On Wednesday, Nintendo of Japan announced the price point (25,000 yen in Japan, unannounced in other territories) and release date (Feb. 26 in Japan, March for U.S. and Europe) for 3DS. Along with the date and cost, the company pulled back the curtain on a slew of features for the new handheld. I spoke with the heads of three different third-party developers for 3DS to get their take on all the latest happenings.
THE PRICE AND RELEASE DATE
The high price — which converts roughly to US$300 — not only worries gamers, but developers as well. Jools Watsham, co-founder and director of Renegade Kid, plainly stated in an e-mail interview that the high cost worries him. He believes 3DS will have to hit a lower price point to reach DS-like success.
“To casual players, the 3DS is a fancy DS with 3D, so paying $300 or even $250 for it is not an option when you already have a great catalog of games available for the DS,” said Watsham, who created the Dementium franchise and Moon for DS.
Watsham is not alone. Dan O’Leary, president of n-Space, and Ted Newman, creative director at n-Space, echoed the same sentiments by saying in an e-mail interview that 3DS “was pricier than expected.” Though the n-Space duo noted “that it’s rarely a straight conversion from the Japanese price to the U.S.” and, as such, are expecting something in North America closer to $250.
But what about the release date? Nic Watt, CEO and creative director at Nnooo Studios, expressed relief in an e-mail interview when hearing about the date. Watt believes the later launch might allow his company time to bring some innovative games to the platform early. (Over the past two-plus years, Nnooo has released Pop, a launch title for WiiWare, as well as numerous games for DSiWare, such as the myNotebook series.)
Watsham expressed similar feelings, saying the March release “gives all developers a chance to complete their titles, add polish and get everything in order for successful launches in 2011. Nintendo of America is truly doing everything it can to ensure U.S. developers have everything they need to produce some goodies for Christmas 2011.”
Nintendo of Japan surprisingly revealed that every 3DS comes packed with a 2GB SD card. Though, at the same time, the company failed to elaborate on internal memory storage. But this did not seem to bother any of the developers.
O’Leary and Newman said they were “not really worried about the storage aspect.”
“Compare this [2GB SD card packed with every 3DS] to something like the iPhone, which comes in a couple of large sizes but lacks the ability to be upgraded by simply inserting a new SD card,” they said. “Having that flexibility [with SD cards and 3DS] is really important.”
And Watt believes “there will still be on-board storage as the videos [from Nintendo of Japan’s press conference] show the units running software installed.”
One major feature Nintendo of Japan failed to touch upon was the online setup for the system. The company did not discuss DLC, consumer accounts, and/or friend lists.
As such, Watsham kept his online expectations for 3DS modest because of the past history with Nintendo and its downloadable platforms — WiiWare and DSiWare.
“I do not expect online accounts or anything close to Xbox Live,” Watsham explained. He expressed similar thoughts about DLC for 3DS, highlighting “the restrictions the DSi had with access to the SD cards.” But he hopes to be “proven wrong.”
O’Leary and Newman — both experienced with DS online functionality through the Call of Duty franchise — expressed a more optimistic viewpoint in regard to the online capabilities of 3DS. The n-Space crew said that “Xbox Live and the [Apple] App Store have become the model for that type of [online] system, and we [at n-Space] hope to see Nintendo learning from those examples.” They also believe Nintendo has big plans for other online features.
“[Nintendo of Japan President] Satoru Iwata has publicly expressed disappointment in the WiiWare and DSiWare market, which leads us to believe [Nintendo] has something up its sleeves and intends to provide more robust support for digital distribution and DLC, even beyond the announced Virtual Console,” they said.
Watt also believes Nintendo of Japan is keeping a few things close to its chest.
“There are still about six months until it launches in Japan, so Nintendo presumably wants to keep some things back to be able to keep momentum going as we get closer to release,” Watt explained. Between now and then, Watt hopes Nintendo addresses the friend code issue. He would like to see “one 3DS ID either per user or per machine.”
STREETPASS AND SPOTPASS
One cool feature revealed by Nintendo for 3DS revolves around StreetPass, which is basically an upgraded version of DS Tag Mode. StreetPass allows 3DS systems to exchange information with each other, even while in sleep mode and without a game inserted. For instance, people who carry a 3DS can pass game and hardware data to other people with Nintendo’s new handheld.
StreetPass, however, seems targeted more toward the Japanese market, where areas are more densely populated and more people use public transportation. As such, Watsham believes the feature will not see as much activity outside of Japan.
O’Leary and Newman agreed, saying Japan is the “ideal environment for something like StreetPass.” But the two n-Space heads hope StreetPass activity catches on in other territories, such as North America.
“It seems like Nintendo is very serious about supporting this feature and giving players compelling reasons to walk around with their 3DS,” they said. “As a developer, we [at n-Space] certainly hope it catches on because it gives [n-Space] yet another tool to further expand our games and design some really cool interactions for players.”
Watt has several ideas in mind for how Nnooo’s upcoming DSiWare title, Spirit Hunters Inc., could utilize the feature.
“With a game like Spirit Hunters Inc., [Nnooo] would love to use StreetPass to transmit and receive challenges to other users you pass by. …By sharing challenges like this, [Nnooo] could really broaden the appeal of the game and almost virally pass spirits around.”
Watt’s enthusiasm carried over to SpotPass, which allows 3DS to download information over Wi-Fi while in sleep mode. He believes the feature will be great and allow for even more possibilities with software, like passing out new spirits to consumers.
O’Leary and Newman expressed similar enthusiasm, claiming SpotPass “was probably the most welcome surprise from Nintendo at the event.
“That said, we [at n-Space] are not 100 percent sure how [Nintendo] will allow games to use SpotPass. It all depends on Nintendo’s vision for this mode, but there is tremendous potential.”
All three developers agreed that the potential for 3DS is sky high. Everyone is excited about the possibility of Nintendo’s handheld, and Watsham even claimed that 3DS would be his “most prized gaming possession to date.”
Sadly, I could not get any of the developers to see the true light and push for a Crush Purple launch color for 3DS (lovingly illustrated at the top of this story). Watsham said he’s “happy to go with the black [3DS],” with Watt preferring red and blue. O’Leary and Newman are satisfied with Nintendo of Japan’s launch colors — aqua blue and black.