Nintendo has really screwed up its 3DS hardware strategy this time

3 mins read

Nintendo held one of those video conferences that it has developed a penchant for – where it unveils new products and gets everyone excited for the games it has coming up.

Except the company has completely screwed up this time.

Barely a year after launching the 3DS, it has launched a “XL” version – bigger screens, slicker presentation, the lot. In every other way the console seems to be the same, it just looks like Nintendo’s going after the small crowd that’s been getting into the Vita on the basis of its gorgeous screen.

I think Nintendo is shooting itself in the foot this time, though, by confusing the hardware story that it’s trying to tell the market. A couple of months after releasing the 3DS, Nintendo was forced to produce a hardware add-on, the Circle Pad Pro, which adds a second control stick and additional shoulder buttons to bring the console up to a modern control layout.

The new beast console doesn’t have that hardware “patch” built into it, so of course we’re assuming that there will be a Circle Pad Pro XL released as well.

That makes for four bits of hardware that are more-or-less essential for the full 3DS gaming experience available on the market simultaneously. On the shelf, that’s going to confuse a casual shopper.

The peripheral and hardware refresh strategy works when you’ve got a market-dominant product, as the Wii was. Not everyone had to buy a Balance Board to make the balance board an attractive peripheral to develop for. However, the 3DS is nowhere near that point yet, so why should developers do anything to take advantage of the Circle Pad Pro, let alone the bigger 3DS screens when the audiences are going to be so small and fragmented?

I’m also concerned about the visual fidelity of existing 3DS, DS, DSiWare and eShop games. Blowing games up for bigger screens rarely makes them look good – already the DS, DSiWare and Virtual Console games are visually a bit of a challenge on the 3DS (and for ambassadors, the GBA games are just terrible). Blow them up even further for the XL and things are going to start looking really ugly.

I believe this move by Nintendo is reactionary rather than strategic, and I worry that Nintendo has spread itself far too thin so early in the game. The core 3DS hardware was already more than adequate, and Nintendo should have focused on pushing that out to a wider audience, rather than adopt a dual-hardware strategy.

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  • I'm probably going to have to clarify this, so to pre-empt: The rest of Nintendo Direct rocked, and I'm not having a go at Nintendo here 😛

    I just can't believe that they think that yet another hardware revision is a good idea. Business 101: Consolidate first, then expand.

  • The biggest issue here is not the XL redesign, but choosing NOT to add the second analog stick. We all knew a redesign was coming sometime, but it was idiotic part from Nintendo to ignore what everybody (including developers) were asking for. It will happen that if developers request the second analog stick for more games (the way it happened with Monster Hunter, Kid Icarus and Kingdom Hearts) either Nintendo will have to release another revision, now finally adding the second stick, and confusing (and pissing off more consumers), or developers will choose to develop for Vita instead (or having dumbed down versions of games like happened with the Wii).

    This move is the worst thing Nintendo has done in regarding of their handhelds, in conjunction with their poorly Wii U re-reveal, I think there is a need for change at Nintendo's HQ. Someone has to go, but who?

  • I can't speak for Nintendo obviously, but I suspect the rationale behind not building the second stick into the 3DS XL console is because Nintendo wanted to make sure all 3DS games were playable on the original 3DS model still.

    Adding a second stick into the hardware would have meant developers could force a dual-stick control system which would have meant original 3DS owners would not be able to play the game.

    That would have been far worse. Nintendo simply should not have done a hardware refresh at all.

    Thanks for your input – much appreciated!

  • I've heard from IGN that it won't include an AC adapter. That doesn't sound smart at all. I also think this means that there will not be a built-in circle pad for a while ,if not, ever. I think I'll get this anyway since I don't have a 3DS yet and like big things :3

  • Howdy WierdoW 🙂

    I won't be buying this, but only for one reason – I like my retro games (NES and GBA ambassador games, Virtual Console, DS games), and those are going to look horrible blown up on the bigger 3DS screens. They barely manageable now.

    I'm interested to see how the existing 3DS games look on the bigger screen.

