Whenever a company announces a new product, it’s reasonable to expect a fair number of doubters, naysayers, dickheads, and idiots chiming in with their opinions about why it’s a horrible idea, why it will fail, why it will suck, why it will lead to financial ruin for everyone involved and ultimately destroy the planet. It takes a special kind of douchebutton to predict the demise of something that has yet to even hit the market, and an even bigger douchebutton to assay the negative environmental impact of such a device, but this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s alive and awake and attentive to the dynamics of the modern creator-consumer relationship, which go something like this:
Creator builds something that millions of the silent majority find useful, charming, and indispensable; fifteen thousand vicious whining morons take to the internet to call it shit; creator is baffled and hurt by the response, takes a night job at a 7-11 in Parsippany, is killed in a holdup for $200 and a bottle of Blue Nun; somewhere in a twilit glade a fluffy little bunny gasps once and falls over, bleeding from every orifice.
Admittedly, I used to be one of these death-dealing schmucks. I loved to predict failure for others because I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) define a standard of success for myself, so I thought that no one else deserved to be successful either; those who were successful made themselves fair targets for my ire solely by virtue of their ability, a premise held by a surprising number of people, and to which can be attributed the slow destruction of the world. Enjoying the prediction of failure is easy; all you need is a tiny mind, myopic vision, an overvalued appraisal of your own opinion, and a big mouth.
Don’t Stop Me Now
With its tendency to release an updated version of its handheld hardware every fifteen months or so, Nintendo is certainly a prime candidate to land in the doubters’ crosshairs with dependable regularity. By introducing incremental improvements to its DS lineup over the last nine years — from the DS Lite to the DSi to the DSi XL to the 3DS to the 3DS XL and the recently announced 2DS — Nintendo has diluted the effect of its own presence in the market; instead of the announcement of a new Nintendo handheld system being treated as A Big Event, it’s merely accepted as a matter of course that their newest hardware will ooze onto the market almost unnoticed, and oh look, it has two screens. And a stylus.
Add to this the feeling of hey-WTF that’s experienced by those who purchase a system close to the release of one of these inevitable refreshes, like those people who bought a DS for Christmas in 2005 only to see the vastly improved DS Lite released six months later. This causes several strata of your potential user base to remain perpetually dissatisfied — those who feel like they got screwed out of a better system by not waiting a few months, and those who hold off on buying a system indefinitely because they know that there’s always going to be that newer, better, cheaper thing around the corner. While it’s never good to cultivate unhappiness among those who purchase your products, it’s even worse to keep people in a constant state of wait-and-see. The former might occasionally spend some money, but the latter never will, and this is why the announcement of the 2DS baffles me; the only effect it’s likely to have on Nintendo’s fortunes will be to further desensitize the gaming public to the appearance of yet another Nintendo handheld on the market.
I make no prognostications regarding its success or failure, though I hope it does well and helps to drive a final, irretrievable stake into the heart of all things 3D, including movies, games, and performance art pieces. 3D is to people of the last half-decade what glam-metal was to people of the 80s; it was a little entertaining at first, a little refreshing, but it quickly became just another headache-inducing gimmick that now needs to disappear faster than you can whisper “pour some sugar on me.” Anything the 2DS, and Nintendo in general, can do to help slay that particular bloodsucking bastard would be greatly appreciated, but I’m unsure as to who they think will purchase the 2DS — it will play original DS games, and all current and future 3DS games, but without 3D capability. You know what else does that? A 3DS.
At $129, the 2DS will sell for $40 less than the 3DS, so perhaps their audience is A) anyone who has not yet purchased a 3DS; B) anyone on a budget; and 2B) everyone for whom 3D handheld gaming on a 3-inch screen holds as much appeal as being stabbed in the face with an icepick for an hour at a time. Most likely it’s A and B, though I’ve learned to never discount the sardonic option.
I Want It All
In an age when touchscreen devices are as common as Rhinovirus A, the DS has all but lost its most unique feature, unless the disintegration of information across two separate screens still counts in its favor. The fact that Nintendo has redesigned the system to appeal to a wider audience suggests that 3DS software sales might not be quite as robust as they’d hoped for, but that’s not likely to change by soliciting a budget-conscious segment of the population.
The appeal of Nintendo’s greatest competition in the handheld arena — the iPad — is that it’s a facilitator, not a dictator. Sure, the cheapest iPad (16 GB Mini) costs almost twice as much as a 3DS, but each game or app costs ten times less than the average 3DS game, and the device itself has a much broader potential audience — everyone from preschoolers to grandparents can find a gratifying experience on an iPad or Android device, while the 3DS audience is limited to children and the Nintendo-core (again, they are extremely loyal, but not there’s not enough of them to support an entire platform).
I’d like Nintendo to design a handheld system that has a single large touchscreen (5.5 inches or more), with dual analog controls and a full complement of digital inputs. I’d like it to be compatible with full downloads and retail media, and I’d like to see a comprehensive library of legacy system support in the eShop, including and especially the GameCube; I’d gladly pay up to $20 to repurchase games like Rogue Leader, Pikmin, the original Luigi’s Mansion, Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, and Chibi-Robo, to name a few, and have them available on a portable system, which translates to instant unique appeal — no other currently available platform offers access to those games. (Older Wii units are capable of playing the disc-based versions, but try finding a copy of Eternal Darkness for your Wii, then playing it on a trans-Atlantic flight.) There’s potential here that Nintendo either doesn’t see, won’t acknowledge, or can’t implement, and it’s frustrating to watch them drift so far from a position that they used to dominate.
In somewhat related news, Nintendo also announced a $50 price drop for the Wii U Deluxe Set, which brings it down to $299 from $349. This is not necessarily bad, but it’s not enough to lift the Wii U out of the sales slump that it’s been in since its release; when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hit shelves this November, the Wii U will be $100 cheaper than the least-expensive next-gen console, but it will still be the same price or more (pending price drops) as the similarly capable, better-outfitted PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which aren’t going away anytime soon. Nintendo should realize that a system isn’t “next-gen” unless it has the muscle to back it up, and the Wii U doesn’t, neither in hardware nor in software.
With just $50 more off the price of the Wii U Nintendo would be able to make up some much-needed ground over the next few months; the Wii U’s lone hope for this holiday season was to compete on cost, but as it is, $299 will keep it in a league in which it is simply ill-equipped to play.