Round Table: Let's Talk About a Year of 3DS

There's a lot to cover

This week we've been celebrating the one-year anniversary of 3DS, a landmark that finds the handheld in relatively good health. It's been a dramatic, at times traumatic beginning for the console, so some of the Nintendo Life team got together to talk about their experiences and opinions of the system's first year.

Joining features editor Thomas Whitehead are editor James Newton, assistant editor Mike Mason, downloads editor Corbie Dillard, community administrator and chat room overlord Desiree Turner, and contributors Dave Frear and Mark Reece. We discuss the system's launch, early problems, the infamous price drop and its current day status, without necessarily agreeing all of the time. We hope you'll find a comfortable seat and join us.

Thomas Whitehead: First things first, please introduce yourselves to our lovely readers.

James Newton: Hello everybody! My name is James Newton and I'm the editor of Nintendo Life. I like fine wine, fine food and games with talking animals.

Corbie Dillard: I'm Corbie Dillard, Downloads Editor for Nintendo Life and lover of all things Vita, err I mean Nintendo.

Dave Frear: I'm Dave Frear, aka that guy who reviewed the Virtual Boy games.

Mark Reece: I'm Mark Reece. I’ve written some features and reviews for Nintendo Life, both of which have been repeatedly described as "contentious".

Mike Mason: I'm Mike Mason, assistant editor of Nintendo Life, proud reviewer of such classics as 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix.

Desiree Turner: I'm Des, but most of you probably know me already as theblackdragon. I like rainbows, long walks on the beach, and enforcing our Community Rules with an iron fist.

Thomas Whitehead: And I'm Thomas, reviewer of more than 10 Successfully Learning DSiWare games. First question, when you first got hold of a 3DS, what grabbed your attention?

Mike Mason: Its 3D! To be completely unoriginal, the screen.

James Newton: Are we talking about when we first bought or when we first played one? Remember I touched one months before you guys.

Thomas Whitehead: First time is fine James, you show off.

Dave Frear: Yeah it was the 3D. I had been curious to see what the effect was like and spent quite a bit of time just looking at the games rather than playing them. I liked snapping away with the 3D camera too.

James Newton: I remember seeing the Resident Evil demo in 3D and knowing I was in the presence of the future. Seeing proper depth in Pilotwings Resort was just amazing.

Corbie Dillard: Well as some of you may remember, I was one of the first people on the planet outside of Nintendo to play the 3DS at E3, and I thought it was incredible, absolutely…well you get the idea.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the sheer depth of the display. I had built up a picture in my mind about how it might be, but it just blew me away at just how much depth there truly was. And seeing Ocarina of Time that night at the Developer's Roundtable was jaw dropping. Seeing a game I'd enjoyed for years, now with that incredible depth, made me so excited for what it could offer as far as a portable gaming experience.

Mark Reece: For me, aside from the 3D, it was the wealth of built-in software. I spent ages fiddling around with all the bits and pieces on there. Oh, and the Circle Pad, too: no more repeatedly and tentatively poking at a d-pad to negotiate a narrow ledge in Rayman!

Dave Frear: I thought Pilotwings was a good one for showing off the system to newcomers.

Mike Mason: Yeah, Pilotwings was one of the first things I played pre-release, too. It totally sold me on the system.

Thomas Whitehead: I went to a public preview event in Glasgow, and the demo I got to first was Ridge Racer. The 3D was so extraordinary I just drove into a wall.

Desiree Turner: I'm with Mark — to be honest, the home menu was what impressed me most at first! So many options, so many different things to mess around with. The DSi home menu is kind of bare-bones in comparison to all the things that were there when I first turned on my 3DS. I'm probably one of the few people who didn't buy it for the 3D!

James Newton: It’s interesting that nobody talks about Pilotwings now. At the time though it was really impressive, wasn't it? A game with a proper horizon and everything.

Mike Mason: It's still great, it's just that it only lasted about two hours...

Mark Reece: Am I the only person who found Pilotwings — 3D aside — underwhelming?

Desiree Turner: Pilotwings is kind of like the AR games — we messed around with them, and now we're on to other things.

Thomas Whitehead: Pilotwings would have been a good eShop launch title, to be perfectly honest, but was certainly eye-popping. When I had my own 3DS, I was also quite pleased with the operating system. It felt surprisingly modern, initially, by Nintendo standards.

Dave Frear: I skipped the DSi so I guess I was ready for more than just 3D in my upgraded handheld, but it was very impressive.

James Newton: Oh, and the AR games were amazing.

Dave Frear: They were but I don't think I've played them since the first day.

Mike Mason: Ha, I remember showing people the AR games and everybody gasped at their tables caving in.

