Yesterday, I polled the Gamnesia audience to see what you think of the New Nintendo 3DS, and if you think it’s a good move for Nintendo. There were quite a few comments lamenting the move, but they appear to be a vocal minority as the “Yes” votes won with ease. I cast an “Other” vote myself, because although I’m personally excited at the thought of getting my hands on the improved model, I believe this could wind up being a poor business decision for the Big N in the long run. New Nintendo 3DS has the potential to confuse a lot of customers, both old and new.
The first concern about New Nintendo 3DS that jumps out at me is that it will likely lead to major brand confusion for potential customers. The DS family sold a combined 154 million units, while 3DS and its spin-offs have sold 44 million to date. That’s a gap of 110 million, which means there’s still an enormous amount of potential customers for 3DS. Obviously, that 110 million does not accurately represent the exact number of customers (many people bought more than one DS during its life, and the same is true of 3DS), but even a modest estimate of just less than half of that number comes out to 50 million people who bought a DS but have not yet bought a 3DS.
Many of these customers who have not yet made the upgrade are not the ultra-dedicated type that keeps up to date with all of Nintendo’s announcements. When they walk into a store looking to pick up “that new Nintendo DS thing,” they will be greeted with a shelf that includes 2DS, 3DS, 3DS XL, New Nintendo 3DS, and New Nintendo 3DS XL, and they are going to be confused as hell as to which system has what features and plays which games. Game-specific retail stores like GameStop might be able to make this process smoother for them, but these are the kinds of consumers who are more likely to go to a general retailer like Walmart.
Some of you have joked in the comments that you’ll soon be able buy a “used New Nintendo 3DS” or that sales people won’t know whether you mean a new 3DS or a “New Nintendo 3DS,” but all jokes aside, it really is looking like a potential branding nightmare, and it looks like Nintendo hasn’t learned much from the problems caused by the Wii U brand name.
The problem of confusion isn’t exclusive to new customers and casual (for lack of a better word) customers either. A lot of longtime dedicated Nintendo fans are scratching their heads right now as well. Nintendo is treating this as a new model (not a new console), but they are also working on exclusive games for New Nintendo 3DS that won’t play on a regular 3DS, and that sends mixed signals. Will the development focus going forward be geared towards 3DS or New Nintendo 3DS?
If only a select few games are made for New Nintendo 3DS, there’s less incentive for people to make the upgrade, and the exclusive games made for the device will have a very small install base leading to very low sales figures. However, if Nintendo supports New Nintendo 3DS with a steady lineup of new games and begins to make it their central focus, it’s not going to sit well with many of the millions of people who already bought a 3DS (and possibly a 3DS XL as well) and now must buy a new model if they want to play the next game in their favorite franchises. Nintendo is no stranger to releasing new models, but supporting a new model with lots of exclusives would be a vastly different scenario than the upgrade from a Game Boy Advance to an SP. If that ends up being the case, it discourages dedicated fans from buying Nintendo’s next handheld at launch. Will they release a new model that makes the day one purchase obsolete again?
I believe it’s in Nintendo’s best interests to be as clear and straightforward as they can about New Nintendo 3DS going forward. If this will take over as the company’s main handheld focus, they should convey that message to the general public so they understand the situation. If not, customers will want to know that as well so that they don’t feel like they’ve been cheated if they make the upgrade expecting lots of exclusives and don’t get them. In either case, the “New Nintendo 3DS” name should be changed to something less confusing for those who don’t keep up with each and every news update from Nintendo. I’m excited for this new and improved version of my favorite handheld, but it’s absolutely crucial that Nintendo takes big steps to avoid making this a more confusing transition than it needs to be.