Some Nintendo executives have recently discussed a potential successor to the popular 3DS family. Although they admit that a new system isn’t being created at this time, the direct answer is that the company is “always thinking about it”. Personally, I think the 3DS should be Nintendo’s final traditional handheld.
The 3DS family has amassed an amazing 65.3 million units throughout its on-going near six-year period on the market. The handheld family has also gained quite a number of must-have titles that appeal to an incredibly wide-range of players. All-in-all, it’s appropriate to conclude that the 3DS has been pretty successful. Considering the early woes that it encountered at launch, it’s amazing that Nintendo has managed to turn the ship around to such a degree. But there’s a catch: that success still isn’t as grand as past performances. The original DS line sold a massive 150+ million between its launch and the arrival of the 3DS; that’s a lifespan of seven years. Seeing that the 3DS has nearly reached that same age, the difference in sales numbers is quite surprising. Some may argue that this is due to the aforementioned launch woes, but the effects of that have been long diminished. The main reason why the 3DS has not done as well as its predecessor is due to the rise of mobile devices.
Mobile gaming has become an incredibly large force in a very short space of time. This is due to the incredibly rapid adoption of the various devices, as well as the fact that development is a lot easier on those platforms than traditional systems. Many game companies have come to realize that their levels of revenue from the mobile space is a lot higher than console and PC, thus leading to even more titles being created. Combine that with the fact that mobile devices appeal to the general consumer more than consoles shows just how tough of a competitor it is. Home systems haven’t been greatly affected by this, but the handheld space most certainly has.
Handheld systems have primarily appealed to younger kids and some busy adults, all of which had an interest in games. Because mobile devices offer a wide-array of features that appeal to basically any-and-everyone, gaming is seen as more of a plus rather than the direct focus. Since these devices have now become commodities, the need for a more traditional system — that is, one that really only serves one true purpose — has decreased. The market that ate up the DS family has been gradually shifting more-and-more towards mobile devices over the years, and by the time the 3DS came out mobile devices had pretty much already become must-have products.
Having considered the great effect that mobile devices have had on the handheld space, it’s incredibly impressive that the 3DS line has managed to sell over 65 million units. Although it’s not as versatile as a phone or tablet, nor is it as powerful, the little handheld has still managed to provide a number of great experiences that simply cannot be properly emulated on a mobile device. That’s the advantage that basically all game systems have over mobile devices — their primary function is to play games. True, there are mobile games that have made millions of dollars, but they still are nowhere near the level of depth and polish that big-budget franchises on traditional systems have. With that said, wouldn’t it be fair to say that a potential 3DS successor would still be able to perform well?
It’s not completely impossible for a new handheld to sell well, but as tablets and smartphones become more powerful and more accessible, the need for a handheld device that’s only truly good at one thing becomes less. While it would fill the needs of the core gaming crowd, how would the general market respond? They might see it as an unnecessary expense: “Why would I buy that when I could just play games on my phone?” The casual market may be looked down on by the core gaming crowd, but it really is the casuals that have the strength in numbers. As a result, the decision on creating a new handheld falls on Nintendo deciding if it minds appealing to the smaller group of potential customers. The best solution to this problem would be to create a system that, while focused primarily on gaming, could still act as a great multimedia device. A handheld that is a super-powerful tablet that can do just about anything other tablets can do, that just so happens to be in the form of a game system. Wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? Right, it’s called the Nintendo Switch.
While the Switch technically isn’t a handheld, it has been designed with that form factor. It’s the world’s first hybrid game system: the power and functionality of a home console that you can take with you anywhere like a handheld. Many folks, myself included, have come to the conclusion that Nintendo designed the Switch to fill the roles of being both its new home console and also its new handheld. It certainly has the perfect design to fulfill this task. Honestly, this was the best decision Nintendo could have made.
Nintendo’s foothold in the home console market has been diminishing for years now, but it’s handhelds have continued to do well generation after generation. The Switch now has the best attributes from both sides of the coin, making it a uniquely enticing system. As for Nintendo, it now has the chance to focus its efforts on only a single platform. While the company has managed to support two systems at once, it’s arguable that the handheld consoles have gotten the better end of the deal over the years. This is undeniably true when you compare the Wii U and 3DS. While both systems amassed a stellar library of must-have games, the 3DS definitely has the better offer. Not to mention the fact that it even took some of the Wii U’s offerings. All-in-all, Nintendo is much better off focusing squarely on a single platform.
The 3DS will continue to be supported for the time-being, but once it inevitably runs out of steam, that needs to be the full stop on Nintendo’s efforts in the handheld industry. Sony sees no future in it, and Nintendo shouldn’t either, despite being the ‘Kings of Handheld’. As mobile gaming becomes bigger, the need for a traditional handheld will continue to decrease. Because the Switch can be used as either a home or handheld system, it truly sets itself apart from the crowd. As a result, Nintendo has already the perfect answer to mobile gaming’s growing dominance. Ultimately, the 3DS is a great system, and it would be a good way to end the era of handheld systems.