Back from my holiday! Woo!
Yes, I’ve seen the “wedge” that is the 2DS. I knocked up a quick rant last week.
That said, for all the mocking of its aesthetic design I guarantee almost everyone missed the really important commercial point that was buried away in there. And there really is an important commercial point to be made; it’s that stereoscopic 3D is dying, and Nintendo’s jumping ship only serves to urinate over an already pretty rank corpse.
Now, I know there are plenty out there who will defend stereoscopic 3D and I’ve said it before, I am all for gimmicks in the gaming world; quirky little concepts and ideas that make the world just that little bit more interesting in the long run. Nintendo is, of course, the king of this sort of thing: Sony and Microsoft are well known for taking many of Nintendo’s best quirks and assimilating them into their ethos, sometimes with some notable success – the analogue stick a capable case in point, Nintendo got there first per se with the technology but they certainly didn’t end up mastering it, which Sony and Microsoft did a much better job of – and sometimes, not very successfully at all, as the PS Move and the Kinect both attest to (Kinect was based on the Eyetoy? The Gameboy Camera was there several years before that!). Where Nintendo goes, many watch and wait. It’s very easy to rag as gamers on Nintendo, and the industry may be distrustful at times, but they always watch what Nintendo is doing and some years down the line, the flapping of Nintendo’s butterfly wings can indeed cause a maelstrom of a storm in the market.
The 2DS is pitched as an “alternative” to the Nintendo 3DS, and perhaps it is. But it’s the first clear signal that Nintendo knows what many of us have long known; the fad for this 3D malarky is well and truly over, and the gimmick simply has little to no solid marketing weight to it anymore.
Nintendo is one company which often has the strength of its convictions; for a decade it has stood by The Wind Waker, for example, as gamers across the board mocked it’s Powerpuff-stylings and its comparative ease and lack of length. But Nintendo is sticking with it and re-releasing it; reminding many that actually, it was a brilliant game. And we now cannot escape that. Nintendo stood by many faults and failings over the years; it stuck with cartridges when others were looking to other devices. It chose the SD Card when Sony tried to sell proprietary media formats. It doesn’t always work out; but it does stick with them, stubbornly in a lot of cases and often to the detriment of its bottom line. So when Nintendo are launching a 2DS, that’s evidence that something is very wrong.
The evidence for the slow and creeping death of 3D has been a long time coming; as the audiences for 3D movies dwindles often in the face of its 2D counterpart, the movie industry has begun to shift itself away largely from the technology. 3DTV never really got off the ground; the cost and compromise of the image quality at a time when many had only just leapt into the world of High-Definition was far too much of an ask. The same is true of video games; Sony and indeed Microsoft promised to push many games for those with a 3DTV, but the vast majority never materialised. There’s a very good reason why; not only was the market not there, but the nature of making something 3D costs more money.
It’s the underlying problem of it all. I am absolutely astounded by the effect that stereoscopic 3D can give; but only for a period of time before it makes me feel a little queasy and my eyes begin to feel like they’re drying out. So most of the time, I have the 3D shut in the “off” position. And for all those who support the 3D effect, I’d be willing to suggest you will be outnumbered by those who have it turned off. Why would a developer spend extra money developing a feature for a handheld console which isn’t actually used by the majority slice of the market? It’s an inevitable question in a market where the bottom line is becoming more and more of a problem as time goes on. Studios want to save money where they can; reuse an old game engine, or a few old models as bonus content or recycle an old map or two. So when presented with this concept of stereoscopic 3D, and the idea that many children and adults don’t use it, the question does get raised; “for whom am I really doing this for? It’s costing us time, money and manpower and for what? Most people won’t even SEE the pretty parallax backgrounds, or the depth of construction…”
Nintendo is fast having to come to a realisation; that third parties DO want to support it. UbiSoft, for all its recent dissing, was surprised to find nearly half of its Rayman Legends sales came from the Wii U; and it outsold Rayman Origins very comfortably at that. It’s the first step, but again, Capcom and others must look at the U-Pad and think, “That’s expensive.” And this is a controller I believe has potential, but if third parties and indies can only worry about the costs involved in supporting its primary gimmick, then you have a serious issue. But at least the U-Pad HAS potential; it has the chance to go somewhere. The 3D fad has been around now for almost as long as the previous generation and year on year, the gloss has slowly worn off.
