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Ready for Launch • Page 2

The 3DS lands in Japanese consumers' hands this weekend, but how does Nintendo plan to keep its handhelds relevant?

In the long term, however, there is little question but that the 3DS faces a tougher competitive environment than its predecessor, and will struggle to attain the sales figures enjoyed by the DS in its heyday. The DS and PSP were the last generation of handheld consoles to launch before smartphones caught up with dedicated gaming platforms.

Mobile gaming advocates had noted for years that consumers were all carrying around perfectly capable portable gaming devices in their pockets, and that it was madness for them to carry a games console as well - but a combination of greed, short-sightedness and basic lack of understanding on the part of mobile phone manufacturers and network operators alike ensured that the DS got a clear run. It took the emergence of Apple and latterly Google as major players in the mobile space before phones became a viable gaming platform.

With that transition behind us, however, the landscape now looks very different. Consumers are spending uncounted millions of dollars on mobile content - much of it gaming or other entertainment content - and that competes directly for the budget which would previously have been spent on handheld gaming hardware and software. Loyal Nintendo consumers - by no means a small band - will of course prefer the 3DS experience, but the rapid evolution of mobile games is quickly making a mockery of the idea that mobile gaming experiences can't have the depth or longevity of a "real" handheld console game.

One major factor remains that distinguishes the 3DS from mobile platforms - 3D display aside, of course - is pricing. 3DS games will be significantly more expensive than mobile games, and it's common to hear developers describing the low price points of mobile games as a limiting factor in the evolution of that medium. If you can't charge $40 or $50 for a game, the argument goes, then it's impossible to create a massive, deep game with all of the development costs that are involved with that.

This is obviously true on some levels, and for the time being it's almost certain that developers working on large-scale projects will prefer the more traditional console platforms and business models. However, in the long term, there's no reason to assume that this status quo will remain. Developers are finding new ways of working on all platforms, and nowhere more so than mobile, which is perfectly suited to a business model focused on freemium or on charging for pieces of content individually rather than in a single massive transaction. Indeed, many developers are mulling over dusting off the old dream of episodic gaming now that the industry has a platform so well suited to it.

None of this rules out a successful future for the 3DS - it would be a foolish commentator indeed who placed a bet against Nintendo after the experience of the past decade. However, it's hard to see how the console will manage to replicate the success of the original DS - whose appeal, lest we forget, was largely founded in its ability to reach exactly the kind of mainstream audience that is most likely to find that an iPhone or Android device is perfectly suited to their gaming needs.

This weekend is Nintendo's, and the company's staff can happily raise a cup of sake to the inevitable success of their latest product launch - but when Nintendo goes back to work on Monday, it will have to start thinking very hard about the new challenges it faces and how it plans to keep the 3DS relevant and appealing in the years to come.

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