I doubt even Nintendo itself could have predicted how much people would welcome Switch into their lives. Now swiftly approaching the two-year mark since release, we’ve reached a stage in the console’s lifecycle where it appears that ongoing success is assured for a long time to come. The stumbles of Wii U have been course-corrected: Nintendo has opened up its relationship with third-party publishers, invested in a (more) robust online eco-system, and even started to relax certain YouTube policies to better embrace the community amassing around their games.
More and more boundaries continue to be broken down as Nintendo has began wising up to what PlayStation and Microsoft have been doing for years: nurturing relationships with YouTubers and other creators passionate about their stuff. The results benefit both sides and it's curious that Nintendo, which has quite the fanbase, was slow off the mark in this regard. Such is the love of everything Nintendo that some creators don't just cover the company's games, but make it the main drive and focus of their channel.
The Flannel Fox (YouTube)
“Given my current lifestyle, Switch is the only console choice if I want to review games,” says full-time dad and part-time YouTuber Tim Swiernik, better known to his subscribers as The Flannel Fox. “My son is young and I commute five hours daily, so my game time at home is limited and I have tonnes of train time to play. If the Switch didn’t exist, I’d probably be trying to push PS Vita reviews. RIP Vita.”
“Why would you buy a game like Dead Cells on PS4 or Xbox when you could get it on Switch? I’ll grind through levels on the couch with my wife while she watches The Great British Bake-Off and it’s great.”
Swiernik is one of many long-time Nintendo fans making the most of the Switch’s portability, whose little bit of extra drive led him to give YouTube a try. With a current subscriber count of just under 3,000 Swiernik’s main goal is to hit the magical 10,000, “which Nintendo’s PR kindly let me know is the minimum subscriber count to become a Nintendo Brand Ambassador.”
Until that time however, he’s focusing on having fun in a way that lets him reconnect with a platform and company close to his childhood heart. “My most memorable gameplay experiences as a youngster were playing the Game Boy on road trips with my folks,” Swiernik says. “Pokémon, Mega Man, and Super Mario Land helped me through many trips to distant relatives.”
Finding your groove and specific niche is important for any channel finding an audience, but the Nintendo Switch’s unique nature as an all-encompassing platform – where other family members are encouraged to pick up and play – leads to some Nintendo-specific YouTubers being a little more... creative.
“It's not too difficult for me,” says the voice behind Arlo, a puppet whose critical Nintendo reviews have found an online viewership well in excess of 300,000 subscribers. “I started creating family-friendly content long before ArloStuff became a Nintendo channel, and all the issues with YouTube demonetising ‘inappropriate’ videos.”
Arlo’s unusual style of presentation initially boggles the mind, but one need only watch a few videos before understanding that this isn't a cheap gimmick so much as something that taps into the broader appeal experienced by the Nintendo Switch itself. As to why he thinks the console has jived with gamers so well, Arlo cites factors outside the obvious. “Portability is certainly one important aspect,” he muses. “It's the perfect system for busy adults who don't want to only play simpler handheld and mobile games. But really, I think it's mostly about the games. For a while Nintendo didn't really have their priorities straight, but once they decided to start making fresh, exciting games again, it got everyone's attention.”
While some might think dedicating your channel solely to Switch could prove challenging, this doesn't concern Arlo. “I originally didn't want to focus too much on topical content,” says the YouTube star, “but I've found that staying topical is the best way to grow.” He calls it the ‘Nintendo effect,’ which is to say that Nintendo fans always want to talk about the latest Nintendo news. “When something happens in the world of Nintendo, people want to hear what I think about it. I try to turn a topical discussion into a deeper one about a greater issue as often as I can though, so that I'm providing consistent commentary rather than just gut reactions every time big news drops.”
Of course, reviews of the myriad indie games that release week after week on the eShop can serve as a Nintendo-focused YouTube channel's bread-and-butter, and SwitchWatch is one such example. This enormous and ever-expanding ecosystem is both opportunity and problem for the UK-based team of three. “There has to be a balance, like anything else in life,” say SwitchWatch’s Juan Romero. “For us, it’s our job to try and find those hidden gems and shine some light on them and while it keeps us busy, it’s not easy to cover everything.” It's probably an impossible task, but one a whole glut of YouTube’s creator community is attempting to step up to.
Much in the same way that Swiernik looks to his son for inspiration when adopting his Flannel Fox persona, Romero and co-presenters James and Jordan feel that a profanity-free stance is key – even when covering the rare mature title. “I wanted my three-year-old daughter to be able to watch our channel,” says Romero. “From day one, we sought to create a family-orientated channel that anyone could watch, regardless of age, without being offended by us using inappropriate language. We use this exact same approach in our professional working lives, and wanted to create content that we could look back on in the future and not be embarrassed by.”
This 'professional' approach is arguably a prerequisite for any Nintendo-first channel looking for success, if only because something about Nintendo itself doesn't seem to suit profanity-laden ranting. For Switchwatch and Romero such an approach has paid off over time, as “we are now contacted by many developers and publishers asking us to cover their games, instead of us chasing them.” Plus there's that coveted ‘Brand Ambassador’ status, which basically means Nintendo will give you the time of day when it comes to review code and the like. As Arlo put it: “They definitely work to make their ambassadors feel appreciated.”
Swiernik is yet to reach that status, but the nature of his channel is of a piece with these more established examples. It's all-too-easy, when watching gaming stuff on youtube, to fall down some crazy rabbit hole that's more about raging at the other side, or pretending some microtransaction is a great crime against humanity. But when you fall into a rhythm of watching contemporary Switch-focused content... most of it's lovely, even when they're not particularly keen on the game.
I'm sure there are exceptions, but it feels like the nature of Nintendo encourages a certain nature in its fans. These channels are all enthusiastic and optimistic, delighting in a new favourite game or crestfallen when something that looked cool isn't quite so great. Perhaps it's no surprise the platform that lets you play “Dark Souls on a plane, Diablo 3 on a train, and Zelda on the toilet,” as Swiernik puts it, somehow also inspires a blue puppet that covers Nintendo events like a newsreader and analyses New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe in enormous and straight-faced depth. At times it feels like Switch has created its own parallel universe – or at the least, a parallel Youtube.