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Where Nintendo went wrong with the Nintendo 3DS

Jubenhimer

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Now, before everyone starts pulling out their pitchforks and knives, hear me out. I love the Nintendo 3DS, I personally think it's one of Nintendo's best consoles in terms of first party support, and even the hardware itself. Right up there with the SNES in my book. That being said, I feel Nintendo made a lot of very bad decisions with it that held it back. I know we all loved to rag on the fuck ups Nintendo made with the Wii U, but it's easy to forget that things weren't all peachy with the 3DS either, even after the huge ass price cut. Seeing as how we're nearing the end of the 3DS' life, I though I might run through some of the fundamental mistakes Nintendo made with the 3DS, in terms of hardware, marketing, and software.

* It was designed for a pre-smartphone world - The Nintendo DS came out and completely revolutionized mobile gaming, thanks to it's touch screen interface and groundbreaking software like Nintendogs, Brain Age, among other games that used it's unique feature-set. Fast-foward to 2011, Nintendo hopes lighting will strike twice with the 3DS, which sports the same types of games, except with the power of stereoscopic 3D. There's just one problem, this was 2011. By this point, iPhones, app stores, and capacitive touch screens had become pretty standard by this point. Back in 2006 a $30 package of Brain Teasers made sense, as the gaming industry hadn't really seen anything like it before, now? You can do this stuff for free, on your phone. So the idea of another, more expensive product coming out makes little sense. Why buy a 3DS for puzzle games, when there's thousands of them available for free on your phone? The 3DS arrived to a changed gaming environment and suffered because of it.

* It struggled with an identity crisis - Another reason the 3DS struggled against the smartphone market, was because it never made itself clear, either to consumers, or developers, why, or how it was different from a phone. 3D wasn't a game changer (more on that later), dual screens had been done already and by this point, had overstayed their welcome, and buttons weren't enough of a difference. Again, why buy a dedicated, handheld gaming system with more expensive games, that kinda-sorta resembled what you'd find on home consoles when you can just buy an actual home console, or again, get games on your phone, often times for free. The 3DS was a console that lacked a cohesive identity throughout much of it's life. And much like the Wii U, Nintendo never exactly knew what they wanted it to be.

* 3D wasn't the game-changer Nintendo had hoped - Back in the early 2010s, 3D was big. Avatar came out and broke box office records, 3D TV's started popping up, and it seemed every movie couldn't be released, without an accompanying 3D screening as well. Nintendo had toyed around with 3D before, with the Famicom 3D system, as well as the infamous Virtual Boy. But the Nintendo 3DS was the company's first serious foray into the format. The hook here, was that the 3DS could let you see 3D images, without the need for glasses. Let me just say, that I enjoy the 3DS' 3D myself, and there were some great games that utilized it. However, the 3DS' main gimmick, also became it's main weakness. By around 2011-2012, people were starting to get sick of 3D. 3D TV sales plummeted, and films with 3D screenings became less and less frequent. The limitations of the 3DS' parallax barrier technology also didn't help, as it required users to stay within the sweet spot to see it properly. By the time the New 3DS came about to work around this limitation, it was too little, too late. 3D was dead, VR was the new hotness. Shame too, Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon all showed the potential of what 3D could do for gaming. But the 3DS was subjected to bad timing, and I feel Nintendo bet it's money on the wrong horse with it. Now, we're see most of Nintendo's newer games for the system ditch 3D altogether, with Nintendo of Europe even phasing out the n3DS XL, the last 3DS with 3D support.

* Lack of third party support - Now for a home console, Nintendo lacking third party support is nothing new for them. But the 3DS suffered from relatively weak third party support. As in, unusually weak for Nintendo handheld. For the Wii U, I was used to it by that point, but it was actually very shocking for the 3DS since that's almost never the case with handhelds, but this was an exception. While not as bad as the Wii U, the 3DS suffered from a lack of reliable support for much of its life. Things got off to a promising start, that potential quickly disappeared a few years after launch. First off, western developers were practically non-existent. I know some of you will spin some revisionist BS about how western developers supposedly never supported handhelds, but the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS both had pretty good western third party support, so it was sad to see the likes of EA, Ubisoft, Activision, etc pretty much drop it like a brick 2 years after launch. While Japanese support was decent from the likes of Square Enix, Capcom, and Atlus, it too paled in comparison to it's predecessors. Indie support wasn't much better, the 3DS' hardware, combined with the aforementioned popularity of Smartphones and tablets, lead to many indies skipping the console, save for a handful of the popular titles and exclusives. It's kind of sad how even the Wii U and Vita received better indie support than the 3DS. Nintendo's first party offerings were great, some of the best Nintendo has put out yet. But third party developers just weren't there to carry the console, forcing Nintendo to step in.

