The Cloud Is Killing Nintendo’s Handheld Dreams

Nintendo 2DS.

Nintendo has announced a new handheld gaming device, the 2DS, which will retail for $129.99.

The 2DS disposes of the stereoscopic 3D that marked its more expensive predecessor, the 3DS, along with the clamshell design that defined previous Nintendo DS devices. To go along with the downgraded specs, the 2DS features a seriously reduced price in comparison to the 3DS and larger 3DS XL; it will still have the ability to play games designed for the 3DS, albeit in plain ol’ 2D.

Why is Nintendo making the decision to fill out its handheld portfolio with a cheaper, bulkier device?

It could have something—maybe everything—to do with smartphones and tablets, which have evolved into gaming platforms in their own right. Game developers and software designers are pouring resources into building games and development tools for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Earlier this summer, research firms IDC and App Annie concluded that the worldwide install base for gaming-optimized handhelds such as the Nintendo 3DS declined 11 percent between 2012 and 2014, even as Android and iOS enjoyed gains of 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

This certainly makes sense on a consumer level: why would someone—especially a casual gamer—pay $40 for a Nintendo 3DS game when they can download something perfectly fun from Google Play or Apple’s App Store for $1.99? Sure, launching dedicated titles for a particular gaming system can ensure a certain subset of gamers will pay that higher price; but just as many (if not more) casual gamers will simply opt to download something else for far cheaper. It’s not as if Google Play, Apple’s App Store, or other smartphone storefronts lack games—and once you’re done playing, a smartphone lets you check your email, navigate via a map, or engage thousands of other apps and features.

In broad strokes, handheld gaming consoles are experiencing the same fate as the dedicated GPS devices once omnipresent in rental cars and on peoples’ dashboards. In the latter case, drivers and passengers began using their ultra-sophisticated smartphones to navigate, rather than paying a few hundred dollars for a GPS navigator; and while companies such as TomTom continue to build dedicated navigation devices, they’re now hard at work on smartphone apps.

By offering the 2DS at a cheaper price point, Nintendo obviously hopes to stall any market corrosion by expanding its presence among younger and more value-conscious consumers. But whether such a strategy will succeed is a big question. “I say they should just give in and start making iOS games,” Daring Fireball’s John Gruber wrote in an Aug. 28 posting. “They’re not going to win this battle.”

 

Image: Nintendo