3DS-XL: Good Idea, Bad Timing
Nintendo’s recent announcement of the 3DS-XL has garnered some mixed reactions. After Miyamoto publicly stated to IGN that there wouldn’t be any iterative upgrades to the Nintendo 3DS hardware (extra nub attachments notwithstanding) they revealed the XL version of their hardware shortly after E3. Delivering this on the tail of the Wii U demonstration at E3 has opened the door for many people to speculate on why Nintendo made the decision to release a new iteration of the 3DS. The truth, more likely than not, is that Nintendo feels it can still retain dominance in the mobile gaming market with the same tactics it has always adhered to.
Nintendo thinks the playing field is the same as it ever was.There is no doubt Nintendo has been watching giants like Apple steal chunks of market share away from their money-printing handheld market; a place where Nintendo has held supremacy since the days of the Gameboy. Their competitors have done so by introducing new delivery methods and lower price points. It seems logical that Nintendo would want to adjust and emulate these tactics by promoting the eshop on its existing 3DS platform, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Somewhere inside the halls of their headquarters, somebody believes they can deliver a new 3DS to everyone who already owns a 3DS, because hey, it has always worked before, right?
Nintendo has always tried to re-invigorate interest in its handhelds with iterative releases. As DS sales dwindled, the DS Lite released. As the DS Lite began to sunset, DSi arrived, rinse and repeat for the XL. This doesn’t appear to be the story for the 3DS. After a lackluster launch last year, the 3DS finally began picking up steam at the end of 2011 after a contentious price drop and some good additions to its library. Sales are up, and they even announced a new “midnight purple” colored unit back in April. So why launch a new offering of the device at a time like this? Nintendo thinks the playing field is the same as it ever was.
Rather than focusing on creating a best-in-class software delivery platform, they are trying to push another hardware upgrade.The 3DS-XL seems to be a slightly misguided approach to sustaining dominance in the handheld market against the likes of Vita and the looming dominance of mobile devices. With a larger screen and an larger SD memory card (4GB up from 2GB in the 3DS) the XL isn’t much in the way of a hardware improvement. However, Nintendo appears to think its fans are going to be more than happy to upgrade a little over a year after their original purchase. As a show of faith in their customer base buying the new unit, they’ve decided to forego including an AC adapter with the XL in Japan and Europe. Rather than focusing on creating a best-in-class software delivery platform, they are trying to push another hardware upgrade. Adding insult to injury, it was just announced 3DS-XL will be getting its own Circle Pad Pro accessory. Arguably, a second analog could have been built into all that extra physical real estate they added.
The deck is already stacked against the XL with no current promise of the compatibility as a touchpad controller for the Wii U, and an already waning 3D fad. Does Nintendo really believe people who already own a 3DS are willing to drop another $200 on a system after many were burned by the original, and granted the title of “ambassador” to soothe their aching wallets? Unless it can be used as a controller for the upcoming flagship console to provide some synergy, I believe the 3DS-XL will have a rocky start. Nintendo is providing little incentive to upgrade, especially since players are just now getting games that give them a reason to pick up the 3DS they bought in the first place.