* It was difficult to develop for - Part of the main reason why the 3DS was lacking in third party support, was because for a Nintendo platform, it was unusually difficult to develop for for most developers, particularly in this day and age. In an era where most developers rely on third party engines and middleware to create games, the 3DS' dated and obtuse hardware wasn't going to cut it, as it was too under-powered and complex to run many of today's engines. Hell, it took an entirely new console revision to get it to run Unity, something the Wii U had since 2014, that's pretty bad. This is surprising again, since with a few exceptions, Nintendo consoles are typically easy to develop for. Again, the 3DS was designed with a pre-smartphone mentality, and it suffered because of it.

* Launching too expensive with no must-have games - Ah yes, we can't talk about 3DS failures without talking about the console's unfortunate growing pains. At launch, the 3DS was $250, which was very expensive for a Nintendo handheld, and especially so seeing as how the PlayStation Vita would be launching, at exactly the same price. On top of that, at launch, there really was no must have games available at launch. Even if a console has a weak launch line-up, there's usually at least one killer app that can carry the console until the games start coming. Not here, the best title we got at launch, was a downsized port of a fighting game people had already played on consoles, because Nintendo's launch titles were uncharacteristically lackluster. We had to wait until June, to get a killer app from Nintendo, and even then, it was yet another older title. Hell, the 3DS didn't even have the eShop ready for launch. I know the Switch's launch line-up wasn't anything spectacular either, but it wasn't... this. This is what held the 3DS back a lot, combined with all the other factors, forced Nintendo to take drastic measures to keep it afloat, even if they had to take 3 years of losses on it.

So yeah, while not as bad as the Wii U, I feel Nintendo made a lot of mistakes with the 3DS that kept it from being as successful as it should be. Nintendo would eventually learn from these mistakes with the 3DS' successor, the Nintendo Switch which conceptually, is a way better system, especially for developers. Again, I mean no disrespect to the 3DS, I own one, I love it. But I consider it to be a much less severe Wii U. A console with an identity crisis that had tons of great first party games, a handful of decent third party titles, but little else outside that.
 

DunDunDunpachi

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As you mentioned, 3D wasn't the game changer they hoped.

I think both the Wii U and the 3DS suffered from the same derangement within Nintendo: "oh, now that we've totally locked down this so-called Blue Ocean, let's go back to making the N64/Gamecube style software and franchises that put us in this hole in the first place".

It was during this same era that Nintendo lazily phoned in the 2D Mario (NSMB 2 and NSMB U) and the Zelda (nothing but ports) franchises while they attempted to make everyone fall in love with 3D Mario with 3D Land and 3D World, both of which were clearly aimed at capturing the much-larger 2D Mario audience.

It is no shocker that Mario Kart was the best-selling game on both systems because it was one of the only mass-market games available for either system.
 

tr1p1ex

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Yeah those points accurately describe its lack of success compared to the DS.

Too expensive, glasses-free 3d (v1) wasn't the great selling pt after all and the rise of cheap and F2P smartphone games. Plus overall just not enough of a new thing compared to the DS.

But I think the excitement over smartphone games has muted somewhat now hasn't it? Maybe that's just me. But I don't sense the same excitement over them when they were all new and people were were over the moon to be able to play some crap junkfood mobile game of a grind for free. Is that excitement largely gone? Or no?


Also in other ways the success of the 3ds is much more than the internets expected. Many predicted outright doom. And yet as a platform it has outsold the Xbox One. And despite the calls for free smartphones games destroying Nintendo's handheld business, it was their console that really bit the dust when it came to sales.
 
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DadEggs

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I'll agree. nice write up

I think the switch has its own identity crisis as well. would like to hear your thoughts on that too.
 
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jshackles

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OP, your list also shows how Nintendo learned from their 3DS mistakes when making the Switch. It's got clear messaging (it's both a handheld gaming system + a home console that you can Switch between), it doesn't really rely on "gimmicks" so much (HD rumble is cool, but not a huge selling point in their commercials), has massive third party support, is apparently easy to develop for, and launched with great games like Breath of the Wild. Most importantly, I feel like it stands above and beyond what's available on smart phones mostly due to the system's screen size and the ability to connect it to your TV via the included dock. All the while, they clearly understand the need for budget games and big digital sales (like smart phone app stores) of which the Switch seems to have in abundance.
 

LordClansman

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I agree with you, but it still managed to sell 80 millions even competing with smartphones, I saw plenty of people with one, meaning there's still a market for handhelds. And if the rumors are true, Nintendo is developing a Switch mini that will be just like a successor to the 3DS should have been, because the Switch it's still too big and the 3DS was so easy to carry. I think there's a big market with kids and nerd college students.
 