There’s no doubt Nintendo were probably designing the 3DS during the early boom years for the technology when everyone was sure as hell that they had cracked it. But in the modern world? Well, it’s a very different story. And unlike the U-Pad, when confronted with parental suspicion over the 3D effect and many adult owners who simply find it more comfortable to use turned off, you have a primary gimmick that is woefully underutilised.
Nintendo may get a lot of scorn over the 2DS; but it draws a line firmly in the sand for this drive for 3D in games. Nintendo knows that studios want to stop doing it, to save a little money at a time when things are a little tight all around. I suspect eventually, we will see a shift from the 3DS to the 2DS in earnest; Nintendo will redesign the chunky, child-friendly wedge into a more seductive clamshell design for the grown-ups, and games will slowly shift from the 3DS moniker to the 2DS moniker. Studios will breathe a sign of relief, as likely will Nintendo’s internal studios. It’s not like our 3DS machines will become useless; three’s a good few years left in the handheld yet, but games will slowly shift towards two-dimensions, whereas 3D will be left, like movies, for those Blockbuster projects that have more money than sense.
It’s true Nintendo could have likely weathered the next few years with the 3DS. But with pressure likely from inside and outside, the 2DS was only ever an inevitability; one which some of us predicted almost as soon as the 3DS was released. It’s not that the 3D is hokey; rather, that it’s a fad that simply is dying off. 3D comes around every couple of decades and no doubt in 2033 there will be a bunch of people circling the same issue as we are now. No-one has learned that the current iterations of 3D are simply not inclusive enough; it’s expensive to make, making it expensive to buy/get into and when there, one in seven people can’t see it properly either. We get this coming back every so often as someone thinks that it’s a wonderful idea; the sad reality is that this time around, the investment in the market was enormous. From special projectors and screens to specific glasses and all, the lesson this time around has come with an obscene price tag.
Nintendo likely wants to simply be seen leading the way back from the 3D fad into what most people are playing – 2D images. And there’s no question Nintendo is going to be getting a ton of schtick for the 2DS; this is the way of things. But it’s better than Nintendo watching studios walk away because they don’t want to use the 3D. Nintendo has had a lot of that with the Wii U, and watching studios walk away because internal projections for the sales were obscenely high, and because Nintendo didn’t give them the reasons they wanted to stay. Games which were exclusive are no longer exclusive. The Nintendo 3DS is inherently a success story; it’s outsold the old DS at this point of its life. Which is why Nintendo simply cannot be seen letting people walk away from it over something like the 3D, especially when you understand how many have it turned off. Better to endure some design jokes and temporary PR humiliation than to really admit the truth; the stereoscopic 3D horse is dead and it’s time to stop beating it lest your companions leave you.
But, on the other hand, the good news for Nintendo is that this redesign is also likely to save them a ton of money in the long-run as well. The 3D screens can be phased out a bit, replaced with a cheaper set-up or, in the current wedge, a single-screen split into two. Though outside pressure may have helped forced the move, it’s one that ultimately will be to the benefit of the company bottom line as well, and will no doubt assist in making Nintendo more money than ever before.
I genuinely think this is the end of the 3DS – but I don’t want us to mourn it. Nintendo was unfortunate that the 3DS was released at a time suspicions on the 3D technology were so rife; that they made such a success from that appalling start demonstrates the sheer talent underlining Nintendo and others in the market, and that those who write Nintendo off simply don’t learn from these historical lessons. But it was either or – let developers go with 2D images, undermining the 3D potential of your machine, or watch as your machine gets fewer and fewer releases. Nintendo doesn’t want to be seen rushing a new handheld generation right now; I can understand that. It’s set a target and there’s no point abandoning the journey if all you need is to replace a tyre.
The future is flat. And frankly, until we can get devices akin to the Holodeck, or Better Than Life, I suspect that’s the way it’ll stay. Well, at least for a good fifteen years before someone else thinks, “Why didn’t 3D work? It’s such a good idea! Let’s bring it back and make it BETTER!”
One things for sure; Nintendo isn’t likely to be betting anything on it when it does rear its head again…
Mind you, one assumes they would have learned that from the Virtual Boy. So maybe not…