3DS and the portable space

There is no doubt that the recent fanfare in the portable space is the Nintendo 3DS.

The future is looming?

After a spectacular showing at E3 this year, 3DS’ launch is shaping up to be a huge one. Everyone was expecting it to see the daylight before Christmas. However in a Nintendo-don’t-stick-with-tradition fashion, at a conference last month they announced that 3DS will not be launched until February 2011. The reason behind this was to have sufficient units available at launch and this could not be achieved if they launch before the holiday season this year. They estimated that 3DS can ship around 4 million units in one month worldwide. Whether this is wishful thinking still waits to be seen.

Why did I say wishful thinking? This is mainly because of the industry unfriendly price tag attached to the machine at the moment. 3DS will be launched at a hefty price tag of around US$300 – which is significantly higher than any other portable machines Nintendo has released and nearly on par with Wii. Now if it is a home console, the price tag is pretty friendly, but for a portable machine, this seems to be a luxury for most people. No matter how impressive the machine is, there still needs to have a sufficient launch market space for word of mouth. This was exactly how DS did it in the first place – launched at a friendly price with interesting software so people were willing to try them out after word of mouth.

He's mine

I am not saying that the software launch for 3DS is not impressive. In fact for a new console, with major franchises like Resident Evil, Zelda, Ridge Racer, Monkey Ball, Samurai Warriors, Nintendogs+Cats, Street Fighter, Professor Layton and Metal Gear Solid to name a few, it is a dream launch line for a lot of console makers. However, 3DS is still a “new” concept console and the 3D gaming space is still an area to be tested. A high price point at launch may not work to the advantage of the ever increasingly competitive portable space. Among all things we just had the PSPgo example not long before us. So why did Nintendo choose to launch an untested console at such a high price was intriguing. Further as impressive as the launch line looks like, one would notice that a number of games are re-hashes of old titles – such as Ocarina of Time, Starfox 64, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater etc. Also “new games” such as Resident Evil: Mercenaries looks extremely similar to the Resident Evil 4 Mercenaries mini game on the Cube. So how many of these launch titles are really new titles is another thing that could make or break the console at launch. Further as impressive as the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance digital store sounds, how many people will want to download old pixel games onto their new 3D console?

At this point I’m not saying that 3DS will fail. I am sure it will sell like hotcakes at launch but the question here is how sustainable is the 3DS business as compared to the current DS family (which only slowed down after 6 – 7 years in the market). Momentum is of prime importance if Nintendo wants to keep the crown in the portable market but with such a pricey new console, would mums and dads be willing to upgrade their kids’ DS’s simply because they want one? If the price point is not family friendly, 3DS could end up just a collector’s item for tech geeks instead of a general portable console for all. In this sense, I do believe Nintendo is treading in dangerous waters.

This is my space!

While Nintendo is busily prepping for the 3DS launch, rumours already circulate that a powerful PSP2 is looming around in the corner. Now PSP is the closest of a competitor to Nintendo’s family of portable consoles, but it suffered from a setback of high price point when launched. With the specs in PSP it was difficult for Sony not to sell it at a premium price. A few years later Sony repeated the mistake and failed spectacularly with PSPgo (which only sold 900 units across Japan last week and going nowhere in other parts of the world). So it will be interesting to see what Sony comes up with this time. Developers were praising the power of PSP2 development kit, but then this is a price sensitive market and we already saw that the Playstation brand loyalty was not as strong as Sony thought it was with PSP, PSPgo and PS3. So how Sony will handle this new challenger in the market will be very interesting to see.

With Sony and Nintendo battling out in the portable space like no tomorrow, it is natural to think that this is how the portable market will look like in the coming years (considering the previous failures of Sega’s Game Gear and Bandai’s Wonder Swan). However, out of nowhere Panasonic suddenly announced a new portable console called Jungle is in the making. Nonetheless Panasonic stated that Jungle distinguishes itself by focusing on online gaming experience such as MMOs (portable Warcraft anyone?). The console’s preliminary images showed that it is clam shape like the DS but then it has a full QWERTY keyboard. Industry people who had seen the preliminary model stated that the screen was crisp and clear and the console is capable of HD and HDMI output. But then with this kind of specs, again it comes back to the whole price point that Panasonic is going to release Jungle. Its previous attempt the 3DO met its demise because of high price point and thus lack of third party support, and its M2 console never saw the daylight in the market. So how Panasonic handle Jungle’s launch will constitute whether it could be a contender in the portable race, or it is just another firework that Panasonic sends out to remind us of their existence.

Jungle Jingles

So it looks like the portable gaming space will be heating up in the next year or so. Who will be the winner of the next generation portable race is still too early to predict but one thing for sure is that the current major players will not take each other lightly after the current round. Hopefully us gamers will be the final winner no matter what.

About the Author

Level up freak. Level 99 is a norm not a goal. Love my JRPGs and RPGs in general. Also love my platformers and puzzle games. Was addicted to Zoo Keeper, Magnetica, Animal Crossing, Disgaea DS, Dragon Quest IX and White Knight Chronicles. Prefer to spend my time away from gaming as an actor although do have a full time job that keeps my mortgage going. But generally love anything creative. And if anyone tells you gaming is a waste of time, tell them you have great eye, hand and brain coordinations that they will never have!