Dreaming Beyond Nintendo 3DS

satoru iwata

Earlier in the week, a rumor popped up on NeoGAF regarding Nintendo’s next piece of hardware. Now, you never know who the people commenting on NeoGAF actually are, so anybody can say anything, but this massive videogame forum has a history of being the source of leaks and rumors that were later seen true.

The commenter said:

“Almost certainly off-topic, but I don’t quite want to make a new thread, because it would go to shit quickly. Also, I’d need to post a source, and I don’t really want to get people in trouble. Anyway, Nintendo apparently started working on a new platform in early 2013 and has already selected a vendor for the SoC [system on a chip] after talking to several potential candidates. The SoC might be based on an existing design, but will be changed to fit Nintendo’s requirements. I assume it’s for their next handheld, though.”

I seriously doubt Nintendo is preparing to throw in the towel on Wii U just yet, although a humbling financial report just came out today that has President and CEO Satoru Iwata considering a new business model. In a news conference this morning, Iwata stated, “The way people use their time, their lifestyles, who they are — have changed. If we stay in one place, we will become outdated.”

While his comment may seem to apply more towards Wii U than 3DS, I believe he’s likely referring to an overall shift in company philosophy that will affect how Nintendo approaches both its home console and handheld businesses. That said, I think the commenter’s assertion is more likely, in that this particular “evidence” could be the early work for Nintendo’s next handheld.

In fact, Shigeru Miyamoto is on record as far back as June 2012 for saying, “What we’re thinking about right now is probably going to be for a future generation of handheld.”

I imagine we’re still at least a year or two away from knowing anything about it, but that won’t keep me from daydreaming about what I want and expect.

This disclaimer probably goes without saying, but everything that follows is pure speculation and conjecture. I’m not “on the inside,” and I, like most of you, have virtually zero technical know-how and absolutely no business acumen. I’m just a gamer and a fanboy with an imagination and a penchant for writing.

Just a few days ago, Emily Rogers — known as a bit of an “insider,” and writer for Nintendo Force Magazine — tweeted, “I don’t think Nintendo will play it safe with their next-gen handheld. The device will be designed as a response to the smartphone market. People assume Nintendo will just create a more powerful 3DS except with an HD screen. I think Nintendo will go much farther than that.”

One of her followers responded, “I think at this point they see the smartphone market isn’t a threat. The 3DS has been a profitable beast,” to which Rogers replied, “GBA was a profitable beast. They still took a radically different direction with DS.”

And I agree. I think Nintendo will shake things up again, and I don’t think they’ll mess around. Portable gaming is their turf. They basically invented that entire market with the Game Boy in ’89, and they’ve dominated it ever since. Nintendo sees the impact mobile gaming has already made, and views it as a legitimate threat in the future.

Iwata confirmed this idea this morning when he said, “We cannot continue a business without winning.”

“We must take a skeptical approach whether we can still simply make game players, offer them in the same way as in the past for 20,000 yen or 30,000 yen, and sell titles for a couple of thousand yen each,” he added. “Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business. It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.”

So while Nintendo sees potential in a presence on smart devices, it sounds as though it still has plans to actively develop and build its own portable game machines. With that in mind, I have some ideas as to how Nintendo could, or possibly should, cultivate its next handheld and the ecosystem around it.

I feel confident in saying Nintendo will ditch the 3D feature in its next device. The 3DS is home to many great games, but with the release of the more affordable 2DS, and a dearth of titles that make compelling use of the system’s 3D power (heck, Pokémon X and Y almost don’t use it at all), I can’t imagine Nintendo including this costly, unnecessary aspect in its successor.

The continued use of gyroscopic controls is likely, and I imagine forward-facing and player-facing cameras will return. They won’t take 3D pictures, of course.

And I’m all but certain the dual screens will return, as Nintendo’s legion of handheld fans have become too accustomed to the benefits of the extra screen. Obviously I expect the bottom screen to remain a touchscreen, but I also expect it to be a multi-touch screen, meaning it can sense contact in multiple locations, as opposed to the resistive touchscreen on the 3DS, which can only detect one point of contact. I’ve heard talk about a touchscreen on top, but I can’t really imagine any good uses for it. I’m sure Nintendo has already experimented with that before, but I don’t expect it to see the light of day.

Continuing on the topic of controls, I expect this new handheld to have two Circle Pads (analog nubs). While the 3DS has just the one, Nintendo thought enough of the second to at least make it an option by way of the Circle Pad Pro. While there are only nine 3DS titles that make use of this add-on, I see no reason why Nintendo wouldn’t make it an option out of the box this time around. Handheld games are advancing, and so should their control schemes. There’s no better example than the PS Vita’s analog sticks.

And if a second Circle Pad is added, a little extra space will be needed on the system’s face. The 3DS should have launched at the size of the 3DS XL, which I actually think had enough room on its right side for a second Circle Pad. The original incarnation was just too small for that, though. So while the size of the original may have been fine for small children, it typically cramps the hands of most people. And on top of that, its screens were also on the tiny side.

