Mobile Gaming vs Portable Games Consoles: the case for Nintendo 3DS

On 25th March 2011 Nintendo launched in Europe the new Nintendo 3DS games console. One of the most interesting features of the 3DS is the inclusion of Augmented Reality (AR) – an exciting development that is starting to make a significant impact on the mobile. Will this open a new season for Portable Games Consoles as opposed to Mobile Gaming?

A recent article by Daniel Ashdown from Juniper Research pointed out some interesting issues related to the new console.

AR appears to be having a bigger impact on portable games consoles than it has had so far on mobile games, Ashdown comments, given the fact that AR is its biggest selling point on the former, whilst it remains very much an emerging technology on the latter, particularly in games. The initial shipment of 400,000 has already sold out in Japan, while 500.000 were sold in the first five days in the US, although sales have fallen worryingly slowed since then. However, in a matter of weeks this is – according to their research – notably more than the number of mobile users of AR games in the entirety of 2010. Augmented Reality and high sales are a plus for Nintendo device, but is this portable games console versatile enough to keep sales high?

AR on the 3DS works as it does on smartphones such as iOS and Android devices. Like these mobile devices, it includes a 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, which can be used to track the movement and position of the device respectively. Unlike its mobile cousins though, the 3DS has two rear-facing cameras (as opposed to one) which enable stereoscopic 3D (as opposed to 2D), though  like mobile AR games, users point the console’s rear-facing cameras at a paper print-out which the device reads.  This enables the overlaying – or, augmenting – of the game’s reality over the user’s.

No need to say that AR on the Nintendo 3DS is really great, but one of the main concerns, that extends to any portable games console in general, is the positioning within the market. A key factor behind the smartphone success is the fact that this type of device is many things to many people, also allowing to download from a wide range of apps over-the-air. A smartphone today can be a portable games console, a telephone, a camera, an email client, an internet browser. It can be media player used to listen to music or to watch a video, and it also does many other things by means of the tons of apps available.

The 3DS’s other features are more limited and of lesser quality than smartphones: the iPhone 4’s rear-facing camera is 5.0MP compared to 0.3MP on the 3DS. There is no App store available. Finally, the facility to browse the Internet is not currently included, and when it is, connectivity is limited to WiFi.

In sum, according to Daniel Ashdown, the pricing of games, ubiquity and scope of features of the mobile handset makes it a more appealing device than the 3DS for a large basin of users. The risk for portable games consoles, therefore, is not being as versatile as they should be to compete with smartphones.

This post is also available in: Italian