As everyone already knows, the interwebs were ablaze with news and discussion pertaining to the biggest elephant in the room at present, the cost of the 3DS. Our own Kyle Manchester already tossed his cookies cinnamon toast crunch over the price tag here, and he brings up some good points. Why should a handheld gaming device cost $250 when entire home consoles cost as much or less? Well, Kyle, I largely agree with you: they shouldn’t, unless they’re an iPhone.
What I mean to say is, smartphones are expensive, and for good reason. True, you might be able to bring down the upfront cost of one with a two-year contract, but that is also a two-year contract. I can count on one finger the amount of people I know who don’t have a problem with that. That’s a lie, I don’t even know one. Until the DS or 3DS or PSP is also a phone (hello Xperia and Windows 7 phone), a price like that for a handheld gaming device does and should sound a bit steep.
Remember when video games were by-and-large called Nintendo games? Remember those formative years where Nintendo established a name for itself in America? Remember those first titles of the franchises that would become the industry’s strongest and most recognized icons? I know the fanboys do, but anybody who was around in the late ‘80’s, even early ‘90’s oughta know what I’m talking about. This was the golden age of this industry, and it was defined by Nintendo. (For more on this topic, listen to Podcast 56)
By way of a brand, Nintendo and Apple have something in common, something which grants them a devout following rivaled only by the collective sass of a slighted WoW community (remember when the world exploded over Blizzard’s insightful and forward-thinking Real ID system? Yeah, those guys).
I won’t pretend to know more about Apple than I do, but it seems to me they could release the iPoop and draw a line on launch day. Apple products are luxury items, built with a degree of craftsmanship we can’t say about Microsoft or many other firms. Though it surely isn’t the case with everyone, my first Apple PowerBook lasted me ten years before the harddrive kicked the bucket, and my second generation iPod remains as good as new to this day. Though a job at Sony made me a VAIO fan, there remains that special allure to the Apple brand that gets a lot of people excited, myself included.
Similarly, Nintendo once held a warm place in my heart—a feeling I haven’t felt since the SNES. The 64 had its moments, the ‘cube was a disaster, and the Wii ushered in one of the greatest movements in gaming history, but none of these consoles could conjure the warm and fuzzies like the NES or its successor. The Wii couldn’t even do it, probably due to veteran gamers’, and my, aversion to motion controls. But craftsmanship? Check out this and this.
The 3DS brings back that magic—it’s a portable gaming device that builds off the tremendously (and shockingly) successful DS formula, again innovating as only Nintendo can. 3D without glasses is a feat that anyone but 10% of the world’s population will not only enjoy but baffle with in wonder. And better yet, there is no need to rearrange your living room; this wonderment can be carried outside and shown and observed to anyone on the street.
3D is something everyone is familiar with, but—critically—is also something people are just not ready for or expecting without glasses. That’s not “people aren’t ready for it” in a bad way; it’s “people aren’t ready for it” in a “sweet sassy mo’lassy how is this %*(&ing working right now?!?” kind of way. It is magical, it is wonderment, and it is whimsy. It brings back that bladder-tingling excitement over something not only innovative, but appreciative by even the motion-averse hardcore.
Adam Sessler pointed out in an episode of his soapbox post E3 that there is real potential in enhancing gameplay experiences by wrapping them around the strengths of depth of field (fast forward to 1:50). It’s also been argued that such depth may in fact lend a degree of precision to navigating within a 3D space. If these things are true, 3D gaming is not a gimmick—far from it. Glasses-free 3D then becomes the next tool since HD and surround sound to enhance any gaming experience, not just the motion “enhanced” family-centric party games of today.
Although they’re still bucking the trend of achievements permeating every facet of our lives, Nintendo is certainly making strides toward reclaiming their ownership over the warm and fuzzies. The announcement of the 3DS’s price tag, while higher than one might expect, ought not conjure the same level of disgust as a $600 PS3 or subscription-based payment model for a single game (Zynga flipped that idea on its head a long time ago).
With the arrival of the iPhone, we’ve come to a time when handheld electronics are and will be as expensive, powerful, useful, you name it, as their larger immobile brethren. Any price hikes in handhelds are part-and-parcel with the privilege of mobility we are already paying for in our smartphones. These aren’t black-and-yellow GameBoy’s any more: handhelds are increasingly becoming portable home consoles. It’s time to start comparing handheld gaming devices to the iPhone (AT&T doesn’t offer service anyway) and smartphones in general. It is in this comparison, and the power of an innovation the world can’t see, comprehend, or believe until they hold the product in their very own hands, that I am okay with spending $250 on my next Nintendo handheld—an important distinction indeed.