In other words, if there hadn’t been a need for the 3DS XL, Nintendo wouldn’t have been compelled to go back and make it. I’m sure they’re taking this into consideration while designing their new portable hardware. 

So moving on to features and functionality, I think the new handheld will be backwards compatible with 3DS games, which will play like a 2DS in that it does everything but the 3D effect. Additionally, all system, account, download and save data should be transferable from 3DS/2DS to the new platform, allowing players to have full access to everything they already paid for, own and enjoy.

Expect a quicker, more-user friendly operating system than that of the 3DS. Everything should load almost immediately, even when going from program to program. A better, more-integrated web browser is also needed. By the time this piece of hardware is released, Nintendo should have a better online infrastructure for a unified accounts system and their Miiverse network. An expanded version of StreetPass would also be welcome. Maybe we’ll even see the end of friend codes (we can hope).

I’d like for Nintendo to give players the option to subscribe to a paid mobile 3G/4G LTE service, just like PS Vita. It shouldn’t be mandatory, of course — and it may not even be up and ready at launch — but it only makes sense looking forward, as we move further into an increasingly super-connected world. And again like the Vita, Nintendo should offer separate models priced to reflect the inclusion or omission of this feature in order to give consumers a choice.

And with that connectivity in mind, Nintendo should open up its eShop to a wider range of developers (big and small) to encourage the creation of many more original games, apps and content. As Chris Kohler points out, Nintendo should be open to allowing any developer who wants to publish content on 3DS (or Wii U) to do so.

Kohler also mentions Nintendo’s notoriously high asking prices for its downloadable titles, which harkens back to what Iwata said today with regard to how the company prices its games.  What’s worse is that because Nintendo lacks a true unified accounts system, games available on both Wii U and 3DS are not cross-platform compatible. In other words, where Sony has made an effort to make virtually every one of its titles available to play on both its home consoles and handheld devices, Nintendo makes you pay the same price all over again for the privilege of playing your game on both systems. This must be fixed.

Concerning the physical distribution of games, I can’t imagine Nintendo would stray from using cartridges. They’ve used them since the beginning, and even Sony adopted a similar media type, abandoning UMDs in the process. While digital downloads are an increasingly large part of the marketplace, physical copies will still be valued by consumers for quite some time. Yes, space can be somewhat limited, and the cartridges themselves don’t come cheap, but they are still the most viable medium.

As far as the graphical power is concerned, I’ll openly admit I pretty much have no idea what I’m talking about. However, one could surmise this new handheld will be roughly on par with Wii, only at a higher resolution. The 3DS already gives the GameCube a run for its money when it comes to visuals, so it seems reasonable to expect Nintendo’s next handheld to make a graphical leap by at least one console cycle.

Of course, these ideas are all well and good, but as far as pricing goes, I’m out of my element. For everything I’m considering, it may not be possible to release it at an affordable price. Nintendo has historically put major emphasis on affordability and accessibility, which has paid dividends in the past. But it’s also hurt them more recently because a lower price per unit means using less-powerful (and thus, less costly) hardware components. But maybe they’ll pull something out of their hat.

Branding is an issue many would argue has hurt Nintendo in recent years. The most notorious offender is Wii U, which plenty of people — gamers and game journlists alike — have said confuses the average consumer. There are countless anecdotes of people thinking Wii U is just an add-on to the original Wii, rather than an all-new console. I think there was even some confusion among parents about the differences between DS and 3DS when the latter first launched.

So obviously Nintendo needs to work on managing the public perception of its hardware. And given that I believe the next handheld will possess two screens, I can’t see Nintendo abandoning the use of “DS” somewhere in the device’s name, but I also wonder if it’s not time to come up with something else.

Personally, I’d like to see them make use of the “Game Boy” branding again, because it carries a lot of weight, familiarity and nostalgia for millions of gamers, many of whom are now parents. Using the name “Game Boy” might stand out to them when researching handheld games for their kids.

Something like “Game Boy DS” might be too… generic? Something like “Super DS” is a little reminiscent of the SNES days, but I still don’t really envision a name like that packing a lot of punch. Whatever the name, it should be something that sounds familiar enough that parents will notice, but fresh enough that it doesn’t sound dated. Consumers need to understand that the device is an entirely new platform.

The likelihood of these ideas coming to fruition is probably rather slim, and I’m sure there are issues I’ve overlooked. But Nintendo has a history of big surprises, and their teams of artists and engineers are far more creative than I, so you never know what to anticipate. Maybe they’ll exceed expectations.

But perhaps you have some ideas of your own. How do you see Nintendo going about its business from here on out? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.

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6 thoughts on “Dreaming Beyond Nintendo 3DS

    • Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for reading!

      I would loved to switch to Disqus, but unfortunately it only works on a self-hosted WordPress page. And to self-host, I’d have to pay money (and I have none, haha). Maybe one of these days! I appreciate the feedback, though! 🙂

  1. Pingback: Dreaming Beyond Nintendo 3DS

  2. Pingback: Pondering Nintendo ‘NX’ and backwards compatibility | Backtracking

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