Nintendo 3DS – a challenge to mobile gaming?
Augmented Reality and high sales are a plus for Nintendo device, but are portable games consoles versatile enough? There has been much hullaballoo recently about the launch of Nintendo’s 3DS console (25th March here in Europe). What particularly peaked my interest in the device was the inclusion of AR (Augmented Reality) – an exciting development also starting to make an impact on the mobile, which my colleague Windsor Holden wrote about in one of his recent reports – and I was soon off to my local games emporium to try it out. AR on the 3DS runs along the same principles as on smartphones such as iOS and Android devices. Like these mobile devices, it includes a 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, which recognise the movement and position of the device respectively. Unlike its mobile cousins though, the 3DS has two rear-facing cameras (as opposed to one) which are 3D (as opposed to 2D), though like mobile AR games, users point the console’s rear-facing cameras at a paper print-out which the device reads. This enables the overlaying – or, augmenting – of the game’s reality over the user’s.
AR appears to be having a bigger impact on portable games consoles than it has had so far on mobile games (1), given the fact that AR is its biggest selling point on the former, whilst it remains very much an emerging technology on the latter, particularly in games. The initial shipment of 400,000 has already sold out in Japan, while 500.000 were sold in the first five days in the US, although sales have fallen worryingly slowed since then (2). However, in a matter of weeks this is – according to our own research – notably more than the number of mobile users of AR games in the entirety of 2010. Whilst AR on the device was impressive, my concern about it and portable games consoles in general, positioning within the market. A key factor behind the smartphone boom is the fact that this type of device is many things to many people, given the able hardware and facility to download from a wide range of apps over-the-air. If I want it to be, my smartphone can be a portable games console, and in terms of quality of gameplay it is not far off the latter. What’s more when I have finished playing the game, I can make a call, send a text or picture message, send an email, take a picture, browse the World Wide Web, listen to music or watch a video, and do many other things using the range of apps available. Furthermore, the price point of mobile games compared to those for portable games consoles better reflects the casual nature of ‘out-and-about’ gaming. The 3DS’s other features are more limited and of lesser quality than smartphones: the iPhone 4’s rear-facing camera is 5.0MP compared to 0.3MP on the 3DS; users can send messages, but only to other 3DS users, whereas mobile users can send SMS at least to virtually any other mobile user in the world. Finally, the facility to browse the Internet, while scheduled for a future update, is not currently included, and when it is, connectivity is limited to WiFi. In sum, the pricing of games, ubiquity and scope of features of the mobile handset makes it a more appealing device than the 3DS. Mobile devices manufacturers are constantly incorporating new features into their design and I believe – like the dedicated MP3 player, which is falling out of favour – portable games consoles like the 3DS will suffer for not being as versatile. (1) http://www.inquisitr.com/103798/nintendo-3ds-sales-have-slowed-considerably/ (2) Note: it is important to make the distinction between ‘portable games consoles’ and ‘mobile gaming’. Juniper Research defines mobile gaming as that which is carried out on a device, the primary function of which is wireless voice and text communication – that is, a mobile/cell phone (currently we exclude tablets from mobile gaming). Conversely, a portable games console’s primary function is playing games.