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3D or not 3D - Nintendo's handhelds power forward

3D or not 3D - Nintendo's handhelds power forward

Fri 30 Aug 2013 7:00am GMT / 3:00am EDT / 12:00am PDT
RetailHardware

Dropping the 3D from the 3DS makes perfect sense when you consider Nintendo's goals - the best possible sales of Pokemon this Christmas

Say what you like about Nintendo (most people do, so you may as well join the fray), the company certainly still retains the ability to surprise. Nobody predicted the Nintendo 2DS, an ungainly looking slab that acts as a slightly-crippled younger brother to the 3DS and will almost certainly be the best selling games hardware of this Christmas. After years of promoting the wonders of the 3D display on the 3DS, Nintendo has stripped it out entirely - a move that's unsurprisingly attracted its fair share of derision.

That derision mostly takes the form of "I-told-you-so" smugness from people who have spent years arguing that the 3D tech in the handheld range was a gimmick. Granted, nobody should waste much time listening to the kind of blowhard who thinks that his incredibly cutting and insightful observation that a 3D display in a gaming handheld might be a "gimmick" makes him into some kind of crystal-ball-gazing mystic seer, and Nintendo is unlikely to lose much sleep over the opprobrium of such people. Of course it's a gimmick; the purpose of the 3D display is to make games look nicer and a bit more unique, not to feed the hungry or heal the sick.

"3D display has actually been a remarkably good use of the limited hardware resources Nintendo could pour into a mass-market handheld"

Equally, though, it's a very nice gimmick - with certain caveats. As long as you're sitting in a stable position (cars, buses and trains in motion don't work so well) that lets you hold the 3DS optimally, and as long as you're not one of the small but significant number of people who get awful headaches from artificial 3D effects, 3DS games do look lovely. The illusion of depth gives them a unique appeal that can't be replicated by any other device and makes even relatively simple characters and environments look polished and attractive. For all the caveats and the criticism, 3D display has actually been a remarkably good use of the limited hardware resources Nintendo could pour into a mass-market handheld - while other handheld devices are leapfrogged by technological progress every ten minutes, 3DS software still looks great now largely due to the 3D effect.

The 2DS dispenses summarily with all of that - which is a shame, in some regards, but is also a very good business move. Nintendo may carve its own path, but it's also responsive to the market - and more importantly, it's responsive to the demands of its own software. I've argued many times that Nintendo crafts its hardware strategy around the needs of its software franchises, while its platform holder rivals take exactly the opposite approach. Halo serves the needs of the Xbox platform, but platforms like the Wii and the 3DS serve the needs of Mario and Zelda. In this specific instance, the 2DS exists to serve the needs of what may be Nintendo's most valuable franchise - Pokemon.

Of course, the observation that the Nintendo 2DS' arrival will coincide with the arrival of Pokemon X & Y doesn't make me into a crystal-ball-gazing mystic seer either, since it's perfectly obvious for everyone to see. However, a lot of the comments I've read about this launch strategy talk about Pokemon X & Y being an important title to support the 2/3DS - which isn't a false statement, but is a significantly less useful way of looking at the strategy than the approach which says that the 2DS exists to support the launch of Pokemon X & Y, not vice versa.

"In order to be the optimal platform for the Pokemon franchise, the 3DS needed to be cheaper"

Nintendo's logic works like this - Pokemon, the company's most valuable franchise of recent years, is arriving on the 3DS. Sure, that's going to be great for the 3DS, but the larger question is about how to make it great for Pokemon - ask not what Pokemon can do for your game platform, but what your game platform can do for Pokemon. In order to be the optimal platform for the Pokemon franchise, the 3DS needed to be cheaper, it needed to inspire a bit more confidence in parent purchasers by being more durable and, crucially, it needed to drop the 3D effect in order to assuage the bad press which has dogged the notion of kids playing games with 3D effects has received, at least in North America and Europe. It doesn't matter that this was a USP for the console - what Pokemon needs, Pokemon gets. The 2DS will be a successful launch and drive lots of software sales, but it exists for one reason - to ensure that Pokemon X & Y get into the hands of as many kids as possible in Western markets this Christmas, and beyond.

The single-mindedness of this strategy does result in a number of rather odd issues with Nintendo's handheld line-up. For a start, the original 3DS is really just muddying the waters now - it's perfectly clear that the 3DS XL is the console of choice among the clamshell models, and the existence of three hardware models at three price points doesn't help Nintendo's case with consumers at all. More worryingly, the company still hasn't overcome the key branding cock-up which it made at the launch of this platform. Over 30 million hardware units later, I still talk to consumers (and the occasional utterly misguided industry professional) who think that the 3DS is a new model of the DS with a 3D screen - resulting in several comments over the past few days suggesting that the 2DS is "just a DS". In its anxiousness to tap into the positive branding of the DS, Nintendo has still failed to communicate to many people that this is an entirely new and much more powerful console (and it's repeating the same dumb mistake with the Wii U right now).

"the 2DS and the fantastic slate of software leading up to Christmas guarantee a solid holiday season for Nintendo's handheld"

2DS is going to compound that error, and I expect that the "isn't that just a DS then?" questions will be widespread as Christmas approaches - not least because the "3DS" branding on games, which was designed to put some clear blue water between the old platform and the new, is now about to be subverted by a 3DS console that isn't actually called "3DS". This is a platform which will be bought heavily by not particularly tech-savvy parents and grandparents for young Pokemon fans - would it really have been so much to ask that the company stick with the same branding that's printed on all its games, in order to avoid utter confusion about which games can be played on which consoles?