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Jubenhimer

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I think the switch has its own identity crisis as well. would like to hear your thoughts on that too.

The Switch doesn't have an identity crisis. It knows what its trying to be, and focuses on trying to be the best in that category. It's not trying to be a PS4 or Xbox One, and thus focuses on being something that can appeal to both console and mobile gamers.
 

PhoenixTank

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But I think the excitement over smartphone games has muted somewhat now hasn't it? Maybe that's just me. But I don't sense the same excitement over them when they were all new and people were were over the moon to be able to play some crap junkfood mobile game of a grind for free. Is that excitement largely gone? Or no?
I think they raced to the bottom and became a mostly homogenous turd when the traditional revenue models failed. Fantastic smartphone gaming experiences are few and far between, but do exist - the rest are time wasters and generally accepted as that by the audience. Last great Android/iOS game I personally played was Monument Valley. Leveraged the strengths of the platform while steering as clear as possible of weaknesses. All IMHO, of course.
Apple's new Arcade initiative will hopefully allow the state of the market to recover.

Absolutely agree on the 3D screens. It was a wager. Cool in its own way but annoying/uncomfortable until eye tracking on n3DS and even then they ultimately lost that bet. Did their best to pivot with the 2DS, but I can't say I miss 3D with the Switch.
 
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FStubbs

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I'd say cost ($250 was too much), market confusion (a lot of people thought the 3DS was just a DS with 3D - symptoms of the same problem the Wii U would have),and yes, lack of indie support. It was so weak that Nintendo probably damaged the Wii U even more than it already was by having to prop up the 3DS more than they anticipated having to. They ended up turning it around of course, and they deserve credit for that.
 

Heimdall_Xtreme

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3DS is a amazing portable console... i got one in launch year.

I think the big mistake was not incluided a Second Stick in the first place... was a pain in the ass playing MGS 3 in 3DS.
 

BootsLoader

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Yeap. I’ll agree with you. But Nintendo somehow managed to save it. Although they left the Wii U to its misery.
 
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tr1p1ex

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I think they raced to the bottom and became a mostly homogenous turd when the traditional revenue models failed. Fantastic smartphone gaming experiences are few and far between, but do exist - the rest are time wasters and generally accepted as that by the audience. Last great Android/iOS game I personally played was Monument Valley. Leveraged the strengths of the platform while steering as clear as possible of weaknesses. All IMHO, of course.
Apple's new Arcade initiative will hopefully allow the state of the market to recover.

Absolutely agree on the 3D screens. It was a wager. Cool in its own way but annoying/uncomfortable until eye tracking on n3DS and even then they ultimately lost that bet. Did their best to pivot with the 2DS, but I can't say I miss 3D with the Switch.

Yeah the thing with 3d is you get used to it and then the wow factor wears off and you forget its there and then it pretty much becomes like a 2d game except it looks worse.
 

DT MEDIA

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I agree with all of these points. Nintendo took a large gamble on 3D, and it unfortunately didn't pay off. 3DS suffered from the same hubris as the Wii U, forgetting just what made DS/Wii so successful and failing to observe that the dreaded "casual" audience was ripe for takeover by Apple and Google. Add in an extremely high retail price for hardware and software, at a time when 99-cent downloads were disrupting everything, and it was a recipe for disaster.

Nintendo's successor to the DS should have been something far closer to the iPhone. It should have focused on low price, simple controls, advanced touchscreen display (the 3DS touchscreen was vastly inferior to Apple) and digital downloads. They should also have pushed harder to attract indie developers.

For software, the 3DS lacked a killer app that made everyone want to play the handheld. I always thought that Nintendo should have bought the exclusive console rights to Minecraft and make it the pack-in title on day one. That alone would have changed everything.

That said, the 3DS series sold 80 million units, which is a spectacular achievement. It's going to become a beloved classic over time, thanks to its wide software library and compatibility with DS.
 

UltimaKilo

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The 3DS kept Nintendo afloat for years, sold nearly 80 million consoles and has been a resounding success.

I was always disappointed at the screen resolution on the device, especially with the “New” XL versions, but I can’t argue it wasn’t one of Nintendo’s best consoles.
 
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Elcid

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They made a ton of bank on the 3DS didn't they?
I had a 3DS literally only for ALBW, I bought a few other games, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, and Resident Evil and meh. Didn't beat any except for ALBW, after that I never touched the damn thing again.
All my other handheld gaming was done on my Vita, a 100x better console imo.
 
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