Why you haven’t bought a 3DS… yet

Two weeks ago from yesterday, the 3DS launched in the USA. So far, the console has sold well, but not quite as well as Nintendo projected. The company expected to move 4 million 3DS units worldwide in the first month of release. From the loose numbers reported thus far, they didn’t make that number. In fact, last week, the PSP actually outsold the 3DS in Japan. We’re definitely not looking at a disaster for Nintendo here, but I think it’s fair to say that both Nintendo and the gaming press may have over estimated the current demand for the 3DS.

That’s part of why I’m guessing that you, dear reader, have not yet bought a 3DS. I’m also guessing that there is a good chance that you will buy one in the future. A day hasn’t gone by since the system launched that I haven’t had the urge to fire up my 3DS. It’s such an awesomely gratifying console to interact with, that it’s hard to imagine that you’ll be able to resist buying one of these forever. For me, the question is: How long will you be able to hold out?

I’m sure that answer is different for everyone, but I’m going to try to address as many of you as I can. Here’s why I think you didn’t buy a 3DS, and when you’re likely to buy one.

Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #1: The 3DS got bad press

The non-gaming press has done a great job of bashing the 3DS, and I know a lot of people that have taken that bad press to heart. A frend of mine, in his early 50’s, has already declared to me that he will never allow his children to buy a 3DS, and he’s never even used the system before. He has, however, seen the commercials for the 3DS, but they didn’t do anything for him. “Looks just like the DS I got my kid for Christmas last year”, he says “Except more likely to kill their eyes like that thing that Steve Martin invented in The Jerk“. This goes to show that you only casually follow the gaming scene, you likely have no idea what separates the 3DS from the DS or other handhelds, other than that it has 3D, and it might make you go blind.

Nintendo said from the start that they were going to have a tough time advertising the 3DS on 2D television sets, but the ads so far really aren’t cutting it when it comes to showing consumers what sets the 3DS apart from it’s predecessors. That’s just the start of why touting 3D as the the 3DS’s primary selling point might not have been such a great idea.

When you’ll buy one: Unless Nintendo changes their PR strategy soon, people outside of the gaming world are not likely to get a 3DS until after they’ve played one. Ads that show testimonials of real people reacting to the console’s 3D display might be a good idea, but a better idea would be to get those 3DS demo units out to every major department store chain in America.
I’ve been showing my 3DS off to my non-gaming friends on a pretty regular basis, and about 3 out of 10 of them went ahead and bought one after checking mine out. One plans to buy one for the AR games alone (mostly for Face Raiders, because she loves looking at her own face). This is despite the fact that she claims to hate 3D, and everything it stands for, which brings me to our next point.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #2: You think you hate 3D


There has been a huge backlash against 3D movies, and 3D in general, amongst “hardcore” fans of  movies and games. For many people, 3D comes off as a gimmick, and gimmicks almost always piss people off.
Then there’s the resentment. In the film community, there was a huge backlash against mediocre, 3D blockbuster films like Avatar, Clash of the Titans, and Alice in Wonderland. Seeing these movies make huge numbers while better, non-3D movies tanked at the box office, got a lot of film fans fearful that the movie industry is headed into a 3D toilet. It’s not dissimilar to way that Wii games like Carnival Games and Wii Party made big money, and were hated for it, partially because smaller, motion control-free Wii games like Muramasa and Little King’s Story only made modest returns. If a crappy, 3D-heavy games make big money on the 3DS, while a well made, minimally 3D games tank, you can bet that gamers will be pissed.
 
When you’ll buy one: Not until you forget about the “3D” in “3DS”. I love the 3DS’s 3D display, but I don’t think it’s enough to convert most 3D haters. If you’re down on 3D on principle, you’re not going to buy a 3DS until Nintendo starts exploiting and promoting all the other things the 3DS can do; movie playback, the better downloadable game service, built-in motion controls, better graphics, better controls, the list goes on and on.
Like I said before, I know at least one person who’s buying a 3DS just for the AR games. I think there are a lot of people out these who may do the same. The other reason she’s picking one up is the she’s wanted a DS for a long time. That actually puts her in the minority amongst gamers, which brings me to my next point.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #3: You just bought a DS


The DS sold very well last holiday season, as it has just about every holiday season since it launched. There are already four models of DS out there, the most recent of which (the DSi XL) has been on the market for less than 2 years. Add on to that the fact that the DS just had a bunch of big name releases, like Pokemon Black/White, Monster Tale, and Okamiden, and you have a lot of people that may not have the burning need to drop $250 on a new console right now, DS or otherwise.
March 2011 may have been a little to soon to launch a new DS.
 
