Why the 3DS XL is a huge blunder for Nintendo in the long run.
The original Game Boy came out in 1989. About six years later, Nintendo released a type of revision with the Play It Loud! campaign, featuring different colors for the system. A year after that gamers got their first real revision of the thing, the Game Boy Pocket, which finally allowed gamers to cease walking around with a gigantic grey brick.
The Game Boy Advance came out in 2001, and close to two years later gamers were given the Game Boy Advance SP, which added a much needed backlit screen.
The Nintendo DS came out in 2004, and sixteen months later we got the DS Lite, which featured a brighter screen, an Apple-inspired design, and a considerably worse d-pad.
So really, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Nintendo announced the 3DS XL, sixteen months after the release of the 3DS. Truly, last night was almost inevitable, Nintendo would eventually release a redesign of the 3DS, they always do. And this time, there seemed to be some reasonable issues to fix. The battery life, for one, isn’t the best. And I wish they would do something about the “ghosting” effect some games have when the 3D is on high, but I understand they would need a better screen in order to fix that. And finally, many gamers are really into this idea of having a second analog stick. So certainly, one could see Nintendo coming up with some redesign once 3DS sales started to slow in order to pick up steam for some holiday season. If we were going by history, that would have been the third holiday season, as both the DS and the GBA were allowed two holiday seasons before some revision came through to render them obsolete. And no, this isn’t an article bashing the idea of system redesigns. From a business perspective, after two holiday seasons the sales of the systems may begin to slow, so throwing something new out there to entice new consumers and lure in some upgraders makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense, is putting out a redesign for a system’s second holiday season, and lying to the consumer before doing it.
First, let’s talk about where the 3DS is right now. It came out to a rocky launch, but anyone with any sense could tell you why as it had three major issues (in order of relevance):
1. There weren’t any AAA games with widespread appeal early on.
2. Most gamers were content to wait for the inevitable redesign.
3. The price was too high.
At the time, I felt all Nintendo needed to light a fire under the 3DS was one good holiday season. And they certainly delivered by releasing Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, and Star Fox 64 3D prior to the 3DS’s holiday season. But Nintendo apparently did not trust their holiday line-up, so a few months after the 3DS launch Nintendo panicked over slow stales and slashed the price by $80. A dramatic move I felt, but it did take care of two of the three issues holding the 3DS back.
Since then, the 3DS has surged. Its competitor, the Playstation Vita, isn’t remotely on the same planet (similar to the competition between the DS and the PSP really), and the 3DS has even broken records set by its wildly successful predecessor.
And looking ahead to this holiday season, I saw no indication that the 3DS’s success was likely to diminish. The 3DS is set to receive a (berserker) barrage of quality titles for the remainder of the year, and with New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the horizon, it seemed to me that the 3DS would be a run away success this holiday season.
Which brings me to my first issue with the 3DS XL: Why now?
The 3DS was in no way shape or form in danger of having some type of slump between now and 2013. With a new Kingdom Hearts and New Super Mario Bros. 2 coming out soon, it’s inconceivable to me that the 3DS would have slacked in sales in the coming months. So I fail to see how the release of a redesign could help drive sales. People would have bought New Super Mario Bros. 2 in droves regardless of there being a new 3DS model, so putting out a new model on the same day seems a bit pointless. And really, from a business stand point, it’s kind of dumb. If they were going to buy the system anyways, wouldn’t you want to sell more of the original model before rendering it obsolete? Wouldn’t you want more people eager to upgrade to the new version? Yes, big games have been timed with redesigns inthe past (Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire came out with the GBA SP in the U.S.), but the GBA had had two holiday seasons to establish itself before then. The 3DS itself has had one, and had one more good holiday season looming ahead. The 3DS would have sold like hotcakes without a redesign release, so why waste the redesign now?
