Early reports suggest retailers experienced stockouts of the Nintendo 3DS within 24 hours following the recent launch in Japan (selling nearly 400K units). While Nintendo has a strong following in its native country the launches in Europe and North America could very well have similar outcomes – this in light of a relatively weak launch title list and questions about the real value the glasses-free technology will add to the 3DS platform. But perhaps more importantly this comes at a time when some have questioned the long term prospects of a dedicated portable game player as mobile gaming continues to grow.
Coexistence of Portable and Mobile Gaming
While we have espoused in the past the likely continued demand for portable game players (e.g. from younger demographics and those who do not have a smartphone) it is also hard to argue the transition to mobile is not real and happening as we speak; Sony’s recent Xperia Play and PlayStation Suite announcements being just two such leading indicators of how this market is shifting. Although, at the same time the disparate strategies taken by Nintendo and Sony may also speak to those market segments where dedicated portable devices could have continued success, namely the young and casual gamers and the high-end.
In other words mobile gaming could fill in the “middle” ground with portable gaming satisfying the boundaries. Assuming this is the modus operandi for Sony and Nintendo for the coming years, Nintendo, perhaps more so than Sony due to its young and casual demographic will likely remain sheltered longer than Sony; hence Sony’s mixed product strategy (Xperia Play, PlayStation Suite, and mobile antenna built into some NGP models). With the rapid advancements (and shorter product cycles) in mobile hardware the Sony NGP’s hardware lead will also be contested sooner than what would have been true in the past. The future of these portable devices is also contingent upon extending the feature sets beyond gaming, which up until recently has been a mixed bag.
Media and Browsing
News leaked from Japan (although nothing official from ACCESS or Nintendo yet) suggesting the 3DS might get ACCESS’ NetFront browser sometime in 2011 – current Nintendo DS handhelds use Opera. The Sony PSP (and PS3) currently uses a version of ACCESS’ NetFront browser and more importantly is Flash-enabled (the Nintendo DS does not support Flash) – although the PSP is currently limited to Flash 6 (PS3 supports Flash 9). By reading a number of user forums it is clear that to some these limitations (either no Flash or older versions) are troublesome and detract from the browser. In addition experiences using both the current versions of the Opera browser (Nintendo DS) and ACCESS NetFront browser (PSP/PS3) on today’s portable game platforms have had mixed reviews and while it is easy to excuse these short comings as casualties of hardware constraints (in other words not necessarily the fault of ACCESS or Opera), the newer generation of portables will need to stand on equal (if not better) ground than some of the mobile device contemporaries for browsing to be deemed a valuable feature. The NGP is perhaps the best example where this next generation might stand toe-to-toe as it were, but we won’t know for sure until its launch draws closer and more details are released. In any event media sharing and browsing will be essential elements to a future portable gaming platform in order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving mobile/tablet markets.