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The Nintendo Switch is an Android phone with developers that care about game quality

Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch (Image credit: Android Central)

The Nintendo Switch is freaking awesome. Pretty much anyone you ask will agree if they aren't too busy playing Animal Crossing or Zelda. It's portable but can connect to a television, has wireless controllers that mostly don't suck, and every big name developer is tripping over its own feet trying to get games ported to the platform. Yes, it has Skyrim.

But under the small screen is the same type of hardware you would find inside a high-end Android device. In fact, if NVIDIA had chosen to remake the Shield Tablet, it probably would use the exact same hardware as the Switch. There is nothing magic inside, just an ARM CPU with a bunch of GPU cores built by NVIDIA just like the Shield TV.

The hardware in your expensive phone has the muscle to do it.

The difference, of course, is the software. The Switch has a basic but fairly complex OS running on it (or you can install Android on it if you like) that really only exists to load games. My phone also has a complex operating system and can load games. NVIDIA has even ported over some great titles like Tomb Raider (opens in new tab), Resident Evil (opens in new tab), and Half Life 2 (opens in new tab) for its Android devices and they all run well. They even run well on very old hardware like the NVIDIA Shield Portable we saw released years ago.

I have little doubt that phones using current hardware from Qualcomm and have a way to manage heat (read: "gaming phone") can play Animal Crossing. Or Breath of the Wild. And yes, Skyrim, too. The only missing piece is the game publisher.

Nintendo, Blizzard, Bethesda, and all the rest of the game publishing industry do not care about Android.

Nintendo, Blizzard, Bethesda, and all the rest of the game publishing industry do not care about Android. Companies aren't afraid to go all-in for Stadia — which is a new service that may never become popular — yet the idea of remixing an older game for Android or even making a new game like Animal Crossing for 2 billion Android users is not a good idea. Square Enix did it with some Final Fantasy titles and everybody loves them for it and even Stardew Valley has made its way over.

The interest is there and the proof of concept — games from NVIDIA, Square Enix, and more are in Google's Play Store and just work — shows that it can be done. That means there is really only one reason it is not happening: money. Tomb Raider, for example, is a game that runs really darned well on the Shield TV. However, there are only 28 reviews on Google Play so a little bit of reasoning says that very few people wanted to shell out the $15 for it.

Nintendo Switch Hero

Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore (Image credit: Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

Stardew Valley paints the same picture on a bigger scale. Tomb Raider is only available for a single device series from a single manufacturer. Stardew Valley is there for at least a billion users of Android phones, tablets, and Chromebooks. It has about 45,000 reviews. Not everyone who bought the game will review it, but even if the number is only 10% of the buyers it means most people didn't want the game enough to spend the $8 on it.

I'm hoping this situation will change and game publishers will notice how great games on portable smartphone-grade hardware can capture our attention. The Switch is amazing, but being able to play some of the same games on our phones would be even better.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