Regardless, the 2DS and the fantastic slate of software leading up to Christmas guarantee a solid holiday season for Nintendo's handheld - which looks set to continue confounding soi-disant mystics everywhere throughout 2014, as it continues to resist the supposedly inexorable rise of smartphone and tablet gaming. The Wii U, which received a price drop this week and will soon have the option of being bundled with Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker rather than Nintendo Land, is in a tougher position. Iwata is right on this; the price isn't all that important, but the software is vital. Both of these minor moves will help to keep the console alive, but until the company can start to get high-quality software onto the platform and build a portfolio worth playing, it's going to be on life support, at best.

11 Comments

Jason Avent
VP, Studio Head

139 140 1.0
Driving a cheap plastic wedge between parents and cheap tablets? :)

Posted:A year ago

#1

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,154 939 0.8
I love the 2DS already, I think its such a good idea as far as offering a new approach to the current generation DS goes. I have a few ideas for the next generation already though :)

Posted:A year ago

#2

Andy Samson
QA Supervisor

231 178 0.8
Nintendo would be stupid not to make a special Pokemon X/Y 2DS bundle.

Posted:A year ago

#3
What age are most parents of 5-10 year olds? They've grown up with game consoles too, I think they're savy enough to get it.

Although I 100% agree that the stereo for me and most people i know is the big reason I love the 3ds plus games look a bit pixelated with stereo off.

Finally I also prefer the original model due to its portability.

So I guess we all like different things which is why it totally makes sense for Nintendo to bring out another version that caters to a niche that perhaps are otherwise turned off.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Shehzaan Abdulla
Translator

89 195 2.2
Popular Comment
"That derision mostly takes the form of "I-told-you-so" smugness from people who have spent years arguing that the 3D tech in the handheld range was a gimmick. Granted, nobody should waste much time listening to the kind of blowhard who thinks that his incredibly cutting and insightful observation that a 3D display in a gaming handheld might be a "gimmick" makes him into some kind of crystal-ball-gazing mystic seer, and Nintendo is unlikely to lose much sleep over the opprobrium of such people. Of course it's a gimmick; the purpose of the 3D display is to make games look nicer and a bit more unique, not to feed the hungry or heal the sick."

That got a well deserved chuckle from me. Well done.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Neil Millstone
Director

32 12 0.4
I agree with this. Nintendo are not stupid. The people who cry 'failure' each time they release something have usually been proven wrong, and they will be proved wrong again this time.

The 2DS will do fine. It has a nice library of great looking games, and is really cheap. What else could you ask for?

So, it's not a looker. But have you taken another look at the 3DS? It's not a looker either.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
Well I was never interested in 3D from the get go. Not even for TV and movies. And at least for games, it comes off as gimmicky. Because you really cant produce or design a game that absolutly requires the 3D capabilities. Its not like you can make a game that is rendered usless without the 3D capabilities. The 3D capabilities are more of a novelty and it really is not needed for any of the games ever produced for it. For myself I would still opt to get the regular 3DS simply for the clamshell design. And though Im cool with the 3D capabilities, its not something I think I need to play games.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

361 204 0.6
3DS is awesome and 3D is great!
2DS looks weird. Plus it should be named DS2.
(i might be getting it out of curiosity.)

But i think we may be missing a point here.
Now that the device won't be drawing that extra buffer for stereoscopic, it will possibly be able to channel the extra processing power for improved visuals!

Posted:A year ago

#8

Steve Peterson
West Coast Editor

108 73 0.7
The biggest problem Nintendo faces is the confusing nomenclature of DS, 2DS and 3DS (and 3DS XL). But the $129 price speaks pretty loudly, which will help. Some marketing spending to help clear that up would be good... though coming up with better names in the first place is the best strategy. Wii/Wii U is confusing, too. These are far from the biggest problems facing these consoles, but a good name can help marketing... and these names aren't helping. PlayStation 4 may be dull and predictable, but everyone automatically knows it's better than a PlayStation 3, and different.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Andy Samson
QA Supervisor

231 178 0.8
Not sure what's confusing about the name, seems like a natural progression in terms of tech it comes with:

1st - DS
2nd - 2DS
3rd - 3DS

DS Family:
DS (phat), DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL
- All hardware that plays DS games only starts with "DS"

3DS Family:
3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS
- Hardware that plays both DS and 3DS games has a "number" followed by "DS".

Posted:A year ago

#10
From the perspective of watching Nintendo's presence in the West over the years - I would not be surprised to see what happened with Nintendo's first foray with their North American amusement division happen to the Nintendo Of US operation of today. The successful (then) NEC business was encapsulated into a stand-alone operation and the amusement division was cut back and eventually restructured (closed).

For Nintendo, the hand-held market offers much more appropriate business opportunities than the confusion of the game console sector at present. Nintendo is at heart a toy company, and while it comes to grips with the new media of online and downloaded content, its console objectivity has been dulled to the point of inane business decisions being made against NOJ's better judgement.

This latest move (2DS) underlines the business savvy of the core Nintendo executive pool in Japan, and focuses the lens on the reality, let alone value of their US counterparts. From the perspective of smart business, being able to offer a platform that appeals to the new gaming audience (young), while building brand penetration, sidestepping young 3D users ocular concerns, and keeping Fisher-Price at bay, can only be seen as very smart business indeed!

Posted:A year ago

#11

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