So that’s my issue from the business perspective. From the view of the consumer, the 3DS XL in itself has little reason to exist. For instance, consider the DSi XL. It came out as the final gasp of the DS line, and while the DS Lite and the DSi brought worthwile additions to the DS system, the DSi XL was about as relevant as the Game Boy Micro. Not to bash the DSi XL or the GB Micro (certainly not the GB Micro), but both redesigns felt more like something that hardcore fans would gobble up and weren’t really there to drive sales like the DS Lite (or GBA SP). Yes, the 3DS XL adds two hours of battery life and it has bigger screens, though in my opinion the 3DS XL looks like a goofy child’s laptop and less like a sleek portable gaming machine (unlike my slick aqua blue 3DS). And that’s it. That’s all the 3DS XL adds: bigger screens and two extra hours of battery life. For me, it just doesn’t seem worth it. The GBA SP was an obvious and much needed upgrade over the GBA. The DS Lite was considerably better than the DS (outside of the awful d-pad). The 3DS XL is… there for people who can’t see well and travel a lot? I just don’t see the market. Well, I do, and that brings us to…
Why lie Nintendo? I know, it’s a silly question, because everyone already knows the answer. You lie because you wanted people to buy the regular 3DS. Remember back in August of 2011? When Reggie was quoted as saying:
“The form factor, we believe, it quite strong and quite positive. We have nothing else to add at this point in terms of other form factor changes or other color changes beyond the Flame Red that we’re announcing today.”
Or how about these past few days, where we have been treated to articles such as this one where Miyamoto says:
“I really feel like I’m satisfied with the 3DS hardware as it is. I feel like it’s the best for this generation. What we’re thinking about right now is probably going to be for a future generation of handheld.”
This article was posted last week.
My issue is that, since before the 3DS launch, Nintendo has gone out of their way to express their pleasure with the 3DS design and lead everyone on to believe that they weren’t going to bother with a revision. And why is this an issue in my mind? Because of issue #2 of why the 3DS launch wasn’t very successful. I cannot even begin to count the number of people who have commented that they would be waiting for the 3DS redesign before getting one. I had hoped Nintendo would prove them wrong and not bother, because if they did that, I felt it would bode well for the launch of their next handheld.
And really, there were only two issues most people had with the system: no second analog and a lousy battery life. But the second analog issue is an awkward one, because Nintendo generally doesn’t make games that would utlizie it, and I couldn’t see them making a version of the 3DS with one built in because that would virtually force us early adopters to buy the system since games would inevitably be designed with the second analog in mind. As for the battery life, I always felt it was negligible. I generally play my 3DS at home though, and if I take it out it’s only to get StreetPasses, so personally I’ve rarely run into the battery life being an issue. Of course, the only issue that got fixed was the battery one, and even then it only adds two hours, which isn’t that much better all things considered. As for the second analog stick, ironically Nintendo has just screwed over that crowd, because the Circle Pad Pro obviously isn’t going to work with the 3DS XL, so either you’re going to have to buy the CPP XL or Nintendo just won’t bother making one, rendering the 3DS XL completely worthless to the people demanding a built in sexcond circle pad.
So that brings us to the point of the article: Why is the 3DS XL a mistake?
For one, I don’t think it adds enough to 3DS design to be relevant. It’s a goofier looking handheld with a longer battery life and larger screens, nowhere near as significant as what the GBA SP and the DS Lite brought along. Also, the timing is just bizarre and I feel the added sales from the new model won’t have much of an impact over what the system would have sold anyways. And so, we combine these ideas with the big one: Nintendo has just ensured that their next handheld launch will be abysmal.
Seriously, how many people are going to buy the next Nintendo handheld at launch? Why would you? Just wait for a little over a year and ignore their promises of “we like the current design”, and you can buy the better version when it comes out! Yes, Nintendo has done this twice now (GBA and DS), but both of those redesigns were warranted, and in this case, there didn’t seem to be much that needed to be added to the 3DS. Now ,we see that Nintendo will throw out redesigns with negligible upgrades just for the hell of it.
And if the next handheld does worse than the 3DS at launch? Then what? More price drops? Will that entice you knowing the next version is around the corner? A killer holiday line-up? Will that pull you in?
Mind you, I’m not upset about the redesign. I think it looks too goofy for me to want to give up my 3DS. But I do think this is a big mistake on Nintendo’s part. It’s too soon and considering the holiday line up Nintendo was heading into, I doubt the 3DS XL is going to make a difference as far as sales go. In my opinion, Nintendo has done this simply because a lot of people have been proclaiming that they’re waiting for the redesign. So for Nintendo, it’s a matter of, “OK, we’ll make a redesign, and get these guys to buy a system we’re largely happy with and maybe get some upgraders along the way.” Really, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But my concern is that, now that Nintendo has proven the “wait for a redesign” crowd right, they’re going to have even bigger issues with their next launch. And this leaves me wondering how bad a Nintendo handheld can do in its first few months without Nintendo simply pulling the plug. Because if everybody is waiting for the redesign, then who is going to buy the original to keep it alive long enough for there to be a redesign?