  • " Nintendo was forced to produce a hardware add-on, the Circle Pad Pro,
    which adds a second control stick and additional shoulder buttons to
    bring the console up to a modern control layout."

    Well, this was limited to Nintendo's site and GameStop at least in the U.S. I'd argue that no game needs it as Revelations feels great with the face buttons or gyro to aim and the Kingdom Hearts demo played fine without it. I can't say anything about MGS3, but you can play a superior version on Vita, PS3, PS2, and the 360. As for the strategy, sales of the 3DS in the West are anemic at best. This plus a much needed ad campaign alongside it could just be the shot in the arm the system needs.

  • Hi Phillip,

    Great input as always! I agree that Nintendo needed to do something to try and boost 3DS sales in the West. I just have to really, really wonder if releasing yet more hardware is the way to go.

    A hallmark of Apple's strategy (and I always come back to Apple simply because it is SO successful), it to minimalise product lines – one iPad, one iPhone. It creates less confusion in the market amongst the people who are less well informed, which in turn makes them feel safer about their investment.

    But fingers crossed I'm proven wrong!

  • I think Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo 3DS XL are simple enough and seeing them on store shelves together will paint a clear picture. I don't think it will be a DS and 3DS scenario confusion-wise. And I'm someone who thinks the general public is full of morons, but then again, I am a snob.

  • Hi Snake,

    In Japan there's a big one – Monster Hunter Tri. When I write my pieces I don't think from a western (let alone, American) -centric point of view. The 3DS has only just started to take off in Japan, and I'm not convinced that market is ready for a second line of hardware just yet.

    Especially when the reason that the 3DS took off all but requires the Circle Pad Pro.

    Thanks for the comment – I hope this clarifies for you.

  • too little, too late.. i have already given up on the 3ds (i am a day-1-buyer) because the games nintendo is offering are very subpar. the eShop is abandonware-heaven, no retail games to be seen. every mario game gets weaker and weaker.. and the rest.. there is just nothing happening. i very rarely choose the 3ds over the vita. so i don't know what nintendo is after with their strategy, IF they are following a strategy. but the whole 3ds mess sheds already a very dubious light on the wii u. good luck with that, nintendo.

  • Nintendo straight lied and yet a few people seem to be OK with this.. Right before E3 when the info on the 3DS XL leaked Nintendo claimed no were not redesigning the 3ds not for quite a while

  • The second analog is not needed. You're not going to play First person shooters on the thing. Stop crying.

    And since when does revisions confuse the consumer? Never happened before in the mobile, camera and tablet business where they constantly re-release the same hardware with minor changes, why would with gamers? Are gamers supposed to be dumber?

  • "
    A hallmark of Apple's strategy (and I always come back to Apple simply because it is SO successful), it to minimalise product lines – one iPad, one iPhone."
    Except, you're forgetting the multiple iPod versions, and multiple models of iPhones, as well as the iPads. Apple is even more crowded, and by your own standards here, should be criticized more than Nintendo. Right? iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S. As of April, you could walk into an AT&T store and buy all the way back to the iPhone 3G. Let's not forget the same "iPhone" has two different versions usually, with different memory sizes.
    iPods? Whoa…they have the Nano? Shuffle? iPod Touch?

    Apple was releasing new iPod versions basically annually, not sure right now, because I don't track it much anymore.

    Am I missing something with that comparison?

  • "
    Adding a second stick into the hardware would have meant developers could force a dual-stick control system which would have meant original 3DS owners would not be able to play the game."

    Not true at all actually. Nintendo gives the licenses for the 3DS games from third parties, and Nintendo could implement control standards for the system, much like Microsoft and Sony now require Achievements/Trophies in games.
    A pretty simple. "If you develop a game on the 3DS, it must be able to use the touch-screen and/or gyroscope controls, in place of the 2nd Circle Pad." Simple. Adds more options. Opens the market to people like myself that have held off from buying a 3DS because of the lack of a 2nd Circle Pad.

