Nintendo’s 2DS is a business masterstroke that hurts existing 3DS owners

Nintendo’s 2DS is a business masterstroke that hurts existing 3DS owners

The Nintendo 2DS may seem odd at first blush, but the idea of a less expensive, kid-friendly, non-3D portable that launches on the same day as a new Pokemon title all make sense from a business perspective.

The company may claim that this isn’t an admission that 3D is a failed strategy, but it sure reads that way to the casual observer. The ability to play 3DS games in 2D is one of the advantages of the hardware that’s touted on the system’s box itself.

Of course, we should feel good that 3D will still be a big part in games.

“Clearly our development efforts all include 3D games. Our installed base, we have eight million units installed. If 3D wasn't selling and wasn't part of our future, we wouldn't be seeing and enjoying the robust sales we have on 3DS right now,” Nintendo’s Scott Moffitt said in an interview with GamesIndustry. “I think you know that the 3DS is the number one gaming platform on the market. We're having a very good year with 3DS. Our games continue to sell extremely well.”

3D was dropped due to price, not because of the failure of the feature. Moffitt was blunt talking about all the great games that are coming, or have been released, in 3D.

“They also will play well in 2D, and it allows us to get to a price point that we couldn't get to with the 3D screen,” he explained. “If we can get to that in another way… If you're asking me if we could get to a price point of $129 with 3D functionality, it didn't look like it was possible. That's the reason.”

It all makes sense, especially when you consider the claims that the 2DS actually uses a single, larger touchscreen that is separated by the plastic case. Nintendo may have simply made a tablet, and then used the plastic design to remove the tablet-like design and mimic the experience of their current portable systems. All to save money.

So there is now a budget, tablet-like Nintendo portable. What’s wrong with that?

It’s very possible that I’m an outlier, but I love the glassless 3D effect of the 3DS, and the 3DS XL may be one of my favorite portables of the past few years. When you play a game like the updated Starfox 64 port in 3D the game feels immediate, there is a very real sense of depth and speed to the game that you don’t get when you switch over to pure 2D. Add games like Super Mario 3D Land that are designed around the idea of a 3D screen and you have a system that is often enhanced by the extra sense of depth.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was an amazing port, and the upcoming Zelda: A Link Between Worlds also benefits from the 3D screen. The dungeons have been given a vertical aspect that was missing in previous games, and watching Link jump “away” from the screen and land on a new vertical plane is thrilling.

Of course I can’t prove this to you without downloading the trailer on a 3DS and handing you the system, and that’s part of the problem. Nintendo has always been the best at getting the most out of their systems, and the franchise titles that used 3D did so in a way that helped the game.

The 2DS will remove that aspect of these titles, and if it sells in the quantity Nintendo is expecting the market will be bifurcated between players who can play these games in 3D, and those who cannot. Splitting the market is an efficient way to make sure developers don’t take full advantage of a feature that only a portion of the audience will be able to experience.

“You could say they're listening to the market, which is generally good! But as a developer, would you ever want to devote any time to making sure your game works in 3D ever again, knowing the newest version of the console only supports 2D screens?” developer Brandon Sheffield asked in a Gamasutra article. “I certainly wouldn't waste my time thinking of a game as a true 3D experience given that fact. That would appear to be the end of that particular line of thinking for Nintendo games.”

“Without the 3D to push, the new Nintendo handhelds are just the new Nintendo handhelds. That's been fine enough for me all along, but when you've got 3D and 2D in the titles, it gives you certain expectations that are now split apart by a low-level device fragmentation,” he explained.

We're losing 3D as a guaranteed feature of Nintendo portables, and that's going to hurt the development of good 3D games that use the feature in the game play itself. Nintendo is in a rough spot with the sluggish sales of the Wii U, and maximizing profits on their portable business is wise, but the split between 3D and non-3D portables and what should ideally be a single line of 3DS units is going to hurt those of us who like the damned 3D.

Nintendo is going to sell a large number of the 2DS hardware, and the business folks will pat each other on the back at a job well done, but Nintendo backing away from core features due to business concerns is a weakened Nintendo. The vision of a 3D portable is a strong one, even if it didn't resonate with every gamer. That's what the slider was for, and the option to turn off the 3D in the system's settings.

3D will be now given a lessened role with 3DS games moving forward, and that's a shame.