Is 3DS Software Cannibalizing Wii U Software?

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Sites like Bloomberg have started to be more optimistic about Nintendo — specifically 3DS hardware and software sales. At the same time though the Wii U still struggles in both areas, and I’m starting to wonder if a somewhat inverse relationship exists.

A while ago Emily Rogers from Not Enough Shaders used a small anecdote to speculate that customers might not need what the Wii U is offering because the 3DS is basically offering the same thing. If you look at roughly the 12-month period between last fall and this fall, almost every major Wii U game has either a 3DS version or a similar game on the 3DS, similar enough for casual consumers to confuse the two. I’m probably gonna wait until Super Smash Bros. comes out to get a Wii U, and I still have the option of just getting the 3DS version (which I understand will have different content).

I think this is happening because Nintendo, for the first time, has a handheld capable of playing the same games as their current console with the only major difference being graphical presentation. I think this is going on for a lot of game platforms as handhelds finally reach the capability to play high-quality 3D games.

During the N64 or Gamecube years the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance respectively could pretty much serve as the last refuge of classic 2D gaming which kept them distinct from the consoles. Even the original DS was mostly a 2D machine and had its then-unique touch screen.

It seems to me like Nintendo might be facing the same problem Sony has faced since releasing the PSP, or maybe a mirror of it. The PSP was dogged with accusations that it basically played the same games you could get on the PS2. The PlayStation Vita has been accused of being a system of ports (on this very blog among other places). As a result, one platform has languished while another survives.

Sony’s problem though is that they can’t seem to get the games people want to play on handhelds as opposed to just porting down games people want to play on a TV. Nintendo knows handheld games though — almost all the games they make are a good fit for handhelds. They just haven’t been known for the kind of AAA productions people want on consoles these days. Just about the only three Nintendo games that don’t really work on a handheld are the Wii Series, full 3D Zelda games (barring Ocarina of Time which was designed for one analog stick), and maybe Metroid Prime. The Wii U’s touch screen probably hasn’t helped the congruency.

Congruency however might not be a problem if you accept the eventual merger of handheld and console gaming though.

Think about it: video games are almost the only medium that haven’t yet been perfectly put into portable form. A smartphone can play the same movies as your DVD player, the same music as your stereo, and display the same books that are printed on paper, but there are no portable devices that can play all the games on PlayStation and Xbox. Vita fans seem to see all the ports as a change to this situation. Maybe Nintendo should start thinking the same way.

I still don’t know why Nintendo and Capcom didn’t do some kind of cross-buy deal for the 3DS and Wii U versions of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. They gotta at least be thinking about loyalty programs for the two versions of Smash. That goes without mentioning the Virtual Console games that you still have to buy separately on each platform.

A lot of people want Nintendo’s next “console” to just be some kind of hybrid between the two — a handheld with an HDMI output basically. Creatively it might make sense seeing as Nintendo is stronger with handhelds, and the two sides are becoming more similar. Business-wise though it would mean the loss of a revenue stream for Nintendo.

As things stand now, hardware remains a barrier to the convergence of handheld and console. You might be able to play console games on your iPhone now, but they’re almost all ports of PS2-era games like Grand Theft Auto III and Knights of the Old Republic. EA thinks the next wave of smartphones will have hardware comparable to the Xbox 360 — just as the Xbox One and PS4 are coming out. Basically, handhelds are still going to be a hardware generation behind consoles.

BULLETS:

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2 thoughts on “Is 3DS Software Cannibalizing Wii U Software?

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