter half of the Wii's life cycle, the company was stretched too thin. They were dealing simultaneously with disappointing sales of the 3DS and an awkward transition to high definition graphics (and the larger teams required to create them) in the upcoming Wii U. The Wii lost all support, because the teams were just needed elsewhere, and since Nintendo systems live or die by first-party support, that meant that they lost much of the formerly massive Wii audience and didn't get them back later.

The Switch allows all of Nintendo's teams to be focused on supporting one system. It's just more sustainable, and any game they release can be sold to a larger market - the market they're holding on to from the 3DS (which I expect them to start marketing to heavily next year, alongside a major price cut), and the console market, which they've now regained control of and don't want to lose just because their teams are working on Fire Emblem or Animal Crossing. The Switch is a canny business strategy to consolidate their efforts, and I don't see why they'd ever want to go back.

My prediction is that next week they're going to start trying to regain the casual market with a bundled VR headset and "Switch VR Sports", which lets them focus on smaller games again. Then next year they officially discontinue the 3DS.

Really all they need to firmly establish Switch as the leading handheld system is to cut the price to $200, release Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, Fire Emblem and Pokémon, and get some third-party exclusives like a new Layton. There is no reason for them to do any more than that.

Hi Mordechai,
Thanks for your comments! I left it up for a week, then took it down. I'm not going to have much time to post material to ihobo before my gig at Develop, and I need the site to look like a good advertisment for my company by then... turns out my logical case was build on ignorance of one small fact that sank the whole thing! But here's the text for you to read at least, and please accept my apologies for cutting you off:

Pokemon Lets Go
Do Nintendo have a new handheld console to announce at E3 in two weeks? No, I’m not crazy – just drawing a different inference to the one that journalists have made about the recent press release from The Pokémon Company about new games Pokémon Let’s Go: Pikachu and Pokémon Let’s Go: Eevee. What interested me about this announcement was what Nintendo didn’t mention in their release…

Here’s the tweet that went along with the announcement: 

With #PokemonQuest and #PokemonLetsGo, there are so many new ways to explore the world of Pokémon! Trainers can look forward to even more with an all-new core series Pokémon RPG title in development for the second half of 2019!

— Pokémon (@Pokemon) May 30, 2018

Now many media channels have ran this remark about “an all-new core series Pokémon RPG title in development for the second half of 2019” as announcing that the new core titles are coming to the Switch, e.g. Kotaku’s headline. The only other quote we have about this is from Eurogamer:

2019 core RPG (untitled) is set to be "in the style of X and Y and Sun and Moon". This should appease competitive players, with Let's Go! aimed at a broad audience, "a core RPG for everyone".

— Eurogamer (@eurogamer) May 30, 2018

Now either the journalists placing the new core RPG on the Switch have sought clarification from Nintendo that wasn’t in the official release, or they are speculating… and it really matters from an industry analysis point of view which it is! It seems right now to be speculation, as The Verge honourably showed their working in their report on this announcement:

Tsunekazu Ishihara, president of The Pokémon Company, promised “a core RPG Pokémon title on Nintendo Switch” from Game Freak in 2017. Few details have been released so far. Whether the game will launch exclusively for the Switch, remain on a handheld system, or be released as a combination of both is still unclear. When asked about launch platforms, the spokesperson declined to comment. The distinction made between this “core” title and Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! would suggest the upcoming title is still coming to the Switch.

Why does all this suggest a new handheld device is even a possibility? Let me put this into some context.

It is not always recognised that Nintendo are not directly competing with Sony and Microsoft in the console market, and haven’t been for some time. The current ‘console war’ is being fought on two fronts: the gamer market is contested between Sony and Microsoft, whose consoles have limited mass market appeal compared to where we were in the PS2 generation. Playstation 4 stands at 79 million units at the moment, which is great, although a long way shy of the 120 million the PS2 had sold near the end of its initial run, and substantially short of the 157 million it is currently running at. (The DS, incidentally, at 155 million units, came unbearably close to overtaking the PS2 as the best selling console of all time…)

Nintendo gave up competing directly with Sony and Microsoft when they announced the Wii. They knew they had a better chance than the power consoles of courting the mass market, and went down a very different (but still highly lucrative) path. For a while now, Nintendo have been competing with Apple and Microsoft, who are the only other companies capable of reaching mass market players in big numbers. Nintendo have to provide reasons for mass market players to keep buying their consoles – which is actually quite tricky for them when most of the players they want to court are getting their games ‘for free’ on devices they already own.

The Switch was an extremely smart play for Nintendo as it solved their biggest problem: how are we going to keep the core market interested in our inevitably less-powerful hardware, and thus get early adopters so we can sell through to the mass market? The answer was to provide a handheld console that gamers would gladly pick up as their second console, so they could keep playing the kind of games they like when they’re away from home. Not to mention, growing gamer backlash against aggressive monetisation strategies has driven that community of players far away from Apple and Google’s mobile offerings. Hence the brisk sales – 17 million and climbing fast. But they still need to transition the Switch to the mass market… and how to do it is no small challenge.

Enter these new games, Pokémon Let’s Go, with their interoperability with Niantic’s hugely successful Pokémon GO. The hope seems to be to encourage players of GO (some 20 million playing daily, and at least that again playing more intermittently) to buy a Switch for these new ‘gateway games’. But of course, this isn’t what diehard fans are looking for at all, so The Pokémon Company were keen to stress that a new entry into the main franchise is coming for “second half of 2019”. But they did not say, and could have done so, “coming to Switch”.

Assuming this wasn’t just an oversight (and marketing cannot afford such things!) it tells me that Nintendo are in one of two situations with respect to the new game:

  1. It is coming to Switch, in which case Nintendo are ending their thirty year history of having two parallel console product lines, one handheld and one home console, but aren’t ready to admit it. Or:
  2. It is coming to a new handheld console not yet announced, in which case Nintendo are announcing this at E3.

Now this may seem odd at first glance – after all, the Switch is a handheld unit, right? Yes, but the $300 Switch doesn’t fit the market case for a Nintendo handheld, which thrive on price points closer to $100-150 (in other words, prices that parents are more willing to pay for their kids). And Nintendo’s long term survival have been underpinned by the dual console strategy, because every time they have a failing home console like GameCube or Wii U, they have a successful handheld like DS or 3DS to see them through. I find it hard to believe they would give up the dual console strategy unless absolutely necessary – and a new core Pokémon game would be an extremely effective launch title (or early release) for a new hypothetical unit.

The main counter argument is that mobile gaming has put the handheld out of commission as a form, as Eurogamer’s Martin Robertson argued back in August last year. But then, there’s that monetisation backlash, and the slowly bursting bubble that is the ‘social’ games market to consider. Nintendo would need a really outstanding concept to make a new handheld unit make sense, certainly. But how many times have they surprised us in this regard in the past? Never count out Nintendo to have an ace up their sleeve.

So unless anyone can find a statement from Nintendo or The Pokémon Company confirming that the new core Pokémon games are definitely intended exclusively for Switch, we should expect to hear Nintendo announce a new handheld console in a fortnight’s time at E3. I’m prepared to be wrong about this – there are huge advantages to using a new core Pokémon title to help sell more Switches, after all – but I’m placing my bets on the dark horse nobody else sees coming: a new hardware announcement on June 11th.

Update: Christopher Dring of was able to provide an actual quote from the event naming the Switch as platform for the core RPGs. So unfortunately, this speculation only lasted half an hour before being torpedoed. After E3, I'll revisit Nintendo's situation and weigh in on what the collapse of the two console strategy now means for them. Thanks for reading!

Thanks for sharing!

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