The imminent launch of the eShop on the 3DS is eagerly anticipated, especially as it is arriving over two months after the launch of the device. Nintendo has gone to great effort to emphasise that the delay will be worth it, with assurances of compelling content and a high quality interface. There has been acknowledgement that the eShop’s predecessor, the DSi Shop, has areas that aren’t as optimised as they should be. What should Nintendo do with the eShop to avoid the same mistakes?
Perhaps it should be considered, when criticising short-comings in the DSi Shop, that this represents Nintendo’s first attempt at a digital content platform on a handheld. The Wii Shop had come first, but in the case of the DSi equivalent they were dealing with the limitations of the device. Despite these restrictions, most will agree that the overall user experience hasn’t hit the mark.
A major issue is the speed of the application. Whether this is due to hardware limitations or software issues, navigating around the DSi Shop can be a particularly slow, ponderous experience. This issue is accentuated by the structure and layout; when browsing game titles in a particular category only two are visible at a time, necessitating a number of slow progressions from page to page. If you know what game you want to download there are shortcuts and search options, but casually browsing the catalogue is not conducive to a relaxing experience. Even when you find games of interest, the information available is restricted to a product description alone, with no customer reviews or other information to inform your decision.
The overall layout, structure and performance of the DSi Shop are not its only issues. Although publishers of various sizes have been able to provide some terrific bite-sized gaming experiences, the file size limitation of 16MB has hampered developers, limiting the scope of titles and potentially stunting the potential of even the best releases. 16MB isn’t much to work with, so in some respects we should be grateful to have received as many enjoyable titles as we have. Finally, we have Nintendo Points, available in bulk purchases of at least 1000 and typically costing around £9; they are not the most popular fake currency to grace the gaming world.
The good news, in terms of the eShop, is that Nintendo has already identified these issues, with various assurances that the 3DS service will improve on these areas. It makes sense that, with significantly more powerful hardware, there is a greater opportunity for the eShop developers to pursue ideas and performance levels not possible on the DSi. To start with, it has been promised that the new shop will be significantly quicker, which is certainly good news. With functionality details of the new application now coming together, we should be pleased that this new platform should, with all of the new features, also provide a slicker experience.
By piecing together information from various interviews, as well as the spate of official Nintendo press releases, we do have ideas of what the new eShop will deliver. The browsing experience is said to be overhauled significantly, including a retail-like browsing experience. Smartphones may provide a good indication of how this should work, with App stores on platforms such as Android and Apple showing the way. It would certainly be an improvement if browsing categories is more dynamic; rather than working through page after page, the ability to scroll through products quickly with a flick of the stylus, for example, would be a step in the right direction.
The eShop will add an important dimension to the 3DS, allowing the device to reach its true potential.
Another promise that has been made is an improvement on the information available for each product. We’ve been told to expect the eShop to incorporate the kinds of information normally reserved for the Wii Channel, such as trailers, developer interviews, demos and customer review scores. We’d certainly like to see a format where you select a game, watch a trailer or gameplay footage, read user reviews and, hopefully, have quick and easy access to a demo of the title. As a whole that is quite a lot to ask for each new release, but these are the kind of features that will help to make the eShop appealing and exciting to gamers.
One change that has been confirmed for some time, and has brought joy to untold numbers of Nintendo fans, is that the eShop is dropping Nintendo Points in favour of cash transactions. Nintendo Points were problematic due to the bulk volume, where being 100 Points short of a download meant paying for an additional 1000. Cash cards are already on sale in some retailers, while units of cash can be purchased directly on the shop, but we would also like to have the option to pay for downloads on a one-by-one basis. We'd be disappointed if that opportunity isn't provided: surely paying for set units of cash, even in smaller denominations, is only slightly better than the Nintendo Points system?
There have also been suggestions that Nintendo will be far less stringent on file-size restrictions, which should make life easier for developers. We only have some, possibly misinterpreted, comments from Shigeru Miyamoto and rumours from developers to make us think this is a reality. If this is true, however, then it opens up terrific opportunities for downloadable projects. From a gaming perspective, it means that more and more of the best ‘indie’ titles may migrate to the platform, which may have previously missed the DSi Shop or WiiWare. It opens up more gaming options beyond 3DSWare, such as opportunities for retail DLC, with owners of games able to utilise the eShop to access extra content that is maybe not possible through other means. 3D video has been confirmed as a future part of the service; hopefully the opportunity to rent or buy movies, sports footage and television programmes will emerge.
Considering the horsepower of the 3DS, the ability to constantly expand memory with SD cards, and the unique opportunities of that magical 3D screen, the eShop could become a major player in handheld, downloadable gaming. While many of the features outlined above are confirmed by Nintendo, with others being hopeful speculation, our one major wish is that the eShop will add an important dimension to the 3DS, allowing the device to reach its true potential.
Are you excited by the eShop? What features and changes would you like Nintendo to include, or what games are you desperate to download and play? Let us know what you think!