Back in the day, Nintendo was pretty straightforward – what comes after the Game Boy Advance is definitely a new handheld, and what comes after the GameCube is definitely a new home console.
With the Nintendo Switch, these lines have blurred. The Nintendo Switch is neither a traditional home console nor a traditional handheld system. Nintendo has been calling the Nintendo Switch a “home console” since its reveal in October 2016, calling it a successor to Wii U. Some have called it a “hybrid”, while others ignore the marketing jargon and see it as a true portable device, a rightful successor to the Nintendo 3DS.
What comes after Nintendo 3DS is important to the future of Nintendo, and it’s something worth musing about.
As of now, there are no signs of Nintendo 3DS support slowing down anytime soon. Nintendo has promised to support the portable system in 2018 and beyond, and they even released a new iteration in the Nintendo 3DS family called the New Nintendo 2DS XL, which essentially is a cheaper New Nintendo 3DS XL minus the 3D-glasses free effect.
Since the launch of Nintendo Switch, many fans have been trying to persuade Nintendo to drop all Nintendo 3DS support and focus on making software for Nintendo Switch. But in Nintendo’s eyes, that wouldn’t happen in the next few years, and here’s why.
To Nintendo, the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS businesses offer completely different value and experiences to customers.
Since Nintendo has labelled the Switch as a home console, it retails for USD299.99, the same price as the Wii U Basic set when it first launched in November 2012. First party titles such as Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe retail at the standard home console title price of USD59.99.
As for Nintendo 3DS, it’s pretty much a traditional portable. The New Nintendo 3DS XL retails for USD199.99, a hundred bucks cheaper than the Nintendo Switch. The New 2DS XL sells for USD149.99, and a Scarlet Red Nintendo 2DS with New Super Mario Bros. 2 pre-installed costs only USD79.99. As for games, first party titles like Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and Metroid: Samus Returns usually run for USD39.99 a piece.
When it comes to gameplay, customers are getting the full console experience on Nintendo Switch, with games built with the intention of longer play sessions and high definition graphics. On Nintendo 3DS, games are developed in mind of short burst play sessions, so it’s easier to “pick up and play”. It also makes use of features such as the camera, microphone, and stylus.
The form factors are different too. Although both the Switch and 3DS can easily be brought outside, a 3DS can comfortably fit inside a jeans pocket, but with the Switch, you’ll probably need a carrying case or bag.
I personally feel Nintendo doesn’t have a full picture on what they want to do after Nintendo 3DS, thus they are waiting it out by extending the life of the system for a few more years. If they focus their full efforts on Nintendo Switch, it would mark the end of handheld game pricing, handheld game experiences, and small form factor. If they don’t, a new handheld system similar to the Nintendo 3DS will take its place.
There’s an equal chance for both scenarios to play out. If Nintendo’s research shows consumers still want a specialized handheld gaming device with a price point similar to the Nintendo 3DS, we’ll see a “Nintendo 4DS”. And that’s not necessarily going to hurt the Nintendo Switch.
Back in 2014, late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata merged Nintendo’s home and handheld development teams, which helped to create a new standard architecture that all systems from Nintendo Switch onward will make use of. Think of it as Apple’s different devices – developers can make the same app for iPhone, iPad, and iMac with the same SDK. While the app’s base functionality remains the same, developers will have to adjust various settings to suit the needs of each form factor, such as the user interface.
This is different from making a game on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, where both system architectures were completely different from each other, so developers couldn’t simply port over games with the same code they have.
With the same architecture, logic, code, art assets, and other essential items for game development can easily be transferred from one project (say, on the Switch) to another (on a theoretical Nintendo 4DS), drastically reducing the time of developing new projects on the 4DS if it happens. All developers have to do is make certain adjustments to fit the constraints of the system.
Developing for two different systems at the same time wouldn’t be much of an issue. In most of its history, Nintendo has been releasing games for home and handheld consoles on time without a hitch, except for Wii U which proved to be a huge hurdle since it was the company’s first HD system.
The other scenario is for Nintendo to go all in on the Nintendo Switch, making the console the one and only form factor left. Down the road, we’ll definitely see iterations to the Nintendo Switch, and perhaps eventually Nintendo may reduce the price of older SKUs to USD199.99 and older games to USD39.99 to find common ground with the kids/budget crowd that is currently on Nintendo 3DS.
At the end of the day, Nintendo will do what it thinks is best for their business and customers. As long as there continues to be demand for handheld gaming experiences, a 4DS will emerge after the death of the 3DS. Or we’ll move forward in a future where the Switch becomes the new standard of gaming.