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Featherweight Champion

The lowly tech specs of the 3DS won't be a problem, but replicating the DS' success will be difficult.

Another factor is the looming appearance of the PSP2. Ordinarily, one might argue that the threat posed by Sony to Nintendo was relatively limited - after the PSP's relative drubbing at the DS' hands, which came in the wake of analysts happily predicting that Sony's entry to the handheld space was Nintendo's death knell, everyone has been wary of backing Sony's horses against Nintendo's.

However, as our interview with Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida at TGS last week revealed, Sony is no longer the company it once was. The firm is still proud of its technological achievements with the PSP - and while it may be overshadowed now by the iPhone 4's "Retina Display" and various OLED displays from rival firms, the system's huge, bright screen and sleek design lines are still very impressive, even five or six years down the line.

Alongside that pride in the platform, though, Sony now displays a real understanding of its problems. It was an engineer's console, not a developer's system - right from the outset it was designed to impress with hardware, under the assumption that the software would come later. It did - but it was a lot later than Sony might have hoped. The renaissance of the PSP thanks to the enormous success of titles like Monster Hunter would have done a lot more good to the firm had it arrived a few years earlier.

This time, Sony's approach will be different, and the first completely new hardware platform to be launched since the departure of Ken Kutaragi will be fascinating to observe. For Nintendo, it almost certainly represents a resurgent challenge from a rival which had been almost written off a few years ago. A Sony handheld console which managed to strike a balance between power, cost and ease of development - rather than simply going all-out for power and letting time take care of the rest - could be a formidable foe for the 3DS.

The final factor is something of a wildcard - the rise of social, networked gaming as a common pursuit among downstream gamers (the class of people who, according to research this week, happily play games while utterly rejecting the label of "gamer"). This is a movement which Apple is poised to take advantage of through a combination of a fully-featured web-browser for some games, and Apps which can replace Flash functionality for others (including, most obviously, Farmville).

Other devices, too, can take advantage of social games. Android, which is rapidly becoming the OS of choice for non-Apple smart phones, works perfectly happily with Flash, for example, which even gives the platform a leg-up on the iPhone. The potential also exists for consumers to slake their gaming thirsts on their laptops or work computers, rather than pulling out a handheld console on coffee breaks or during commuting time.

The reason that this factor is a wildcard is because it may be something Nintendo understands and is willing to exploit. The full functionality of the 3DS has yet to be discussed - a powerful web browser is something of a possibility, an open, Apple-style App Store a rather more remote one. Nintendo hasn't quite embraced online gaming in the past, but the 3DS could be a break with that tradition, in recognition that the same audience which it managed to tap with the DS is now heavily absorbed in social gaming experiences online.

None of these factors, of course, will matter to Nintendo's most loyal subjects, who are simply excited by the enormous potential of the 3DS and the glorious screenshots released thus far - and quite rightly so, of course. However, in the long term, I believe that a combination of these factors (and others I have no doubt failed to identify) will make this market into much more of an uphill struggle than Nintendo faced with the DS.

Nintendo's competitors are smarter and more organised, the attentions of its consumers more divided - the world has changed, and while the success of the 3DS platform is not really in question, the triumphant march of the DS will be a very tough act to follow.

If you work in the games industry and want more views, and up-to-date news relevant to your business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can find this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey


Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.


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