This week Nintendo announced a new handheld. It is a new 3DS system, and it is called the New 3DS.
The New 3DS will be coming to Japan in October this year, and to the west sometime later in 2015.
Nintendo has a long history of releasing updated versions of their handhelds. Gameboy and the Gameboy Pocket. DS and DSi. 3DS and 3DS XL and 2DS. So the concept of an updated version with new features is not a new one.
There is, however, a difference between the original 3DS and the New 3DS – the N3DS has an upgraded CPU, a second stick, and two more extra triggers. As a result, there will be games that are compatible with the N3DS that are not compatible with the original 3DS.
In contrast, the original Gameboy could play every game the Gameboy Pocked could. The DS could play every game the DSi could. The 3DS could play every game the XL and 2DS could.
But no, the 3DS will not be able to play every game the N3DS can.
This marks an interesting departure in strategy for Nintendo – one that looks very counterintuitive. Let us count the ways.
Firstly, it’s damaging to brand faithfuls and “early” adopters. It’s a bit late to call them “early” adopters, considering the handheld is three years old now, but what I mean by that is those who bought the original 3DS system (or an XL, or a 2DS) under the pretence that their handheld system would be good for an entire generation of games. With this new announcement, Nintendo are essentially punishing those who invested in a machine that they thought would last them well into the future. It leaves a sour taste especially for those who bought a 2DS, which only came out last year. Not only is it frustrating, but it’s also teaching consumers to wait to buy the next Nintendo hardware, just in case they decide to release a new and improved version a year or two down the track that plays games that the earlier models don’t.
Second, it splits the userbase. Having some (most) users on one set of hardware and another on a different one means that (some) games have to be made and marketed separately. Say you have a (completely arbitrarily chosen number) hundred people who own a version of the 3DS. Forty own a 3DS. Thirty own an XL. Twenty own a 2DS. And now ten own a N3DS. We have seventy who can take advantage of the 3D feature. We have thirty who can experience the game on a bigger screen. And we have ten who can play any game released. Nintendo have to fracture their message accordingly to suit the needs of each group’s hardware. Not to mention that developers who make games for a small segment of that market will have their software sell proportionately poorly and we have some very disturbing cost/benefit ratios.
Finally, we have that name. Oh that terrible, terrible name. Remember the Wii? That was a great system. It had great games like Skyward Sword. Oh wait, that was the Wii U. Remember the Wii U? It had Super Mario Galaxy. Oh wait, no it didn’t, that was the Wii. Can you imagine how regular, uninformed shoppers felt when going in to buy the latest game and finding out it wasn’t for their system? Because Wii U is one letter away from Wii. Any obstacle that a company puts between a purchaser and their product loses sales – and naming confusion is an obstacle. In this case, I can imagine quite a few people with less knowledge about games and consoles than you or I going into the local video game store and buying Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS, not knowing that it will only work on a New 3DS. I can hear the conversation between the store clerk and the customer now:
Clerk: “You know this game only works on a New 3DS?”
Buyer: “I have a new 3DS, I bought it last month brand new!”
C: “No, a New 3DS – it’s a new model of 3DS.”
B: “Yes, this model is new, I got it last month.”
C: “No, it’s called a New 3DS, it’s a completely different thing.”
B: “Do I have a New 3DS?”
C: “I don’t know, did you buy a New 3DS?”
B: “Yes, I bought a new 3DS. It was brand new.”
C: “Yes, but is it called a New 3DS?”
B: “I don’t know! It’s a Gameboy and my [son/daughter/niece/nephew/brother/sister/other] was looking at this game in the shop the other day and it’s their birthday and I want to get it for them as a present and they said they have a 3DS and I don’t know! You’re telling me it might not work? I guess I won’t buy it then.”
Yes, I’ve worked retail, I am familiar with this kind of situation.
So why aren’t Nintendo committing to a full generation leap? I couldn’t tell you. It makes no sense to me. If I were to guess, I’d say they were taking a leaf out of Apple’s book with their iterative, nearly-annual iPhone releases. The difference, however, is that many iPhone owners purchase their phone bundled with a service that allows for upgrades when the new handset is released – something which Nintendo’s New 3DS does not allow for.
This half generation step feels like a confused, non-committal stop-gap measure to prolong eke out more money from a highly successful platform – probably to cover the immense hole left by the commercial failure of the Wii U. Unfortunately, it’s repeating the Wii U’s restrained, unambitious lurch into the new generation, failing to commit to a genuine technological breakthrough.
At the very least the New 3DS will be fully backwards compatible with all 3DS games, so it won’t be a complete waste of money.