Mark Reece: My brother loves putting lava on his kitchen worktops. Or something. To be honest, the AR games are the one thing on 3DS I've not really bothered with.

Thomas Whitehead: I often played AR games in 2D because of all the moving around. Anyone else do that?

Desiree Turner: I did, because the 3D hurts my eyes. I've turned on the 3D maybe a handful of times since I bought mine.

Dave Frear: The 3D in general is a pain if you lean ever so slightly out of the sweet spot.

Mark Reece: Same here, Des. Mostly because I'm partially sighted, and can't hold the 3DS that far away from me for too long. So I can play in 2D and see what I'm doing, or be impressed by 3D and drive into a wall, Tom-style.

Desiree Turner: Tom isn't that bad at MK7, I've raced him a few times!

Dave Frear: I crank the 3D up to full. I'm hardcore! Or something...

Thomas Whitehead: Our head-to-head is heavily in your favour, Des! So, a bit of variation in early experiences, overall. When the console launched and had issues with a lacking software library, low sales etc, how did you think it would turn out for Nintendo at the time?

Corbie Dillard: I knew it would only be a matter of time before it took off. It's pretty clear that Nintendo rushed the 3DS out the door, so the lack of games after launch was no real shock to me. And once the inevitable price drop came, along with the top tier first-party titles we knew were coming during the holiday season, it was smooth sailing from there on out.

I thought then that a price drop was a possibility, but I didn't expect it so soon. I thought it would be closer to the Vita launch.

Desiree Turner: I figured it'd be the same as it was for the DSi — a long wait, though the 3DS was guaranteed a nice full library eventually.

James Newton: I remember getting my 3DS at launch and thinking "this is great!" and putting it aside for about three months... I love it to bits now, but at the time I thought it would struggle. It's certainly turned around!

Dave Frear: To begin with I didn't worry. The lack of eShop was annoying but I knew it was on the way, same with big name games. After a while though I did think 'I thought it would be doing better than this'. I thought then then a price drop was a possibility, but I didn't expect it so soon. I thought it would be closer to the Vita launch.

Desiree Turner: The DS had quite a few good games out at the time, though, so I was able to finish up Okamiden (yay circle pad!), Radiant Historia and others in the meantime.

Mike Mason: I was pretty optimistic about it. I knew Nintendo would turn it around, you don't let a few setbacks take you down after you've ran a market for two decades. There were a few jitters, but on the whole I figured Nintendo would sort it out.

Dave Frear: I think some people saw the good regular DS games, not much on the 3DS and decided the upgrade wasn't worth the expense.

Thomas Whitehead: I was concerned that the problems would lose Iwata his job. A strange priority I know, but I admire his vision and conviction, and wanted him to stay at the helm.

Mike Mason: Ah yes, I felt the same way, Tom. I didn't want to see Iwata go!

James Newton: I should imagine Iwata had some very tense conversations over the summer of 2011...

Desiree Turner: Something as amazing and innovative as the 3DS, though, I don't see Nintendo allowing Iwata to take the company down like that. They already had the new-handheld blunder with the Virtual Boy (it was technically a portable...), they wouldn't allow it to happen again!

Mark Reece: I bought my 3DS with Pilotwings and Rayman, neither of which blew me away. I then didn't buy anything until Ocarina of Time 3D... then Star Fox 64 3D... then Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Couple that with the late arrival of the eShop, and from March until November, I was thinking, "Nintendo might actually mess this up".

Obviously now, things are running a lot smoother. But there was a time when I was genuinely worried that I'd spent £200 on something that would be obsolete in a year.

Mike Mason: Despite my optimism, I have to say I didn't really play the thing for a few months after launch.

Thomas Whitehead: You made a good point earlier about the brand and the sense of ‘upgrading’, Dave. Do you guys think sticking a ‘3’ in the name confused people in the early days, particularly with the slow start in software?

Mike Mason: The name remains a mistake. It sounds good, but it's confusing. I think Nintendo liked its word play a little too much and couldn't let it go.

Mark Reece: The "3" was no doubt confusing. Peoples' attention would naturally be drawn to the "DS", as opposed to the "3D". I imagine many people wondered why they should bother with it.

Dave Frear: I do think some people thought it was just a DS but with a 3D effect applied, and that maybe 3DS games would still work on their existing system, albeit in 2D.

A lot of people also didn't seem to care about the 3D. At one point the adverts started to mention it less and I think Nintendo wished it had been called the DS3 instead.

Corbie Dillard: I think anytime you put the name of the previous game system in the new title, you're leaving yourself open to the possibility of consumers automatically assuming it's just a minor upgrade. But by the same token, I know once people got a chance to see the system and what it could do in person, the assumption of it being just a small step up from the DS would quickly dissipate.

