Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NGP vs. 3DS: How do they stack up with online services?

We now know a lot about the next generation of handheld gaming devices – the NGP and 3DS, and as far as we’re concerned, they’re both exceptional devices (from what we’ve seen and heard), and people with the money will probably want both.

But how do they compare when it comes to the increasingly-important download battlefield? There’s all kinds of predictions out there that slowly but surely, digital downloads will become the dominant way for games to be made available. Having a robust and intuitive online portal will become more than a nice-to-have, it will be a necessity.


So below we’ll see some of the pros and cons with both; from what we can tell. Please remember – this is all just opinion, based on the current news and histories of both companies. We personally hope both end up offering amazing experiences – that way everyone wins.



Connectivity

Starting at the first logical point – how good are these consoles going to be at getting online in the first place?

The NGP is going to have 3G built-in to the console, and then WiFi options for when you’re at home or at a public hotspot. This can potentially be expensive – game data is much more data chugging than Website browsing, so a data plan on the NGP will be conceivably more costly than, say on the iPad, but it’s a nice option to have.

The 3DS does not feature 3G, but it does offer the ability to automatically scout out for public WiFi hotspots to instantly download additional data. This will help Nintendo push out updates and information – but here in Australia, at least, public WiFi is few and far between.

Winner: NGP. But only for the extra 3G option. We expect both to provide painless online experiences.



Shop Portals

The NGP will utilise both the PlayStation Network, as well as the Android mobile platform, to offer games. There’s already a reasonable range of downloadable retail-quality PSP games (that will be backwards compatible), PSOne classics for retro fans, and bite-sized “Minis” games on the PlayStation Network – all of this will be backwards compatible. Add in the Android games and next-gen PSN enhancements (PlayStation Two classics?) and that’s a heck of a digital warehouse of games to drawn on.

The 3DS will be able to draw on the DSiWare platform (which will be transferred over), and Nintendo promises a vastly improved interface for shopping. The new 3DSWare will also be joined by Virtual Console, allowing for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to be replayed, and who knows? Game Boy Advance in the future? We’re betting on it.

Winner: NGP. For retro, it offers PSOne classics, which is competitive with Game Boy and Game Boy Color games for retro kicks. For modern gaming, it seems unlikely that 3DSWare will provide many retail-quality games, while Sony is being aggressive in covering all angles. When you consider that 3DSWare will be best compared to just the Minis shopfront on the PSN, then the NGP looks leagues ahead.
Heritage

Sony now has a history in online/ digitally downloadable services. Its experiment with the download-only PSPGo didn’t achieve the market success it would probably have liked, but the PlayStation Network has steadily improved in features and range, and is now a genuinely good platform for shopping and playing.

Nintendo, meanwhile, has really struggled with online, and early signs with the 3DS are worrying, in that Nintendo might not have learned enough lessons, quickly enough. The online portal might not be live on day one. There’s no achievement system, which will be a problem for a few gamers, and no indication on pricing (historically considered to be too expensive compared to the competition).

Perhaps most worrying, though, is the 3DS comes with a packed in 2GB SD card. By itself that sounds good, but it also suggests that Nintendo considers that to be enough memory for downloadable games.

Considering you can download Final Fantasy IX as a 1.5GB PSOne Classic, and the PSPGo was criticised for “only” having 16GB, 2GB starts to sound a little small. Historically Nintendo has imposed very strict data size limits on the games made available to download, and all indications are that this trend will continue, to the detriment of 3DSWare’s competitiveness with both Apple’s App Store and the PSN.  

Winner: NGP. Nintendo should have a better experience this time around, but if we’re being completely honest, that’s not saying a whole lot. Sony, meanwhile, has a history of improving what was a decent platform from the outset.



Game experience

Of course, the actual experience of playing games on these consoles, once they’ve been downloaded, counts for a lot as well.

The 3DS might well be a very innovative product. 3D gives developers a whole new tool to play with, and “smaller” features, such as StreetPass and the pedometer to turn steps into in-game currency, allows further out-of-the-box thinking.

The NGP, on the other hand, is a very traditional console. Very powerful, but ultimately what you’ll be playing is near-PS3 quality games on the go.

Winner: 3DS. Just the thought of playing games in 3D is exciting, and we can’t wait to see what innovative ideas developers, especially the more indie ones that traditionally work on platforms like 3DSWare, come up with.


Overall:

Whilst the 3DS will almost certainly outsell the NGP at retail, and 3DS retail games will almost certainly be popular, it’s still hard to imagine Nintendo’s done enough this time around to beat Sony and its PlayStation Network.


Agree? Disagree? Please comment below!
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