You know you’re writing about something important when almost everyone you contact wants to have their say.
It appears everyone wants to have their say about Nintendo’s new 3D-enabled handheld, be they publisher, retailer or developer.
For them, Nintendo’s 3DS – the first major global console launch since 2006 – is kind of a big deal.
And that’s because it arrives at a crucial time for the trade. Since 2008 sales of boxed games and hardware have been in decline, with no-sign of things getting any better.
So all eyes are on 3DS to turn things around. And the new machine certainly has a lot to live up to.
THE DS PHENOMONON
Nintendo DS is the most successful games machine in UK history. In just over five years, 68.2m DS games and over 12.3m DS consoles have been sold.
But back when it was first revealed in 2004 the reaction to the device was muted – the console’s graphical capabilities paled in comparison to PSP, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of machines and no-one seemed to know quite how to best use this ‘revolutionary’ touch screen.
“I first laid hands on the cold grey brick that was the DS at E3 in 2004,” says Koch’s Craig McNicol, who helped launch the device in the UK.
“I was shown the device by a female who was clearly unsure of the vision, and who used the stylus more like a pencil writing a complaint letter. Two years later the love affair truly started.”
So it was an inauspicious start. Any remaining 3DS sceptics may want to take note.
As has been said many times before, the DS’ true legacy has been less about the innovative hardware and quality software, but in the way these products attracted people who previously had no interest in playing video games.
“The significant leap from GBA to DS was in so many directions – the graphics, the touch interface, multiplayer features – even blowing interactivity,” says Disney Interactive Studios’ country director Matt Carroll.
“Most fundamentally, however, was the leap to new audiences. Never has a handheld had such high usage from girls and women – across three generations. And this, above all, set DS apart.”
THE THIRD DIMENSION
Nintendo 3DS could well prove to be a similar ‘significant leap in many directions’. Granted it looks the same, there are two screens and there’s a few familiar looking titles. But there’s a host of new digital functions (more on that in a bit), new control mechanisms and, most importantly, a glasses-less 3D screen.
“I was incredibly impressed by 3DS at E3 and was lucky enough to play it behind closed doors,” says Namco Bandai’s marketing director Lee Kirton. “I was thrilled to see 3D without glasses.”
As with any console, content is king. And Nintendo has gone to great pains to ensure 3DS has a diverse line-up by recruiting third parties. The biggest selling DS games were Nintendo titles, but could that be about change with 3DS?
“We don’t think it’s any secret that Nintendo has been working hard to ensure there are strong third party franchises on 3DS,” said Ubisoft’s brand manager Jan Sanghera. Ubi has one of the biggest slates on 3DS – more on that over on page 26.
“As the hardware power and features of these handhelds grow, so too do players’ expectations, and Nintendo can cater to this with the help of third party support.”
These third parties are bringing some big names to 3DS. In fact, the schedule for 3DS reads a little like a fanboy’s wet dream. There’s Metal Gear Solid, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, and so on. Is this a sign of Nintendo focusing its efforts on core gamers?
“Every new console release starts with a core line-up to appeal to the early adopters – but if the product is compelling the audience will come,” continues Disney’s Carroll.
Konami’s UK general manager Pete Stone adds: “I imagine that the hardcore will be the early adopters, but Nintendo has done a great job on making DS something that spans all areas of use, and this will continue.”
Perhaps one of Nintendo’s biggest moves on 3DS has been in the digital space.
The company’s president Satoru Iwata admitted at GDC last week that the firm’s digital services ‘have not operated as well as they should.’
The firm hopes to fix that with 3DS. Post-launch it is preparing a new eShop, a Game Boy, Game Gear and movie download service, and the chance to access 3D film trailers.
It’s not just online services, either. There’s the chance to interact with gamers simply by walking near them using StreetPass, while Spot Pass can detect wireless hotspots.
“When I first saw the 3DS at E3 last year I was impressed by the 3D visuals,” says Tecmo Koei’s VP of sales and marketing Will Curley.
“What I didn’t expect was the suite of network features. I see the 3D screen as the key for hardware adoption but Nintendo has thought about how to make this device as much a part of people’s everyday lives as a mobile phone. I really hope we are going to see lots of 3DS in the ‘wild’ enabling the sort of head-to-head gaming that have eluded the markets outside of Japan.
“I think these networking options will enable that because added connectivity means more exposure to other games people are playing.”
3DS vs SMARTPHONES
So can the 3DS – with its 3D screen, major titles and digital services – do what the DS did in terms of units?
The handheld market has evolved a lot since the DS first arrived – not least with the rise of the smartphone.
“There is real competition in the handheld market from iPhone, and Android devices at much lower price points,” says THQ’s CEO Brian Farrell.
“It is going to be a very interesting battle between Nintendo and this other marketplace. We believe 3DS will get some traction because it is a strong consumer experience. But we will find out in a couple of weeks.”
With pre-orders approaching 100,000 units in the UK, and with shops selling out in Japan, there’s little doubt that the consumer appetite for a new DS is there.
“We’re just continually astounded by the success of DS – there’s just an ongoing consumer desire for it,” concludes Nintendo’s marketing director Dawn Paine.
“2011 is the year of the 3DS and the year 3DS will turn 3D into a mainstream proposition; it’s portable, affordable and doesn’t need glasses.”