Shortly after the Nintendo Switch’s 2017 launch, we started to wonder why more games weren’t being ported to the hot-selling system. Two years later, those concerns have grown largely moot as major titles from Doom (2016) and Diablo 3, to Dark Souls and Fortnite, to Stardew Valley and Minecraft, and many, many more have found a happy home on Nintendo’s hybrid system.
One of the biggest exceptions to this trend, though, has been mega-publisher Electronic Arts. Of its many classic and continuing franchises, only FIFA has been made available on the Switch thus far (alongside two indie games published under the EA Partners label). Classic and ongoing franchises like Need for Speed, Mass Effect, Dead Space, Dragon Age, Battlefield, Madden, and more have remained stubbornly inaccessible to Switch owners. That’s especially surprising when you consider that EA CEO Andrew Wilson said shortly after the Switch’s launch that the company “continue[s] to be bullish on it and [is] looking at other titles that we might bring to the Switch.”
At least one analyst noticed this inconsistency and used an earnings call this week to point out specifically that he thought EA’s Sims franchise would be a natural fit for the Switch. “I’m curious how you guys determine which platforms to bring the game to or games to. And is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to bring that one on there?” he asked.
The answer from Wilson was fascinating and a little confusing (emphasis added):
Any time we’re evaluating platform conversations, we’re really looking at a couple of things, one, does the game really fit the profile of that platform in terms of the control of the community ecosystem, two, do we think the community playing on that platform would appreciate the game to go there or would they prefer to play it somewhere else. We have a lot of data that would suggest a great many Switch owners also [own] a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One or a PC and very often choose to play the games that we make on those platforms even though they have a Switch and they 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’re doing really, really well attracting Sims players. As we said, we did the promotion in the last couple of months and brought in 7 million new Sims players that we expect will engage in that community on a platform that is really tailored to user-generated content, creativity and customization.
Ready and waiting
While we don’t have access to whatever data EA is apparently looking at, the idea that Switch owners are generally satisfied by versions of games on other systems is a bit perplexing. After all, Nintendo fans and Internet chatterers are constantly clamoring for a Switch version of practically every game in existence, to the extent that the oft-repeated call has become a meme in its own right.
Internet chatter aside, the popularity of Switch ports is supported by plenty of sales anecdotes we’ve seen in recent years. Back in 2017, Rocket League, Skyrim, and 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 hit the system. Last year, Bethesda said it was happy with the sales of its ports on Switch, and the company has only announced additional ports since then. And the Switch edition of Minecraft became a chart-topper in Japan after its release last June.
It is true that Switch owners are highly likely to own at least one other console: NPD analyst Mat Piscatella said in June that 60% of US Switch owners also have a PS4 or Xbox One. All things being equal, a version of a game on those more powerful consoles (or a gaming PC) is likely to look and play better than a port for the relatively underpowered Switch.
But all things aren’t equal, of course, because of the Switch’s hybrid ability to act as a portable console. The option to take a game on the go, or play when the TV is occupied, is a killer app feature that can convince players to buy a Switch version of a game. That seems to apply even if those Switch players have access to another TV- or monitor-based platform that has the game, or even if they already bought the same title years ago. And it’s a trend that only seems likely to increase with the September release of the portable-only Switch Lite at a bargain price of $200.
Where EA might be confused on this point is in its recent history with Nintendo. EA dove in head-first when the Wii U launched in 2012, with ports of Madden, FIFA, and Mass Effect ready in the system’s first month. But those ports showed a lack of “online engagement” among Wii U players, EA said, underperforming to the extent that EA pulled the Wii U version of Madden for 2013 and quickly pulled support for the system entirely. In 2014, EA was forced to apologize after April Fool’s tweets disparaging the Wii U’s hardware power, showing perhaps how little love was lost between the two companies after the system’s failure.
But that was seven years and an entire console generation ago. Today, the Switch is a top seller with a growing library of first-party exclusives and third-party ports driving continuing interest. It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a sizable market of players that might want to take Madden on the go or relive the Mass Effect series in HD while their toddler rewatches Moana on the big screen for the 27th time.
Sure, EA Sports producers have complained about the difficulties of developing for the Switch. And there’s no guarantee every EA franchise would be a good fit for the hybrid system, especially if major graphical or performance downgrades were required in the port. Even so, it seems odd at this point for a major publisher to almost completely write off such a significant part of the console market. We hope EA will rediscover its initial “bullish” stance on Nintendo’s latest hardware soon.