The New 3DS, Nintendo’s Strategy & The Future Of The Wii U

The New Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL are soon to arrive on Western shores, with the release date of February 13th confirmed in yesterday’s Nintendo Direct. While the naming might be awful – especially when you consider the general public’s confusion and indifference the the 3DS brand in the first place – this is a surprisingly major overhaul of the system architecture and design. The clamshell design and rough size remain, but the internal chips have been made more powerful, the glasses free 3D effect on the screen has been improved with head tracking and the glaring omission of a second analogue nub has been rectified without the need for an extra attachment.

Admittedly, its initial reveal did cause a minor amount of annoyance in some corners, as Xenoblade Chronicles was announced alongside and revealed to require the newer and more capable hardware, rather than simply augment the existing console’s potential. As well as trying to pull in new customers, Nintendo is naturally hoping that this serves to give you a more compelling reason to upgrade, rather than make do with what you’ve already got.

Even before the New 3DS, Nintendo have been in similar positions on numerous occasions over their time in the games industry. The console manufacturers in the early 90s were eager to experiment and add new bits and pieces to their consoles, whether it was the Sega CD for the Mega Drive or the 64DD for the Nintendo 64. Even Sony got in on the act with the PlayStation 2 and its expansion bay for a hard drive or network adapter, as they experimented with online play for the first time. These often founded muted reactions and failed to meet expectations.

The biggest successes over the years have come with more general hardware revisions, as advances in technology allow companies to reduce the costs of internal components and miniaturise their devices, as in the Game Boy Pocket. It was with the Game Boy Color which arrived in 1998, nearly a decade after the Game Boy first launched, that we saw Nintendo take their first steps down the path we see them on today. The Game Boy Color could, of course, play all the old Game Boy games, but developers could also design their games with backwards compatibility in mind, with titles able to take advantage of the GBC’s colours but also working on the older hardware.

New3DSBlog-IL3

The Game Boy Advance and its hardware revisions didn’t see quite as large a change, but the shift to a clamshell form and the addition of a backlight was a major improvement with the GBA SP, so it’s only really with the Nintendo DS and 3DS that we seem to be settling into a particular cycle, as at a similar point of the Nintendo DS’ lifetime – roughly four years after release – Nintendo also rejuvinated its handheld into the Nintendo DSi.

Compared to the added capabilities of the New 3DS, the DSi was more of a slimming down and refinement of the DS Lite, with the relatively minor addition of a camera, removing the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot to save space, and opening up an online digital marketplace with the Nintendo DSi Shop, opening the door to developers with titles too niche for a retail release.

However, even then it had the consequence of splitting the market. With tens of millions of DS’ already sold, publishers tended to hedge their bets and release games that catered to the original hardware rather than the updated one. With that in mind, Xenoblade Chronicles’ position as an exclusive game for the New 3DS already feels like more of an outlier rather than a sign of things to come.

Yet it does make the prospect of buying a 3DS that little bit more attractive to newcomers. The general improvements will ripple back through the handheld’s catalogue, as games like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Kingdom Hearts 3D won’t need that added bulk of a Circle Pad Pro to get the best out of them, not to mention that the better 3D screen will help those that were unable to get the best out of it before.

new3dsbanner

In truth, it will all come down to price and whether there is an attractive enough upsell to the new console. Outside of trying to push developers and publishers to adopt the new hardware’s perks, Nintendo and retailers have to grapple with pitching the new consoles to consumers. It’s not helped by the higher pricing, with the New 3DS at £160 and the 3DS XL at £190, while the older 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS will continue to live on in the market in one form or another at lower prices. It’s all a bit messy and confusing, and especially so for those who don’t follow gaming news that closely.

While Nintendo have been more than happy to tinker with their handhelds, they show less enthusiasm to do so with their home consoles. The Wii saw the first instance of Nintendo changing the form of their console with the Wii Mini, as they very cautiously tested the waters with a cut down device and a soft launch in Canada, just months before the Wii U’s launch.

It’s something that stands in quite stark contrast to the moves made by their competitors, as both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 saw two hardware redesigns which helped them to cut costs and combat the issues with overheating from their initial designs. Of the latest generation of machines, it’s arguably the Wii U which has the greatest scope for a redesign in the coming year.

It’s certainly quite hasty to talk of redesigns for consoles barely a year old, but compared to their predecessors, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are already quite mature products. The Xbox One could certainly do with being reduced in size, but the PlayStation 4 shows a surprising nuance and refinement which we’d come to expect from a hardware revision rather than an initial launch machine. Functionally, both Microsoft and Sony can do a lot more with software rather than altering the hardware itself, leaving Nintendo with the most to gain from overhauling their console hardware.

New3DSBlog-IL4

The Wii U Gamepad in particular could see a lot of improvement, and rumours were stoked by digitally manipulated blurred images in a recent advert that suggested a larger screen being built in and a much reduced bezel surrounding it. As a controller, it could also do with better ergonomic design and an increased battery capacity to allow for longer gameplay sessions, and I’d be eager to see Nintendo finally make the jump to a capacitive touch screen, like those we see on smartphones and tablets.

