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A recent straw poll I ran on Twitter showed me that although most families who follow me are aware of the 3DS‘s glasses-less 3D screen, they are a little foggier when it comes to other differences between the new console and the original DS.
@AwesomeOrchid: I asked my daughter this morning after she’d played with her friend’s 3DS, she said it’s the same really but it’s 3D.
@V82CHRIS: The games on the 3DS are more limited. 3D graphics are good but not great on a small screen. I use our normal DS more now.
@craigbuckler: And the games aren’t any better than standard DS ones – despite the 3D.
This mirrors the general perception amongst my less techy friends that the 3DS is basically a DS but with a 3D screen. Any sense of its improved visuals (that are more akin to the
N64 GameCube rather than the SNES N64) has passed them by.
In fact, even when I quiz my more technically-engaged colleagues they took quite some time before mentioning the 3DS’s increased graphical horsepower. The 3D screen, larger top screen, circle controller, cameras or even telescopic stylus were highlighted before any mention of improved graphics.
This could be a big reason the 3DS hasn’t sold in the numbers expected. But more worrying for Nintendo, the price drop could compound the problem. Rather than distinguishing the 3DS as the next generation DS, making it almost the same price as the DSi (£115 for a 3DS compared to £95 for a DSi on Amazon) actually blurs the distinction further — and it’s actually the same price as the DSi XL.
Maybe a better way to communicate this distinction is with the release of games that are obviously head and shoulders above their DS counterparts. Here things look more promising with Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D and (to a lesser extent) Starfox 64 3D arriving before Christmas. To this end, it could well be a desire to distinguish Mario Kart 3DS from Mario Kart DS that has seen the late addition of a numeric to its name — now Mario Kart 7.
All this, of course, comes in light of the upcoming release of Sony’s PlayStation Vita which boasts a slew of novel interactive ideas and visuals that edge towards PlayStation 3 quality (considering the screen real-estate). Sony has done a much better job at distinguishing its new handheld from the previous generation — not only changing the name completely but also (in tried and tested Sony fashion) focusing on how different the hardware is.
Of course Sony is understandably happier to leave the history of the PSP behind than Nintendo is with the DS. That notwithstanding though, the mum and dad on the street will be much clearer about the reasons to buy their precious offspring the PS Vita than they are about the 3DS.
The other player driving cost down in the portable gaming sector are smartphones (as recently rehearsed by Ben Kuchera). Although there has been a lot of buzz about the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 devices being a threat to dedicated gaming machines, I don’t buy this.
While it is true that Smartphone adoption amongst a younger demographic is growing — as we have seen with use of Blackberry Messenger — this still hovers around the teenage years (and tweens from 11 yrs and older). That leaves a big window for dedicated devices like the DS and PSP (or even Mobigo and Leapfrog) to normalise younger players (as young as 3yrs) into the benefits and habit of playing games on a dedicated piece of hardware.
The conundrum remains for Nintendo to figure out what it is that is slowing 3DS sales. My money is on the fact that it is seen more as a “3D DS” rather than the truly next generation handheld device it actually is. For this reason I expect I’ll be considerably more excited about its prospects than the mums and dads I interacted with at the playground and swimming pool.
[This post was previously published on Wired.co.uk]