13 Comments
  • Quality requires consistency. Smartphone hardware is relatively not consistent. And anyone with a brain knows why Nintendo doesn't put its main games on phones, typing the reasons is just a waste of time.
  • Sounds reasonable - but I'm actually going to disagree on the consistency thing. The reason is because of PCs. PCs are crazy inconsistent. Not only are there a lot of makes and models out there, they're also a platform where you can literally buy a bunch of parts and build your own, which a lot of hard core gamers actually do. I think it's more along the lines of price expectations ($60 is okay for PC / console, but considered to be totally outrageous for cell phones) and availability of controllers (most people won't bother buying a controller for a phone, so developers need to design for the touch screen first).
  • I think a big factor is more of perception than anything else. Mobile apps as a result of their origin and how they started, have generally never been taken 'seriously', in the sense that, most are perceived as being light-weight, low-budget software to get some basic tasks done, regardless of how complex they actually are. Users are even more familiar with 'free' mobile apps, than paid ones on average. For example, the idea of paying $60 (which is typical price for a new Switch full title) for an Android game is simply difficult to justify, regardless of how good the actual game is. Buyers will probably not even give it a chance at all. On the other hand, if that same title was released on a traditional gaming console, even relatively weak consoles like the 3DS, buyers are perfectly comfortable with paying $60, they will even buy DLC for it later on which can easily add up to $80 or $100 sometimes. I think this is a big factor which is not very easy to change for Android and the Play Store. Brand, perception, user habits and expectations are very important, though often overlooked factors because they are quite vague and not easily measured. If I were to commit a few million dollars to developing a AA title that I plan to sell for say $40, there's no way I will even consider first publishing it on the Play Store. I'd rather go with Steam, Xbox, PS, or Switch even if the average Android phone may be perfectly capable of playing the title. It's a perception and expectation problem.
  • I don't think Nintendo's strategy is all that bad. They're crafting mobile-specific games for those platforms, but you'll never see a AAA Nintendo title on a mobile platform. Even though the technology exists to connect Nintendo controllers to mobile devices, I can't imagine something like Super Mario Odyssey playing well using only a touchscreen if it came to that. As long as Switch sales keep their pace, Nintendo's not about to make its AAA stuff available for other platforms. (They would just as soon make their titles available for Xbox and PlayStation if that were the case.)
  • Some games are just easier with controllers. I have a playstation controller I plug right into my phone, and use a stand or a kickstand case. Games like Riptide GP2 are ok with tilt-to-turn and thumb controls in the bottom corners, but it's still better with a controller.
  • I agree 10000%
    Controllers are best for me.
  • Yeah, there's no technical reason you can't do it on a smartphone unless it's an older one or comes from a company with performance issues. I probably play more than I should, but I blame it on my gaming buddy who has little sense of time. She came over last week, and ended up staying for three DAYS! Jerry, is your article title a dig at current Android games?
  • there's dozens of makers of phones with dozens of skins and hundreds of apps using thousands of different hardware configurations and screen sizes. In addition, you have several OS versions still in the market. a closed system allows for optimization, which is why the Switch is so popular. Good games run well and are controlled with well developed and tested hardware. it's a crap shoot for developers on android and the fact that the market is always quickly flooded with cheap or free knock-offs, the margins are even tighter than the console development industry. seems fairly obvious on its face why big games are not developed for Android (or iOS).
  • Simple... All switch users have a controller.
    Android users don't.
  • Throw this article in the garbage... I was critical of the switch with its little screen, and why buy this if I can play on my phone etc.. Android phones can have, all the developers they want and good games etc, but they don't have controllers. Its like night and day playing with one... And forget Bluetooth controllers etc..They don't come with the phone and It's inconvenient to be carrying those around. Anyway that's why the Nintendo switch is not just an android phone "with big developers" .
  • Pure touch screen based games are mostly not real AAA gaming. You need a controller (or keyboard and mouse).
  • I still see my phone as a phone, not a media center and for a third of the price, I can get a hardware and an eco-system dedicated to gaming, so I don't see my phone as a replacement for a console. I only use my phone for casual gaming.
  • There are two major obstacles:
    1) Nobody wants to pay $60 for a cell phone game. People balk at as little as $10. You're not getting a Zelda: Breath of the Wild experience with a sub-$10 game. It's not possible.
    2) You can't expect everybody to buy controllers. Sure, there are third party controllers (even good ones) for Android, but it's unrealistic to expect that those who do will ever be anything but a minority. So you're stuck designing the game for a touch screen if you want to reach a decently sized audience. Which will be a bad experience for more complex / hard core games. The Switch doesn't suffer from #1 because Nintendo set price points at $60 from the beginning, so expectations were set that it was a console with the usual console quality games. This ensured games could be made without having to resort to a mobile-style monetization model (which IMO does effectively kill the quality of mobile games). The Switch doesn't suffer from #2 because it comes with two JoyCons out of the box. You can't buy it without the JoyCons, so game developers can safely assume that everybody has them. There's no need to design for the Switch's touch screen if the game won't work well with it (even though yes, it does have one).