Update (June 15, 2018): Nintendo didn’t mention the 3DS during its presentation at E3 2018. There were no games announced for it. To the best of our knowledge, it wasn’t mentioned during any of the streams that took place after the main show.
Nintendo isn’t killing the hardware, but the focus is shifting.
“So far this year, our 2DS and 3DS business is up 10 percent [in the Americas market],” Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime told Blooomberg. “So the Switch is not all on its own. It’s getting some very strong support by a dedicated handheld business here in the Americas. And for us we want to continue driving both of those platforms. 2DS and 3DS are for kids and families to get engaged for the first time potentially in video games, and Nintendo Switch is going to be that game where consumers want to play Smash Bros., Zelda and all of those big epic games.”
So it sounds like I’m getting what I asked for sooner rather than later. The 3DS will stick around as a budget option, but if you buy a Switch it seems as though you’ll be getting all of Nintendo’s biggest games on a single, portable platform. That’s great news. If you’re still not convinced, you can read my thoughts from last year on why this is such a smart move, and good news for fans.
Original story: We spend a significant amount of time in our day deciding things. There’s an extensive amount of value — even though it’s counter-intuitive — in removing decisions. The easier you make it for someone to decide to buy something, and the easier you make that process, the better your fans are going to feel about their relationship with what you’re selling.
Which is why Nintendo should begin to phase out the 2DS and 3DS line of portables; it would be the best thing for the company in the long term and an amazing gift to fans. The amount of confusion around Nintendo’s now-complicated portable hardware lines and the Switch’s ability to operate as both a console and a portable makes the fact you have to buy two consoles to get all the best Nintendo games feel antiquated and unnecessary.
There’s no rush, mind you
These portables aren’t on life support, and sales are still strong enough that it’s bringing substantial value to the company. The 2DS and 3DS don’t need to shut down in the immediate future, especially with so many units in the wild and even new versions of the hardware selling for a much lower price than the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s new home console.
And that pricing is a big deal, at least for now. You can pick up a blue Nintendo 2DS for $79.99 on the low end, and that package comes with a copy of Mario Kart 7. The New 3DS XL is $199.99. The Switch, if you can find one, is $299.99. They occupy different spaces, and will continue to do so until the Switch comes down in price in a few years.
But these portables are a trainwreck in terms of branding and communication. Very few, if any, portable Nintendo games rely on the 3D effect anymore, or even make extensive use of it. Which is how we ended up with the 2DS offshoot that took the signature feature out of a platform that has fewer and fewer reasons to exist in a world where Nintendo is increasingly comfortable on your phone ... even as the number of hardware options in that product line continues to expand.
There are Nintendo 3DS systems with hinges and flat systems; 2D systems and 3D systems; some systems have a second analog nub on the right-hand side, and those systems begin with the word “New,” and some of the newer games require that generation of hardware to run at all. GameStop has 21 different options for new portable systems and bundles, and many of those only play in 2D.
Nintendo’s official page for comparing features on the latest versions of each product line is a bit ridiculous. Understanding what each system does well and why you might need it has become a mess.
Despite the ridiculous naming conventions at play here, what they all have in common is that they’re portable. There is no single 3DS line anymore. Nintendo offers a huge variety of portable systems that exist in a completely different ecosystem from its home console ... which is also a portable.
Nintendo has a way out
The Nintendo Switch has been a very successful system, and the Classic Edition line of products will likely remain a lightning rod for sales and media attention. Nintendo’s new strategy for E3, where it leans heavily on one major release a year, has paid off very well. It’s very possible the only real competition for Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Game of the Year title will come from Super Mario Odyssey.
Nintendo has also been doing well in the mobile space, with a rumored Legend of Zelda mobile game in development as well. There is already a Nintendo system that you carry with you at all times now, and it’s your phone. And if you want to carry a console, the Switch has you covered.
Each of these products involves a simple buying decision, and is easy to market. People feel good buying them. Nintendo can keep that momentum by slowly phasing out its portable line of ... portables as the price of the Switch comes down.
What does that get everyone? Not only does the purchasing decision become much easier, Nintendo itself won’t have to decide which product line gets what franchise. The next Zelda that Nintendo creates will be the Zelda; the Switch is the portable version. We don’t have to wait for a portable or console version of Smash Bros., because the next Smash Bros. will simply be the Smash Bros.
The short term pain of losing out on customers who would have potentially bought both systems will give way to a world where many more people simply get a Switch due to the security of knowing they’ll get the best version of each Nintendo game and re-release.
Imagine just going into the store and picking up the Switch in this situation. You’re getting a console and a portable and you know that you’ll have access to Nintendo’s biggest releases moving forward. The purchasing decision will be made much simpler, inventory will be easier to manage and the Switch will be even more attractive to enthusiasts and casual players.
It’s going to be fun to see how Nintendo iterates on the Switch hardware as well, as a smaller option with better battery life would help fill the hole the loss of Nintendo’s portables would leave. The question would be whether a tiered pricing structure for the games would still make sense, although Switch titles are already sold at a variety of prices.
Apple famously argued that you had to cannibalize your own products or someone else would, and Nintendo has the opportunity to slim its product line while deepening the connection people feel to the consoles still being sold. Nintendo has always split major releases between its home consoles and portables, although there have never been this many models of portable hardware in the past being sold at once, but the Switch provides an opportunity to provide all its biggest games to fans who only buy one console. The company should take it.
This isn’t a decision Nintendo needs to make soon, since the price difference between the Switch and the portable family of systems is one of the things that currently helps the argument to keep both, but it’s the direction Nintendo should move.