When you’ll buy one: This holiday at the latest. If the only reason you don’t want a 3DS is because you’re currently satisfied with the old DS, that’s going to change fast, as DS games stop being released, and more and more must-have 3DS games hit the market. Other than a new Kirby game and a few other outliers, the DS isn’t getting any big games anymore, whereas the 3DS has a steady stream of amazing games starting in June, and continuing into 2012.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #4: The 3DS was unfinished at launch


The 3DS launched with no movie playback, a near-featureless online system, and no online shop or web browser. In many ways, having a 3DS now feels like having a pre-release preview build of the console. The fact that there was a system update the day the system was released just further drives home the idea that when the initial shipment of retail 3DS consoles were sent to retailers, the console just wasn’t done yet. It’s puzzling that Nintendo would seemingly rush the console out like this. Maybe to get some sales in this fiscal year? Regardless of the reasons why, the 3DS of today definitely isn’t as awesome as the 3DS of six months from now will be.
 
When you’ll buy one: Some of you are probably going to wait for the inevitable 3DS Lite (Or 3DSi, or whatever Nintendo calls the next 3DS), which will probably hit in about two years, maybe less if the current 3DS model has the growing pains that the DS Phat did. For the rest of you, all the big features of the console should be rolled out by this holiday, so if you’re waiting to download cheap games or play 3D movies on your 3DS, you wont have to wait to long. The same goes for all the games you might be waiting for, which brings us to point #5.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #5: The 3DS has no big games


Right now, the 3DS is mostly dominated by “arcade” style games; games where story takes a back seat to high score hunting and/or skill building. Pilotwings, Ridge Racer, Super Street Fighter IV, and even Nintendogs all fit that description. The console will also see a lot of ports in the near future (Cave Story, Ocarina of Time, Star Fox, Metal Gear Solid 3), which isn’t doing much for its reputation. A a lot of people have trouble getting excited about ports, even if they are ports of classics. Ports and arcade games just don’t feel as big to many modern gamers, and for people to plunk down $250 for a new console, they often need something big.
 
When you’ll buy one: If you’re a Nintendo fan, you’re likely to get a 3DS this year, maybe even in the next few months. Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Paper Mario and the new Kid Icarus will likely be irresistible to the Nintendo faithful. Same goes for Ocarina of Time. Fans of that game seem content to buy it over and over again, regardless of how many times they’ve already played it.
If you’re only into 3rd party games, you may be waiting until 2012 (unless you are really into Resident Evil). That said, E3 is coming up in a few months, and that could change everything. More about that in a bit.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #6: The 3DS is not a great portable system


The 3DS is an amazing hand-held console. Out of the many, many, many videogame consoles in my living room, the 3DS is the one I want to play the most right now. That’s playing in my living room we’re talking about. When it comes to what console I want to play while in the waiting room at the doctors office, or in line to see a movie, that’s where the 3DS runs into problems. The 3DS may be the best hand-held console I own, but it’s not the best portable.

The 3D display, the gyrometer controls, the AR games, and the console’s battery life all work to make the 3DS potentially embarrassing and/or unwieldy to use on the go. That’s not true of all 3DS games. I’m totally good with turning the 3D off and practicing some Super Street Fighter IV combos while on the bus or waiting in line. That’s the exception though. Right now, just about every 3DS game is tough to play in public spaces.

When you’ll buy one: Two things are going to have to happen to make the 3DS a contender for best portable. For one, the 3DS needs a better battery. That will happen, if it hasn’t already. I haven’t kept up with my 3DS battery news, but I’m confident that the console’s battery life issues will be addressed sooner rather than later.
The other thing is, we need to get some cheap, simple, fun games on the 3DS Shop Channel; games that don’t require 3D or other more restricting features of the console. Angry Birds is coming to the 3DS, and that will do well (as it has just about everywhere) but I’m sure that it will just be a matter of months before the 3DS is flooded with games that are similarly suited for portable play. For instance, the Bit.Trip games would be perfect for playing while on the move, and they’re headed to the 3DS any time now. I’m sure that’s just the start of the avalanche of portable-friendly games set to hit the console in the coming months.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #7: You want to be a pirate



The DS is easy to play pirated games on. The 3DS, not so much. Reports have been circulating since before the console launched that 3DS would be initially pirate-proof. Some even claim that pirating 3DS games could brick the console. That means that all the people out there who bought a DS, but never paid and honest buck for a DS game, are likely not all that into the 3DS right now.
 
