Shortly after the launch of the Nintendo Switch in 2017, we started to wonder why more games weren’t ported to the popular system. Two years later, those concerns have largely been called into question as major titles of disaster (2016) and diablo 3, until dark souls and Fortnite, until Stardew Valley and Minecraftand many, many more have found a happy home on Nintendo’s hybrid system.
One of the biggest exceptions to this trend, however, is the mega-publisher Electronic Arts. Of the many classic and ongoing franchises, only FIFA has so far been made available on the Switch (alongside two indie games published under the EA Partners label). Classic and ongoing franchises like Need for speed† Mass effect† Empty space† dragon era† Battlefield† madden, and more have remained stubbornly inaccessible to Switch owners. That’s especially surprising when you consider that shortly after the Switch’s launch, EA CEO Andrew Wilson said that the company “continues[s] be optimistic about it and [is] looking at other titles we can bring to Switch.”
Noting this inconsistency, at least one analyst used a earnings call this week to specifically state that he thought EA Sims franchise would of course fit the Switch. “I’m curious how you decide which platforms you want to bring the game or games to. And is there a reason why you wouldn’t want to bring it there?” he asked.
Wilson’s answer was fascinating and a little confusing (emphasis added):
Every time we evaluate platform conversations, we really look at a few things, one, does the game really fit that platform’s profile in terms of its control over the community ecosystem, two, do we think the community playing on that platform would appreciate the game going there or would they rather play it elsewhere. We have a lot of data that would also suggest a large number of Switch owners [own] a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One or a PC and often choose to play the games we make on those platforms even though they have a Switch and enjoy a lot of great content on the Switch.
And so there is always an evaluation process that goes on a case-by-case basis. And I wouldn’t say that The Sims would never go to the Switch but I think we are doing very, very well to attract Sims players. As we mentioned, over the past few months we’ve been doing the promotion and bringing in 7 million new Sims players who we expect to join that community on a platform that’s truly tailored for user-generated content, creativity, and customization.
Ready and waiting
While we don’t have access to the data EA is apparently looking at, the idea that Switch owners are generally happy with versions of games on other systems is a bit baffling. After all, Nintendo fans and internet chatters are constantly clamoring for a Switch version of virtually every game in existence, to the extent that the oft-repeated appeal has become a meme in its own right.
Aside from internet chatter, the popularity of Switch ports is supported by plenty of sales anecdotes we’ve seen over the years. Back in 2017, Rocket League† Skyrimand Stardew Valley took three of the top four slots in Nintendo’s late November sales charts, despite being years old by the time those ports reached the system. Last year, Bethesda said it was happy with the sale of its ports on Switch, and the company has only announced additional ports since then. And the Switch edition of Minecraft became a hit in Japan after its release in June last year.
It’s true that Switch owners most likely own at least one other console: NPD analyst Mat Piscatella said in June that 60% of US Switch owners also own a PS4 or Xbox One. All things being equal, a version of a game on those more powerful consoles (or a gaming PC) will probably look and play better than a port for the relatively underpowered Switch.
But not all things are created equal, of course, due to the Switch’s hybrid ability to act as a portable console. The option to play a game on the go or when the TV is busy is a great app feature that can convince players to buy a Switch version of a game. That seems to hold true even if those Switch players have access to another TV or monitor-based platform the game is on, or even if they bought the same title years ago. And it’s a trend that’s likely to only increase with the September release of the portable Switch Lite at a bargain price of $200.
Where EA might be confused at this point is in its recent history with Nintendo. EA first dived in when the Wii U launched in 2012, with ports from madden† FIFAand Mass effect ready in the first month of the system. But those ports showed a lack of “online engagement” from Wii U players, EA said, and performed so poorly that EA released the Wii U version of madden for 2013 and quickly withdrew support for the system completely. In 2014, EA had to apologize after April Fool’s tweets discredited the Wii U’s hardware power, perhaps showing how little love was lost between the two companies after the system’s failure.
But that was seven years and a whole console generation ago. Today, the Switch is a bestseller with a growing library of first-party exclusives and third-party ports that spark lasting interest. It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a sizable market of players that would want to take it madden on the go or relive the Mass effect series in HD while their toddler is looking back moana on the big screen for the 27th time.
Of course, EA Sports producers have complained about the difficulties developing for the Switch. And there’s no guarantee that every EA franchise would fit well into the hybrid system, especially if major graphics or performance downgrades were required in port. Still, it seems odd at this point for a major publisher to almost completely write off such a significant portion of the console market. We hope EA will rediscover its initial “bullish” attitude towards Nintendo’s latest hardware soon.