  • I think the problem was that this was the lesser of the two evils; if the new redesign included the circle pad, then everybody would have called "Betrayal!" and abandoned ship. While I don't think it would happen, everybody assumes that if a 3DS console came with two analog sticks, literally every developer would developer games exclusively for that type of 3DS, thus making the original 3DS irrelevant. It would also show a lack of faith in Nintendo to support their hardware, which is something that Nintendo probably shouldn't do.

  • I can't believe they did a hardware update and left off the CCP. It was almost impossible to get one of those things at launch, I thought that might have told them something.
    BTW, I totally would have bought one of these things if it had the extra pad.

  • I don't need a second analog to play handheld rpgs…. Resident evil revelations played just fine without it and not everyone likes fps games.

  • Adding onto your point, there are numerous little incompatibilities given internal hardware differences and the physical hardware itself. Certain cases and accessories only work with certain iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone models and certain games only run with the proper model due to better processing power or the addition of cameras. One size does not fit all unless you have the latest revision (or sometimes the one prior to it).

    For example, the first and second generation iPod Touch models will barely run any new games due to processing limitations and the inability to upgrade to the latest firmware. The third generation can usually run them, but only the fourth generation can play games or apps requiring a camera or intense hardware use. The iPhone line faces similar troubles, but has always had a camera.

    I wouldn't necessarily equate any one of these incompatibilities to be equivalent to the lack of Circle Pad Pro support, but it's interesting to note that some consumers don't have issues with a wide range of models existing. As Phillip said, I think that the concept of regular and "XL" is easier to grasp than the concept of the 3DS and Wii U being upgraded next-gen hardware.

    I think a lot of it also depends on how the Circle Pad Pro is received…but then, that now depends on how the XL's impact on the product is received, which really just makes my head hurt.

  • Because saying a new revision is forthcoming is the perfect way to halt current 3DS sales splendidly.

  • I have the complete opposite opinion (couldn't disagree with you more), but enjoy that Vita of yours. Talk about dubious lights and not having a strategy.

  • A$$Tendo being A$$Tendo!! The second circle pad will be in the 3rd or 4th revision. Gotta make their trillions somehow…

  • Actually, if there's an option of keeping the native resolution when playing DS games, it probably won't look that bad and look a bit smaller than the DSi XL screen. Although, that's fine with me because I have a DSi XL.

  • Did you miss Dementium, Dementium II, Moon, the Call of Duty DS games, and even GoldenEye? I played Dementium II and while I enjoyed the game itself, I didn't enjoy the handcramps because of the control method/system design. Renegade Kid did an excellent job working within the DS system's settings, but if the "not needed" is any argument. The same can be applied to the 3D gimmick, which I would say is more of a gimmick than actually having comfortable control options that a 2nd Circle Pad would offer.

  • "
    BTW, I totally would have bought one of these things if it had the extra pad."
    This. It's exactly why the redesign is pointless for me. It doesn't address the issue I have with the current system.

  • Your not FORCED to purchase anything extra to ENJOY any games for the 3DS. A add on joy stick for convenience IF YOU WANT. All 3DS games can be played with out the circle pad pro. Vita market is NOT threatening enough for Nintendo to worry about ( The Vita is even MORE over PRICED with LESS desirable games). The 3DS is the TOP selling machine NOW (cost more than DS when DS was a year old and still out selling). You can alway CUT OFF the 3D effects to enjoy the Embassador and any and ALL games downloaded or Store purchased (cartridge) for you Gaming/Viewing ENJOYMENT. P.S. Cant wait to get one (3DS XL)

  • Perhaps its different in Australia, then. Here, Apple only pushes one product at a time – The new iPad and iPhone 4S currently. There's a few different form factors of iPod, yes, but those products are marketed heavily by name "Nano" "Classic" etc, while I expect the 3DS XL to be marketed as a 3DS.

  • That would require Nintendo to start making demands of third parties, and from what I've seen/ read, Nintendo seems more interested in encouraging third parties by putting less restrictions on them (optional trophies on the Wii U, for instance).

