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Monday, April 30, 2012

5 Complaints About the 3DS (And Why They're Wrong)

Nintendo's having a rough time of it right now, that's for sure. They've posted their highest losses ever, the Wii is weakening, and while the 3DS is selling well it's still not making money for them. It's doom and gloom time!

Well, it's settled. Let's all write off Nintendo now and forever more. After all, the 3DS is garbage because a few people on the internet don't like 3D, the Wii has always been for kids and people who don't know anything a bout videogames, and the Wii U isn't going to be any good because it's underpowered and gimmicky.

We've spent a long time on this blog debunking Nintendo-related predictions, and most of the time we've been right. There's a reason we're called "Downwards Compatible" here: Because we take a long view of things rather than making blanket predictions based on quickly-shifting market trends.

So to that end, we're going to take each of the systems and debunk the main complaints that most comment sections and analysts have about them. Today, we're debunking the doom-and-gloom predictions for the 3DS. Here are the misconceptions about the 3DS in a nutshell:

"No one likes 3D, so it's therefore doomed to fail. It's underpowered with bad battery life, and tablets and smartphones have better games now."

There's only one thing in this litany of complaints that's remotely true: The poor battery life. Six hours for a handheld is kind of crappy. However, those six hours assume that you're playing in 3D with full brightness. Turn down the 3D and your battery life improves. QED.
"3D is a gimmick. It gives people headaches so no one wants the 3DS."
I've been playing videogames for a really long time, almost thirty years. My one complaint about the transition from 2D to 3D is the inability to maneuver in 3D space with any level of exactitude. Jumping in 3D is a chore, because you can never quite see where you're going to end up. All it took was one game to convince me that 3D was going to resurrect the platformer: Rayman 3D. After that, I had no doubt that the 3DS was going to be a big deal.

I cannot tell you how big of a deal this is for platformers and action-adventure games. Being able to clearly see depth without any artificial indicators is a tremendous accomplishment. It's not a gimmick, it's a huge step forward.

The headaches aren't actually a big deal, either. As long as you hold the 3DS steady, seeing the 3D isn't difficult. That's not that hard to do, since I imagine most people aren't shaking their arms like a Quaker while they're playing their 3DS. The only time it may become a problem is in the car, on a bus or an airplane. In that case, turning down the 3D solves the issue.

The whole "3D causes headaches" rumor came from the poor implementation of 3D back in the 1950's. 3D movies in those days demanded perfect synchronization of the films, and if it was off by a microsecond, it created headaches and nausea. Since 3D was adopted by B-movie schlocksters who only cared about the money, they didn't bother getting it right, just getting the money.

Today, 3D is much better, but bad 3D still causes problems. If a 3D movie isn't done right, it can still creates headaches and nausea as your brain can't handle it. That's why it's a good thing that the 3D that the 3DS uses is good 3D that doesn't cause headaches unless you're doing it wrong.
"But you're in the minority on that opinion!"
Nintendo has sold more 3DS units at this point in the system's life cycle than they sold DS units at the same point. Clearly, I'm not alone on viewing the 3D in a positive light.

The only reason it appears that Nintendo is struggling with the 3DS is because of the steep price drop, which ate into their profits. It was, admittedly, a bad decision to release the system so expensively when the tech wasn't quite there yet, but Nintendo really had no other choice at the time.

Was Nintendo going to sit on the 3DS until manufacturing costs dropped to the point where they could sell the system at a profit for $169? That would mean that Nintendo would have to wait until about 2013 to launch the successor to the DS unless they wanted to make a DS2 in the interim, which would muddy the waters further for DS owners. Besides, the 3DS was clearly the right way to go, since, once again, it's opened up a whole new dimension (pun not intended) in gaming.

Besides, what was the real flashpoint for the sales of the DS? Many systems sold right after the launch of New Super Mario Bros. Personally speaking, it's what convinced me to get a DS. Combined with the Brain Age series of games, it sent DS sales into the ionosphere.

