Switch Third Party Developer Support: Has Nintendo Learned Its Lesson?

Historically, Nintendo has never played nice with third-party developers. This runs all the way back to the NES, Nintendo's first real home gaming system. Back then, developers had a ton of hoops to jump through if they wanted to earn the coveted Nintendo Seal of Quality, a golden sticker that would adorn the covers of games Nintendo deemed worthy of appearing on their consoles. Not only that, but Nintendo Cartridges had a special lockout chip inside of them, which was intended to keep unlicensed developers from making games for the NES. These cartridges were only available through Nintendo, and there were only finite amounts available to developers each year, with Nintendo having the only say in how many each developer would actually get.

While this may seem hamfisted now, it made sense at the time. The video game industry had experienced a market crash just before the NES' release, and Nintendo had to carefully market the console so that it didn't seem like it was solely intended for video games.  It worked, Nintendo exploded, video games were saved, and the third-party problems began. Developers had always hated the control Nintendo had over them, but all that changed when competitors started to challenge Nintendo's throne.

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Fast forward a little bit. The video game market went from a near-monopoly controlled entirely by Nintendo to a fiercely competitive industry with the likes of Sega, PlayStation, and, later, Xbox. Nintendo tried to keep its market share intact, as companies do. It did find some success, but Nintendo's competitors were more relaxed with the games that they allowed on their systems, which drew in third-party developers. The industry switched over to CD's for games, allowing for much larger titles, and Nintendo stuck with Cartridges all the way until the Gamecube - even then opting for special, smaller discs.

Nintendo consoles became a place for Nintendo games, with the occasional exception. This lasted for years and was one of the main reasons, combined with some god-awful marketing, that the Wii U was never able to find a player base beyond die-hard Nintendo fans. But, its always darkest just before the dawn, and out of the ashes of the Wii U came one of Nintendo's best consoles yet - the Switch.

In some ways, it's hard to believe that the Nintendo behind the Switch was the same one responsible for the disastrous Wii U. Nintendo has finally made a real effort to get third-party games on its console, and the effort has been rewarded. While the games have largely been ports of older titles, there's still a massive influx of games coming to the system from the likes of Ubisoft, Blizzard, Bethesda, and CD Projekt Red, among others. Not to mention a massive library of indie games on the console, all now subjected to a player-base with a ravenous hunger for good software to play on the go.

Nintendo, after decades of fumbling, has finally learned its lesson about third-party support, and that's not something to downplay. With announcements like The Witcher 3 coming to Nintendo Switch, even fans that opt out of the Xbox, PlayStation, or PC ecosystems can now enjoy many, though not all, of the major games that have come out this generation. Plus, Nintendo has one of the strongest exclusive line ups in the industry, meaning that a Switch could easily be someone's daily driver console. It's a great shift and one that Nintendo will, hopefully, recognize as a key aspect of its success with Nintendo Switch sales this generation.

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There's probably still quite a few good years left in the Switch. The hybrid console is just now getting some mid-generation refreshes like the updated Switch and the Switch Lite, which do bring some key differences and upgrades. Looking forward, Nintendo will need to keep up third-party support for their platform, not just this generation but every generation thereafter. This means continuing to bring over bigger, bolder games. Who knows, maybe something as massive as Cyberpunk 2077 could make its way at some point. With the likes of  Overwatch and DOOM on the system, anything seems possible.

For now, though, gamers can rest assured that Nintendo has changed, at least temporarily. It's done away with practices that its had for as long as it's been making home consoles - a hard habit to break. That move has been rewarded with what will wind up being a lasting success, so long as Nintendo continues to do what they have been doing with the Switch.

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