    I think that's a sound strategy. I don't think mandating that developers make a game compatible with two different forms of (low install base) hardware is wise at all.

  • "…
    Nintendo seems more interested in encouraging third parties by putting less restrictions on them (optional trophies on the Wii U, for instance)."

    Not from the third party developers I have spoken with directly, and even given an example of with at least once on my site.
    Nintendo apparently has outdated guidelines/game review processes. When you have Nintendo requiring a developer to remove "Bonus" content, because NINTENDO doesn't like it, but the same exact game on the PS3 and Xbox 360 has the content in it…mind you, this isn't a game-play controls being fixed, or anything of the sort…BONUS content is what they were concerned with, there is a problem.

    Also, less restrictions? Nu uh, friend codes, not allowing one third party to introduce voice chat on the Wii via a headset, because Nintendo was trying to redesign the wheel with Wii Speak?

  • Another great opinion piece Matt!

    Nintendo is making some very questionable business decisions as of late. I have no dang idea what they're marketing the Wii U as, heck, I don't even think they know who they want to sell the dang thing to. Now they redesign the 3DS with a screen intentionally larger than the Vita, right after they finally get the system selling. I don't know, but somehow it never seems to have long lasting effects for Nintendo, and they know this.

  • Matt S. Its me again.

    This time Im agreeing with you as I posted an comment on IGN on this issue. Only time will tell if they have shot themselves in the foot but judging the numbers for the DSi XL they had a descent success with it. Not to mention that DSi and XL launched within a year of each other so this is nothing new for Nintendo.

    That being said, I did pose my own questions concerning the size and resolution of the screen affecting the 3D effect, considering you have a bigger screen for your eyes to adjust to. My logic sees the holding distance of the system increasing. If its too close to your eyes they may be forced to separate the images or you may have increased ghosting.

    Something also to mention, and something I dislike now, is that the new form factor is this XL type and not a lateral form iteration in terms of its size like DS to DS lite to DSi.

    Ive never cared about a second analog stick as Ive always gotten along just fine without it but considering the rest of the hardcore gaming demographic cant seem to live without one it would have made better sense to put this in.

    If you look at the system there is enough space to put one right below the ABXY buttons which would kind of give you a 360 set up. Then again. I have not opened my 3DS so Im not sure what is in that area as far as the circuit board goes.

    When its all said and done, Its Nintendo that does the research on these types of issues. Its Nintendo that will be responsible for their marketing. And its Nintendo who will have to wash their faces in the repercussions of this sort of strategy…..If…….there are any.

    And this is my second post on your site so you shouldnt consider me new anymore.

  • Oh, I agree with you regarding the previous generation, but Nintendo's rhetoric regarding the Wii U seems to indicate that the company is genuinely looking to better engage with developers.

  • Hi! Good to see you back, and glad to see we're 1 for 1 in terms of agreeing/ disagreeing 🙂

    I've got nothing to add to your comment, but duly noted – next time you disagree with me I won't pull the "you don't know me, dude," card 😉

  • While I was surprised by the 3DS XL announcement, I'm not so surprised on the lack of a second analog stick/two additional buttons. Barely any current game supports it, the trouble to have to double program for both the IR and a built in second analog will slow down production even more, and there's also two more buttons that need to be added… this thing is big enough as it is!

    It would be nice to have it as a standard, but the foundation is already too screwed up to really meet the expectations of the developers.

    I wouldn't count on an XL CPP either. The confidence that Nintendo has over the original accessory has been anything but stellar. Released in very limited quantities, most GameStops would only have one or two shipped to their stores here in California, a very silent release. That, and I hate the deadzone in the CPP.

  • "
    but Nintendo's rhetoric regarding the Wii U seems to indicate that the company is genuinely looking to better engage with developers."

    Rhetoric does not = record though. This isn't "positive thinking for positive results". There's only one change to the Wii U that I have seen, that is probably the result of either third party input, or just general gamer input, from last year's showing to this year's, and I am glad that change was made though…

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