Well, Nintendo is launching New Super Mario Bros. 2 and a new Brain Age game, and it's already launched Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. I think they'll be OK.
"But the 3DS is underpowered compared to the Vita!"
When has the power of any given handheld ever been the defining factor in its success? The Game Gear was technically superior to the Game Boy, and it got trounced. The PSP was technically superior to the DS in every way, yet the DS buried it. Graphics have never been important in a handheld, and they've actually been more of a detriment than anything else.

In a console system, you can put more powerful graphics into a system with the only limiting factor being the system's final manufacturing cost. With a handheld, you have to take into account the final manufacturing cost as well as the battery life. The more powerful the system, the less the battery life will be. Striking that balance is key.

Nintendo has historically known how to strike that balance. For the 3DS, they made a slight miscalculation with the manufacturing cost. Sony made a major miscalculation, making the Vita a tremendous piece of hardware with great graphics, absolutely no battery life and too high of a manufacturing cost.

So in this case, the 3DS' relative power as compared to the Vita is actually a benefit rather than a drawback to its long-term success.
"Tablets and smartphones are eating up the 3DS' market!"
When presenting this argument, analysts will point to the many millions of iPhones, iPads and Android devices being sold and compare it to the relatively small amount of 3DS units sold. It certainly looks like an insurmountable number. However, we need to stop and think about a few things before anointing smartphones and tablets as the new handhelds.

1) Gaming on smartphones and tablets is not that impressive by design.

Most of the games revolve around simple controls: Tap, swipe or press this at the appropriate time. When they try and take a complex game like Grand Theft Auto III and squeeze it into a tablet, it's a disaster. It can't be done. Even one of the most technically adept games for iOS, Infinity Blade, is a series of swipes, nothing more.

That's because you can't do much more than that on a tablet. At best, you have to use controls that use two fingers, and at worst, you have to adapt your control scheme to one finger. Sure, the tablet manufacturer may be able to include a gamepad, but now you're reducing the portability of the unit and putting it right back at square one.

That doesn't mean that there's still not a lot of people who crave the type of simple gaming that tablets and smartphones. But were those people who crave this type of gaming dropping upwards of $140 for the DS and $30 for each game? Not really. They were the ones who were playing hours of Solitaire and Freecell on their computers or who fell in love with SkiFree and Microsoft Pinball. And what happened to those people anyway?

2) The PC market is dwindling.

People need computers, but they don't want to be tied to their homes anymore. Some are removing their old Windows XP boxes and replacing them with other devices that do email, Facebook, and Youtube. What are they replacing them with?

Smartphones and tablets.

Think of this as the XBox-to-PC migration in the early-2000s. Multiplayer gaming was always the domain of PC games, and when Live launched on the XBox, it cannibalized the PC audience and led to huge growth in XBox gaming, putting PC gaming on the ropes until a viable multiplayer solution arrived in the form of Steam. The audience never went away, it just migrated and moved around a bit.

That's what's happening with the PC market. It's not going away, just shifting. All you have to do is look at the layout of Best Buy or Walmart's computer section, and you'll see the seismic shift right there. PCs are diminishing. Tablets are emerging. With that, the way people buy applications is changing, and 99-cent apps with simple system requirements are easier to buy than $50 boxes with byzantine system requirements.
"Yeah, but I only can carry one gaming device in my pocket, and it's going to be my phone, not a 3DS!"
Oh! Well, that changes everything. I mean, when the DS was popular, that means you didn't carry a cell phone in your pocket then?

No?

Well, then, when you were young, you must have shoved a Game Boy in your pocket, even though the Game Boy was one inch thick, three inches wide and six inches long, right?

No? Well, when did this become a problem then?

The fact of the matter is that most people aren't carrying around multiple devices with them, and they never have. If they've wanted to bring a gaming machine with them, they find a way. This is one of the stupidest reasons to believe that the 3DS will fail, and it's been borne out by the fact that the 3DS' sales have improved over the DS' sales at the same time in its lifespan.

Next article: Why the naysayers are wrong about the Wii... almost.