Sometimes I don’t think Nintendo actually owns a calendar. Or maybe it owns far too many, causing issues with getting deadlines for different departments to fall on the same day? Or the same week? Or the same y’know… half of the year. Which is when Nintendo finally announced that the 3DS’s eShop feature would finally be released through a firmware update on 6th June, I was less cheering with excitement (“Yay, an update for my imaginary 3DS!”) and more bitterly acknowledging that Nintendo has finally caught up with itself (“About time, Nintendo…”).
Despite the impressiveness of the console’s built-in 3D technology and tilt-based controls, as well as a stellar line-up of games on the horizon, I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo 3DS has partially failed to set the world on fire. A truly mediocre batch of games at launch was followed by a lengthy spell of even more mediocre titles and with the console’s unofficial flagship game, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, still over a month away from release, the future isn’t exactly looking certain for 3DS. Obviously, in a year from now when everyone is glued to their handhelds this will likely be a hazy memory, but the fact that Nintendo wowed the industry at E3 last year with the promises of Mario, Zelda, Kid Icarus, Star Fox, Mario Kart, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Kingdom Hearts has left gamers with a distinctly underwhelming feeling towards 3DS. We were promised revolutionary gaming and so far what we’ve received is more Nintendogs and that much-flogged dead horse, Super Street Fighter IV, as a reason to buy a very expensive handheld.
When the launch line-up was revealed at the start of the year, I was one of the many gamers who just looked and thought “That’s it?” before realizing “Oh yeah, they’ll have the eShop out too! Nintendo wouldn’t rush a console out to market that was completely half baked, right?” Uh, wrong. Almost three months down the line with 3DS, Japan is still waiting for the eShop to be opened via a firmware update and will now gain access alongside the rest of the world at the start of next month. And while the argument exists that the update has been delayed by the Japanese earthquake (presumably because someone’s busy restacking the e-shelves?), it doesn’t explain away the fact that Nintendo should have had this feature ready at launch and not “soon-after-launch.” If the Big N thought it could launch their latest console with a halfhearted software line-up then the eShop should have been their number one focus to pull in serious gamers.
Whenever you’re ready Nintendo…
The many-stringed-bow of the eShop has very much worked against 3DS in its absence, especially when you realize that the console is lacking an internet browser, a digital distribution store for new content, a portable Virtual Console, 3D-ified classics as well as 3D movies on demand (unless that’s gone up in smoke as well; Nintendo you promised.) These are all features that would make 3DS more appealing to consumers (myself included), but right now they’re just drifting about in limbo, reinforcing Nintendo’s apathy towards both digital distribution and the marriage of gaming and the online.
All of this does seem to smack of Nintendo not learning from mistakes (remember the delayed arrival of several important “Channels” on Wii?) and I think it’s a shame because Nintendo was saying all of the right things this time. Its promises to work better with other companies seemed more genuine this time (Miyamoto signaled a policy U-turn on 3rd party Ware titles when he told the Telegraph last week that “Nintendo is not looking to impose restrictions on third parties”) and concepts of more exciting and inspired games for the platform seemed to go beyond the limp-wristed vehicle of DSiWare. So why is Nintendo once again dropping the ball on the eShop?
Perhaps Nintendo just doesn’t believe that the eShop is a major fiscal avenue for either 3DS or the company. I would say that their years of apathy and reluctance towards the digital distribution platform (or simply making life easier for consumers who choose to battle on in spite of this) haven’t helped this situation, but if you want an example of the potential success of this gaming format then look no further than the PlayStation Store. (No, I’m serious.) It’s currently going down the tubes while the PlayStation Network tries to kick itself back into life following last month’s massive security breach and this has caused developers to break into wails of horror at lost revenue. According to Capcom, the fallout from online capability and the temporary closure of the PS Store could cost the company millions in revenue and there’s no guarantee that Sony will reimburse them.
Millions? That’s a lot of money, for sure, but I’d argue that it’s nothing compared to the potential revenue Nintendo is spraying up the wall by sitting on their hands over the eShop. In its mind, Nintendo launched the 3DS before the arrival of the eShop to minimize losses but if you ask me, the situation is the other way around.