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Here's why Nintendo didn't launch the smaller New Nintendo 3DS in North America

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Nintendo released the New Nintendo 3DS in North America and Europe last week, but here in North America, only the larger "XL" variant of the handheld is available, not the standard model. The decision caused consternation among many Nintendo fans in the region, not least because the smaller unit comes with colored buttons (à la Super Famicom) and is customizable with a variety of interchangeable faceplates.

"We think New Nintendo 3DS XL makes the most sense for our market," said Nintendo of America in a statement to Polygon last month, when asked why the regular New 3DS wasn't coming to North America. As for the system's chances of being released here in the future, Nintendo said it had "nothing to announce at this time."

Nintendo anticipated the negative reaction from fans, said Damon Baker, senior manager for licensing marketing at Nintendo of America, in an interview with Nintendo Life.

"The core audience... we weren't going to win with them on that decision. But we had to think about expanding the user base, we had to be able to market it and make it easy to pick up for consumers," Baker told Nintendo Life.

Prior to the launch of the New Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo had already phased out the original, smaller Nintendo 3DS in North America. Only the Nintendo 3DS XL and the slate-shaped Nintendo 2DS were being sold in this region, at price points of $199.99 and $129.99, respectively. The New 3DS XL is now on sale for $199.99, and it stands to reason that it will eventually replace the original 3DS XL entirely, leaving Nintendo with just two handheld systems on store shelves.

Nintendo launched the New 3DS and New 3DS XL in Japan last fall, and the larger version has been outselling the smaller one by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Baker told Nintendo Life that Nintendo stuck with a single New 3DS model in North America in an effort to reduce market confusion.

"Look, the face plates are super cool, but we're a different market. And now we have clear differentiation between those three systems. Before, there was a very limited difference between the 3DS and 3DS XL: other than size. It was the same resolution, same functionality... now, there's the 2DS, 3DS, and New 3DS XL, all of which have their own functionality and features. The different price points give it a clear message for consumers," said Baker.

Nintendo's preliminary sales numbers for the New 3DS in North America and Europe are impressive, although it's impossible to know how much the company's release plan contributed to the sales. Perhaps Nintendo could've tackled the issue of market confusion in another way: by naming the handheld something other than "New Nintendo 3DS."

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