"Nintendo has potentially opened a door it can't shut."
While Nintendo has established a long history of releasing new versions, designs and models of its hardware, it's now entering dangerous territory with the Nintendo 3DS. Inside a year of its release, the system is seeing a peripheral that can and will fundamentally change the way companies approach game development.
The market for the Nintendo 3DS will soon be fractured, split in a way that the GBA SP, Game Boy Color and DS Lite never were. This peripheral is, of course, the circle pad expansion. A second circle pad was certainly necessary for the 3DS, but now Nintendo is faced with a critical choice – relaunch its system or fail to truly keep the peripheral viable in the long term.
Nintendo's lack of foresight in packaging the 3DS with a second circle pad is a critical failure on the part of the company. Virtually all modern games require a second analog input, and movement and touch-based solutions are inadequate replacements. Moreover, the PlayStation Vita features two sticks and is more powerful. Although it's (now) more expensive than the 3DS, it could still potentially prove more alluring than the 3DS if Nintendo doesn't fix its error. That the publisher is attempting to do this now is certainly reassuring, but the fact that Nintendo has to do it speaks volumes about how it approached this system in the first place. This is what is causing Nintendo a headache...
A number of poor choices have plagued the 3DS since its launch, and in some respects the system's first year will be remembered as one of Nintendo's roughest ever. The question now is what to do about it. A price drop, expanded content and a functioning eShop go a long way, and certainly have had an impact, but the circle pad is a fundamental product feature unlike any of the other "upgrades" Nintendo has provided. It changes how games are made. Now the company faces a tough choice – support the add-on full force and accept the consequences, or watch it fade into oblivion, giving its competitors a significant advantage in accepting ports and remakes of modern titles.
If Nintendo wants developers to support this extra circle pad, the first model of the Nintendo 3DS must be replaced immediately. It cannot remain on store shelves, because its continued presence furthers a splitting of Nintendo's marketplace. Developers will be forced to either support a platform of millions with only one circle pad or a platform of few with two. Specifically this piece right here.
That's the biggest problem the company faces – convincing developers to start over. The current system is just now gaining steam, selling over 200,000 units in August after its price drop. For Nintendo to introduce a seismic change to its system's control interface could potentially undo all of its progress thus far. For all intents and purposes, the 3DS would be starting over, barring some sort of massive recall or free distribution of the expansion device. Quite obviously, both of those would have huge financial implications.
Of course this is to say nothing of consumers. Millions have already invested in Nintendo's 3D world, many at the system's original $250 price point. This is, of course, the danger of even suggesting a relaunch or uttering the words "3DS Lite." No doubt many gamers were holding out for a revision to the system's hardware, particularly considering the portable's rather anemic battery life, but many were willing to be early adopters. Now the other shoe drops. Not owning a new 3DS model could potentially cut existing 3DS owners out of a whole range of titles. Attempting to keep the existing version results in an awkward attachment that at best resembles a prototype still in development.
The choices before Nintendo are not easy, and are damaging regardless of the path selected. Heavily and entirely supporting two circle pads might sway some developers, but Nintendo's most loyal fans will certainly feel burned. Plus more casual gamers will likely be confused by the messaging. Didn't they just buy Nintendo's new system? Now they have to buy another one?
The alternative is, of course, going the route of Wii Motion Plus, which is to say watch a necessary add-on dwindle in support and consumer interest. Who wants to support or require the use of something that only some can play? Why not make a product for everyone? It will truly be interesting to see how The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword sells, particularly considering it can only be played using only Motion Plus, and only the limited edition actually supplies that necessary hardware. Technically Monster Hunter doesn't need two sliders....
A less-than-optimal scenario is to attempt to straddle both paths. Release the circle pad expansion alongside a major game like Monster Hunter, but commit only to that game – for the time being. Then add in the feature to a new version of the 3DS, and market the system as if the success and feedback from the debut of Monster Hunter caused this change. That still begs the question of influencing developmental efforts, and that's something Nintendo will likely have to fund itself with cold hard cash and marketing support.
Systems take time to develop and it's a bit stunning that Nintendo didn't have the foresight to include a second circle pad with the 3DS. The proximity of the two products makes it almost impossible to believe the publisher wasn't aware that its system was missing a critical feature. Consoles have featured two analog sticks for a decade. The notion that a portable powerful enough to support ports of these 10-year-old games wouldn't feature an equivalent control scheme is a bit astonishing. Truly, if Nintendo rushed the 3DS out the door without pausing to consider the repercussions of its choices, it is potentially about to pay the price in perception and possibly developmental support. In some ways it already has. But it'll be better with them.
It's not that the Nintendo 3DS is necessarily doomed without a second analog stick. Had Nintendo never mentioned the idea, it could have likely made do. Some games developers would have probably passed the system by in favor of the Vita, but even Monster Hunter survived without two analog inputs – look at the PSP versions. But Nintendo decided to open that door. It has now openly suggested its launch hardware design is flawed. It's introducing an awkward patch to a portable design that is clearly inadequate in its own eyes.
Whether the company even wanted to launch a 3DS Lite in 2012, it almost certainly must now, if for no other reason than to get the 3DS looking like a polished product that isn't being cobbled together bit by bit. Let's just hope that if a timetable is being accelerated, no other important features are left on the drawing room table. source: http://ds.ign.com/articles/119/1193292p1.html