The Wii U itself might come to benefit from a reduction in CPU and GPU die sizes, so that it’s using less power, outputting less heat and its form could take up less space, and it’s also not entirely inconceivable that Nintendo finally address the nagging issues over internal storage space with a hard drive and adopt a more consumer friendly approach to digital purchases and ownership, which continue to be problematic for people that need to replace their console or might want to upgrade.

Yet, while the moves that Microsoft and Sony make are relatively easy to foresee, Nintendo’s current position in the market makes them less predictable. The Wii U has obviously not been selling anywhere near as well as they would like, and it might well be that behind closed doors their focus is already starting to shift to new hardware, while remaining bullish about the Wii U in public and rounding off development of their key titles. Were that to be the case, the R&D resources spent on refining a Wii U revision would certainly be better spent elsewhere.

Either way, 2015 could be quite a good year for Nintendo. The New 3DS should serve to bolster hardware sales during the first part of the year and combined with the initial strength of the amiibo figurines will help to paint a rosy picture for investors. There’s even plenty to be excited about with the Wii U’s upcoming catalogue of games, whether it gets a hardware redesign or not, with The Legend of Zelda looking sublime and Splatoon giving us our first original game from the company in a long, long time.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

12 Comments

  1. If I scroll down the left-hand column (on the homepage) I see eight separate Nintendo articles. Bloody hell, that’s hitting it hard. Wish we saw as much love for some of the other platforms and their exclusives. PC especially.

    • Well yes, but yesterday saw Nintendo come out with their latest Nintendo Direct, which featured a large number of quickfire announcements. Nobody else has quite the same degree of coordination of effort, but you know that we still write about PC games – the last fortnight saw previews for Total War: Attila, news of the leaked Total War: Warhammer, Cities: Skylines, Pillars of Eternity release date, GTA V delay, etc. etc. – Xbox One and everything else whenever we can.

      • Yeah, I really don’t see the issue here – if there was an Xbox conference, there’d be dozens of Xbox articles, a PlayStation conference, dozens of PS articles. In fact there were over 20 PlayStation articles in a row during the PlayStation Experience blowout last month. It’s to be expected when a publisher hosts a show to reveal news about their upcoming games.

        Obviously, since PC doesn’t have a defined platform holder, there aren’t events of this type for that; Valve experimented with Steam Dev Days last year but it’s still nothing like the console-focused reveals we see, due to the nature of the platform.

      • Ah, I didn’t realise Nintendo Direct was on. That will explain the influx of articles. All good. :-)

  2. The Wii U is already ridiculously power-efficient; with less than half the power-draw of the PS3 Super Slim and Xbox 360 S.

    It could do with a built in harddrive though, even if it was just 80GB or something, as long as it’s user replaceable.

  3. I don’t own a 3ds but I would feel a little bit cheated if I bought one and a few years later they release a new revision that makes mine obsolete. At least the DSi didn’t make the normal DS obsolete (apart from a few games that used the camera, unforgettable classics like ‘Face Training’ and ‘Picture Perfect Hair Salon’)

    • Also I heard it doesn’t come with a charger, what the hell is that about!?

    • Is that not just a normal console cycle though? You buy one, and a few years later a new shiny one comes out? In all honesty I can’t see it making the current 3DS obsolete – there are far too many out there. The lack of charger though is ridiculous, but something Nintendo has been doing for quite a while now.

      • But the ‘new’ 3ds is neither shiny nor new. Its just another iteration. The only features it has that haven’t existed in the previous 3ds or as a peripheral is the head tracking 3D and the more powerful hardware.
        The more powerful hardware doesn’t even seem to make that big a difference.

        I’m not bothered by the fact itself that they’ve released new hardware, I just hope they don’t set a new precedent where gradual iteration takes over instead of complete evolution. Imagine trying to buy a game but having to research which models of the console the game will run on first, kinda defeats the point of console gaming.

  4. I think Nintendo seem to be going through a bit of an identity crisis with their consoles lately just throwing out updated versions constantly. “New” 3DS and WiiU etc. I think perhaps they should have taken the time out to do a bit more work on the handheld and rebranded it; they ditched the Gameboy, arguably the biggest name in handheld gaming, for the DS so I don’t see why they couldn’t do it again. It might even do them some good as it won’t be seen as minor updates to already tired consoles.

    • To be honest it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Gameboy brand make a return – and perhaps that’ll be the next handheld they release in a couple more years. I don’t think they’re tired consoles yet, the 3DS family of consoles continues to be a success for Nintendo, hence why they’re reiterating on it rather than releasing a completely new platform.

      The Wii U, despite the name, wasn’t an upgrade – it was a whole new console. That’s been part of the problem for it though!

  5. I still don’t understand what Nintendo is doing with the New 3DS. Don’t they have a marketing department? Even the name sounds like a “Simpsons” joke, and short of exclusives that force the upgrade, I don’t see why anyone would bother with it. PLUS, they’re passing up obvious avenues. Why not name the 3DS the 3DS II, at least? Why not make it double as a Wii U gamepad, and rerelease a redesigned Wii U with no gamepad, renamed just “U,” for $200? It hurts my brain.

Comments are now closed for this post.