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Could $250 Be Too Expensive For Nintendo Switch?

We've seen the Switch, we know what the Switch is, but we've still got a lot of questions. We'll be getting some answers in the coming days, as Nintendo prepares for a press conference followed by hands-on demos for the press, and there's a lot out there. Still, there's one big factor that stands above the rest for me, just like it does for every console launch: price. The best console in the world won't sell if it's too expensive, a piece of trash can sell if it's cheap enough.  The base number floating around right now is $250 -- unconfirmed as of yet, but highly likely. Paul Tassi thinks that the price could be trouble for a simple reason: it's not enough, at least from Nintendo's perspective. The Switch theoretically subsumes both the portable and living room console business, meaning that it would need to sell twice as many units to justify the new business model. But I think that $250 could be a tough price for a different reason: it could be too much.

Launching a new console is always tough, and not only when you're coming hot off the heels of a major failure and trying to sell entirely new features at the same time. It's tough because the player communities will necessarily be smaller, because the software lineups will be necessarily limited, and for the very basic reason that the public needs to be made aware of the things existence and then convinced of its utility. Here, the Switch's big selling points: portability and flexibility, are both an asset and a liability. They're cool for those that know about them and want them, but only useful on a grand scale if the marketing team can effectively communicate them. The PS4 is a box that plays video games: easy to sell.

Nintendo faces unique challenges in this department because it's launching in the middle of the Xbox One/PS4 generation(ish). Both of these machines are established, expanding and strong. That's why price matters. The base model Xbox One and PS4 can both be easily obtained for around $250 with a pack-in game (official price is up at $300, but deals are constant. Older models can be even cheaper). For that, the buyer takes few risks. They get a deep library of excellent games, many of which have dropped to bargain basement prices over the years. They get a strong, expansive online community for all sorts of games and perhaps most importantly, they get the knowledge that this machine will see solid support for years. Buying consoles at launch is always a dicey proposition financially, but buying consoles three years in is usually a good deal.

If the Nintendo Switch doesn't come with a pack-in (a major question for tomorrow), it effectively costs as much if not more than a Xbox One or a PS4, with a much more limited library, a tiny online community, and legitimate questions about third-party support going forward. Of course, The benefits are real too, particularly on-the-go local multiplayer, which I have a feeling is the main selling point. But Nintendo Switch's differences are unproven, and it will take time to convince people that they're worth it. It's not impossible, it's just tough.

This is OK for what I imagine will be the initial market for the Switch: people who already have an Xbox One or a PS4, and who also have the fondness for Nintendo/disposable income to justify dropping $300 on the new Zelda. This might sound a bit dismissive, but it's not: Nintendo has historically made more money off of a wider audience, but I have a feeling that those most willing to show up for the company right now are the corest of the core gamers, many of whom bought their current-gen consoles years ago. For them, a Switch is a much better deal than a questionable upgrade to a PS4 Pro, and that's a sizable audience to get things going. After that, however, there might be an issue. If history is a guide, Xbox One and PS4 will likely drop in price faster than the Switch, meaning that Nintendo will have to use the interim time to build out the library, the community, and the basic mindshare of the Switch.

It's entirely likely, even probable, that the price just can't be lower for myriad reasons, and that $250 is simply what makes sense for Nintendo. I'm not saying that isn't true. But it may find itself in the unfortunate situation where the lowest price just isn't low enough.

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