Why The Nintendo Switch Has No Pack-In Game


By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
With the launch of the Nintendo Switch just around the corner, it is a good time to look back on the power of something the system will launch without – a pack-in game.
What is a pack-in game, do you say? What once was commonplace, it is a title that provides an additional incentive to purchase a new video game console. The business idea of going to a friend’s house, seeing them play a game that came with the system and going back home and asking for the same console for themselves is word of mouth money just can’t buy. There have been some amazing games packed in with systems in the past – and some clunkers – so let’s take a look at a few of them!
The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was originally packed with a Robotic Operating Buddy (better known as R.O.B. the Robot) and an accompanying game that demonstrated how it worked. After that blip in history, a little known title named Super Mario Bros. became the default and it quickly placed millions of NES units in people’s homes after the industry crash in 1983. Some credit the game (and the NES as a whole) with saving the industry, and I would tend to agree. The game itself celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015, and it remains one of the most beloved games of all time with an instantly recognizable character and a brilliantly simple – yet oh so memorable – theme song that is an anthem of a generation.
Speaking of Nintendo, their choice of pack-in games have been traditionally some of the strongest. The Game Boy came with a largely unknown puzzle game named Tetris, and it set off a frenzy of portable gaming madness. Even with Super Mario Land as a launch title, it was Tetris that tapped into an addiction and sell over 118 million units over the course of the console’s lifespan and variations. It demonstrated the simple pick up and play style that showed why portable gaming was the next big thing, and helped kick off a dominance by Nintendo in the handheld marketplace that has lasted nearly three decades.
When it came time to “change the system” and step up to better graphics and sound, Nintendo had to play catch up to Sega’s 16-bit Genesis, which launched in 1989. The Genesis swapped out its original pack in title for Sonic the Hedgehog, and the blue blur propelled Sega into a fierce Console War with Nintendo – one that is looked back very fondly upon by many retro gaming fans today. The Super Nintendo would launch two years later – with the Genesis already having a sizable install base – and would depend on Mario yet again to rousing results. Super Mario World (aka Super Mario Bros 4 in early development stages) would go on to become a beloved title in its own right and did a fantastic job of truly demonstrating the difference between the 8-bit Mario that we had all come to know and the sparkling new 16-bit one.
The next generation of systems swapped out full on pack-in games for “Demo Discs”, a CD that contained many playable bits of games for players to sample. The PlayStation and Sega Saturn took this route (with the Saturn’s not even being playable, consisting of pre-recorded video clips), while the Nintendo 64 cartridge based system had no game or demos packed in at all. The Saturn and 2012’s Wii U did have pack-in options – Virtua Fighter for the former and Nintendoland for the latter – but they came at an extra expense above and beyond a cheaper “base unit” price.
Perhaps the most important pack-in of all time came with the Nintendo Wii console in 2006. Wii Sports was a very simplistic “game” featuring five different sports with barely anything of depth to offer actual sports fans – and it played like the glorified tech demo it was. But Wii Sports lifted the Wii to become a phenom in sales. Anyone who wasn’t a Nintendo fan can remember the first time they played Wii Bowling at a party with friends, and it convinced them to buy the system for themselves. Wii Sports not only did a good job at demonstrating what the Wii and motion controlled gaming could do, but it was a fun party game on top of that. The game, packed in with every single Wii sold until 2010, was a large part as to why the Wii would instantly out at retailers for well over a year after its release – something unheard of up until that point. The Wii would go on to become Nintendo’s best selling home console with over 110 million sold worldwide, nearly double that of the more powerful Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 of that same generation.
Which is why it is disheartening to see the Switch not come with a pack-in game. The launch title party game named 1-2-Switch would have been an excellent choice, a fitting demo of the new technology of the tablet-like based console as well as the HD rumble features in the JoyCon controllers. Given the position the Switch is in and what’s riding on it for Nintendo – both after the failure of the Wii U and the runaway success of the PlayStation 4 – Nintendo should have bit the bullet and put a game in with the system instead of charging $49.99 for it separately. The GameCube had no pack-in game and went on to become Nintendo’s worst selling console in its history (until the Wii U). Out of all the current console makers, it should have been Nintendo that knows the value of a good pack-in title. At the very least, it gives people something else to play besides The Legend of Zelda, which I am sure will be very close to a 1:1 buyer/system ratio when it’s all said and done.
The power of the pack-in title can’t be denied. It was discouraging way back when systems stopped shipping with more than one controller, and now it seems like the pack-in game is also becoming more of a rarity than the norm it used to be. When the Switch launches, it means none of the current consoles will have debuted with a game inside the box. While systems can achieve success without one – the PS4 being a good example – I feel that a pack-in gives an advantage to a company that could use a lift. There may be a bit of a loss at putting a game with every launch system sold, but as I stated before, I think the word of mouth (and experience) by putting a title in every new owner’s hand is immeasurable. If not for Tetris, the Game Boy would have probably struggled to grab a foothold. If not for Sonic, the Sega Genesis would have went the largely ignored way of the Master System. If not for Super Mario World, the Super NES would have had a tough time catching up to the Sega Genesis. If not for Wii Sports, it wouldn’t have had that out of the blocks momentum that spurred it to the monstrous sales it enjoyed. It provides additional value to the gamer and exposure for the console that can’t be easily matched.
The history of the Pack-In game is a rich one, loaded with lots of success stories that probably could have shaped the industry much differently if they had not existed. Here’s hoping that they will still have a future.

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