When you’ll buy one: It feels like piracy is inevitable on any console, but if Nintendo has their way, it will be a while before the 3DS is easily and permanently hackable in the way that the DS was . It took hackers about 6 months to get a homebrew channel running on the Wii, and though Nintendo has worked to stop piracy on the Wii with system updates, hackers have consistently found away around them. I figure it will take hackers less than that to crack the 3DS, but even then, Nintendo will fight hard to kill it with updates.
 
I’d guess we have a functioning homebrew channel on the 3DS by Halloween, but it’s never going to be the pirate’s paradise that the DS was. That may turn pirates off to the console for good, especially if they end up with a bricked 3DS.
 
Reason you didn’t buy a 3DS #8: You hate Nintendo


Some people hate Nintendo, just as some people hate the Yankees, Justin Bieber, and Jon Stewart. For these people, sports, music, politics, and videogames aren’t just diversions. They’re personal, and once things become personal, rationality goes out the window. There are people that would be happy to buy the 3DS if it happened to be created by Apple, Microsoft or Sony, but because it’s a Nintendo product, they can’t help but hate it.
Right now, the 3DS is not likely to do much to warm the cold heart of the Nintendo hater, especially with the NGP just around the corner, and more and more great games coming to iOS. In the end though, it’s all about the games. Hate Nintendo all you want, but if there are games you can’t get anywhere else, you’re going to get one. The question is, will that happen, and if so, when?

When you’ll buy one: It all depends on E3. If enough 3rd parties step up and put out 3DS exclusives that are very “Non-Nintendo”, the console may just suck in the Nintnedo haters. For fans of western games, we’re talking stuff like Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto, Dead Space, Gears of War, and Mass Effect. For Eastern gamers, you’ve got to have Final Fantasy and Monster Hunter. I’m not talking about Final Fantasy kart racers, Mass Effect mini-game collections or Dead Space on-rails shooters here. I’m talking about “real” games from those series, like how Resident Evil Revelations is a “real” Resident Evil game.

It’s got to be a game that competes with whats happening on home consoles, or it doesn’t matter.

With Revelations, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, Capcom is proving that the 3DS can handle PS3/360-caliber games. Now we’ll just have to wait and see how many publishers want to invest in that direction. If they don’t start supporting the 3DS en masse by next Christmas, the console will likely be seen as another “casual-friendly Nintendo system”, and will suffer the same bad rap that the Wii has been struggling with for the past few years.

Conclusion:

It’s weird to see the 3DS, Nintendo’s most earnest attempt to appeal to graphics-focused “traditional” gamers, head off with such a hit-and-miss launch. However, when you look at all the factors that added up to create the console’s launch environment, it makes sense that the 3DS wouldn’t become the sell-out success that the Wii was right out of the gates. If the 3DS launched near the holidays, and had the support of a new Zelda title at launch, there is no way the thing could have stayed on shelves.

The real question is, would that really have been the best thing for Nintendo, the industry, and for us?

As it looks now, the 3DS will likely continue to sell at a good rate through out the year, seeing peaks in sales whenever a high profile games (like Ocarina of Time, Resident Evil: Mercenaries, and Mario Kart) are released. That will go on untill the install base is large enough to support the release of truly huge titles like the next Mario game, and whatever mega-publishers like Activision, EA, and Ubisoft choose to release on the system in 2012. In the meantime, the little guys like Bit.Trip series, Cave Story, and whatever Team Meat is cooking up on the console, will have a chance to shine in the spotlight, while Nintendo continues to ramp up production on the 3DS, assuring that there will never be a years of console shortages like there was with the Wii.

This may be exactly what Nintendo had in mind all along. They may not have wanted all of you to buy a 3DS just yet, knowing that in time, the reasons why you’re holding out on the console will fade away. It’s not like Nintendo to completely fumble the release of a hand-held console, is it?

Jonathan Holmes
"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1 "I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes