The Nintendo Switch eShop has introduced a new way of browsing for games – by listing those with the highest average play time first – and I'm all for it.
The new addition is pretty hidden, at the bottom of the 'Discover' section of the eShop, but offers a very different way to filter and rank the most popular Nintendo Switch games currently being played.
The 'Trending By Play Time' banner states that it covers "games with the average longest play time over the past two weeks," with a date to mark when it was last updated.
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I love this change. There were already a host of ways to search for the best Switch games on the eShop – usually by most-recent releases, those with the highest discounts, and those boasting the most downloads. But none of these options manages to get the full picture by itself.
The games that launch this week aren't necessarily any better than last week's – while biggest offers are easy to manipulate by devs putting up a massive list price and then knocking it down to a dollar just to get to the top of the results.
Most-downloaded or most-bought games are a great indicator of what's popular, but they only track engagement at the point of purchase, and not what players get up to once they've downloaded the game itself. Haven't we all bought a new game in a post-paycheck haze, only never to even open the software? Or panic-bought games in the sales before realizing we never want to finish them?
The most-played feature, however, gets at the heart of what players are, en masse, finding the most sticky in their games library – the games they keep returning to, replaying, or dropping hours upon hours into. It's no surprise to see the new Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl games at the top here, with the endlessly-replayed Skyrim further down, along with XCOM 2 and Dragon Quest XII: Echoes of an Elusive Age. YouTube also makes the cut.
The very top title though? Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, the latest in the tactical role-playing game franchise and a game with a hefty $59.99 / £53.99 price tag. It's a game I was surprised to see, not being very familiar with the franchise, which is why I'm so behind the new browsing format – it's already pointed me towards a clearly-popular game that simply wasn't on my radar.
This metric won't be helpful for everyone, of course. Shorter and smaller indie games likely won't appear here often, as they don't have the scale and potential length to make the cut. And that's still an area that the Nintendo Switch eShop – as well as Steam and really any other game marketplace today – could do better, lifting indie gems into the spotlight when they're unlikely to surface in most-bought or most-played filter views.
Let the users decide
This clearly isn't the end of Nintendo's experiments in how it curates and displays content, of course. Earlier in 2021, we saw that Nintendo had filed a patent that shows a personalized rating system for the eShop – one that could tailor a user’s eShop browsing experience by recommending games it thinks they’d most likely be interested in playing.
The patent details a system that can "generate a base rating that is a function of gameplay data for a specific user." In theory, this would allow the Nintendo Switch eShop to better organize itself on a per player basis, having them spend less time trawling through the current scattershot approach to game listings. We could even get a personalized 'For You' section, similar to recommended titles on apps like Netflix and Xbox’s Store.
Before Nintendo manages to implement this in full – maybe alongside the launch of a Switch Pro, who knows – I'm happy just to see some more attention to the different ways that players prioritize their purchasing decisions. And for some, knowing the games that others simply can't stop playing will be the biggest pull towards their next favorite title.