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Opinion: Nintendo 2DS proves the company knows its audience

With today's announcement of the Nintendo 2DS, we were all reminded just how market-savvy Nintendo can be.

You could be forgiven for wondering, upon seeing the 2DS announcement, if you had been transported through time to April Fool's Day, or if Nintendo's press release writers had made a simple typo.

"Nintendo 2DS" continues the company's silly, confusing naming scheme for its products, as my colleague Chris Plante argued earlier today. And the introduction of the device makes it appear as if Nintendo is now backpedaling on the importance of stereoscopic 3D, which was the focal point of the original 3DS.

But those issues will be of negligible concern to Nintendo if the 2DS can provide a significant boost to the worldwide install base of things-that-play-3DS-games (which now includes the 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS). While 3DS sales have picked up momentum this year with the release of top-selling games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, lifetime global sales of the handheld still lag behind the Nintendo DS at the same point in its life cycle by nearly 20 percent.

The 2DS is a machine designed and priced to close that gap.

Nintendo launched the original 3DS in early 2011 at $249.99 and dropped the price less than six months later to $169.99, even though that massive cut meant the company was losing money on each unit sold at that point. (The 3DS became profitable again one year afterward.) The 2DS will sell for $129.99 — $40 less than the going rate on the 3DS. Because of the high cost of the special 3D-capable screen inside the 3DS, "it didn't look like it was possible" for Nintendo to bring the 3DS to that price, said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America's head of marketing and sales, in a recent interview.

$129.99 is a mass market-friendly price

The impact of removing the handheld's 3D functionality for the 2DS is multifaceted. It cuts the cost, which significantly lowers the 3DS's barrier to entry if that's what was turning away potential buyers. More notably, $129.99 is a mass market-friendly price — lower than flagship smartphones on a two-year contract — which is more tempting for parents ahead of the looming holiday shopping season. This year will see a video game market crowded with hardware options, all of which will now look significantly more expensive in contrast to the 2DS — because they are.

Moreover, excising the 3D screen addresses another vital concern. I've heard anecdotal reports of parents being reluctant to allow their children to play a 3DS specifically because of its most defining feature, the stereoscopic 3D. A 3D image can cause eye strain, so people assume it's harmful, particularly to children. It's probably not healthy for kids to stare at a glowing rectangle of any kind for hours every day, but at least the one on the 2DS won't cause their eyeballs to fall out.

Whether those fears are unfounded is irrelevant to parents, because they'll do what they believe is right for their children. The fear itself, however, is very relevant to Nintendo if it prevents parents from buying 3DSes.

the 2DS design may evoke Fisher-Price toys, but that's perfect

Parents who buy expensive electronic devices for young children also worry about the fragility of those devices. Sure, the clamshell design of the DS and 3DS protects the dual screens within, but anything with a hinge is much more susceptible to being snapped in half than a unit with a single-body structure. The 2DS may look like a toy designed by Fisher-Price, but that's perfect for the market Nintendo's aiming at.

And Nintendo's final stroke of marketing savvy comes with the 2DS's launch date — the system will be available Oct. 12, the same day as Pokémon X and Y. If you think parents won't snatch up a $40 cheaper device that still runs the game that all of their kid's friends are playing this fall, you don't know the power of Pokémon.

There's a chance that the 2DS won't succeed because it further fragments and muddles the already-confusing landscape of Nintendo hardware. But that line of thinking ignores the factors that consumers pay the most attention to. Nintendo built the DS and Wii into sales juggernauts by courting the masses. With 3DS software finally getting to a point that will attract a wider audience of players, releasing a cheaper, parent-friendly, kid-oriented version of the hardware could be the smartest move Nintendo has made in a while.

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