I think anytime you put the name of the previous game system in the new title, you're leaving yourself open to the possibility of consumers automatically assuming it's just a minor upgrade.

Desiree Turner: To be absolutely honest, what else would they have called it?

James Newton: NINTENDO OMNIBOX.

Desiree Turner: I'm having a hard time coming up with something that doesn't sound like what James just said!

Mike Mason: 3Dii?

Mark Reece: DS3D?

Thomas Whitehead: Mark mentioned a concern about a £200 handheld failing and becoming obsolete. How much did the price drop and big game releases turn it around later in the year? Or to put it another way, would the device have enjoyed a turnaround with the big games and its original price?

James Newton: I think Mario Kart and Super Mario 3D Land would have sold a £200 3DS no problem. People love those games.

Mark Reece: Personally, if Nintendo delivers the goods, then I'll buy the games. More Mario, Zelda, etc was why I bought the 3DS, and why many consumers would have splashed the cash. I'm not sure if even some of the big-hitters would have enjoyed nearly as much success had the 3DS not had its price slashed though. Weren't software and hardware sales pretty dismal up until that point?

Mike Mason: Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land were critical going into that holiday period, but I think the system could have used them far closer to launch and they would have done just fine. The slowing down post-launch might not have happened if they'd come a little sooner.

James Newton: It's telling that Zelda is yet to top 1m sales in the US but SM3DL and MK7 are both well past that point. I imagine the price has something to do with that...

Thomas Whitehead: Good point that, so both were perhaps needed, price drop AND games.

Mark Reece: I agree with Mike. A quick barrage of Zelda, Star Fox, Mario 3D, MK7 in the summer drought period would have been a great help in the 3DS' early struggle for sales.

Dave Frear: I think the big games would have still sold well but the price drop enticed a bunch of people who would have waited a few years before maybe picking a 3DS up.

Corbie Dillard: I think the price drop, in conjunction with the big name Nintendo titles, were a great combination. While I have no doubt Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 would have boosted sales of the system quite a bit, I don't think it would have exploded quite the way it did without the rather radical price drop.

Let's face it, dropping the price of the 3DS less than 6 months after its launch, not to mention by one third, was a mammoth drop and a far cry from the way Nintendo normally carries out pricing on its hardware. But I think Nintendo knew it needed to do something to kick start the system's sales, and it worked like a charm.

Desiree Turner: Nintendo also had bigger fish to fry at that time — with Vita around the corner, they were looking to get that install base up. Those games (and others afterward, and still to come yet) would've sold a full-price 3DS easy, but with the price drop too, I'd imagine they sold much more that way than they would've without the drop.

Mike Mason: I don't think the price was even the biggest problem. Sure, dropping the price helped to turn the fortunes around, but the biggest issue was really the lack of big, system selling titles. The system sold well at its initial price point, people just stopped buying because the games didn't keep coming in the first few months.

Thomas Whitehead: I don't recall huge sales after the initial drop, just an increase. It was really the two Mario titles that truly set it off. I don't think the drop had a huge instant impact, but statistics may prove me wrong.

Let's talk about Nintendo's updates, which tied in with game releases and the price drop, in a sense. How important have the new features and apps been to existing and new 3DS owners, in terms of the device's value?

Corbie Dillard: While I should be ashamed of myself, I pay little attention to the system updates and what new features they bring. The updates are pretty much only a means to an end for me as they are typically necessary in order for me to play games on the system, which is about the only thing I do with it. I don't use the apps on it and I seldom even peruse the system menu other than to quickly select the game I want to play or download.

Having said that, just from seeing posts from fellow 3DS users on the internet, it's clear that many consumers do put quite a bit of stock in the apps and updates, so I think it's important for Nintendo to keep adding new twists to the system, especially as they continue to bring in new 3DS owners.

Desiree Turner: They pull us back in for a few days, and then we set the 3DS aside again, still waiting for the games we want (unless there's a game we're currently playing, of course).

Mark Reece: They've certainly added value for money, considering whenever Nintendo releases a new app or feature for 3DS, it invariably comes free of charge. Imagine how impressed you were at how much pre-loaded stuff there was on 3DS at launch: now imagine being a new 3DS owner now and being presented with all this cool free stuff.

Dave Frear: Like Des I don't bother with them much. I've liked some of the shorts on the video channel but I wish they were doing more with it.

James Newton: I like having the icons on my 3DS menu more than I like using them.

Desiree Turner: Ditto!

Mark Reece: I like arranging them into categories. I'm obsessive like that.

Mike Mason: I'm very obsessive with my icons, they're in groups!

Desiree Turner: I put the ones I don't use on the second page, and I rearrange my games according to which ones I'm currently playing.

Dave Frear: I'm always reorganising but for some reason I keep the ones I don't use on the first page.

Mark Reece: I arrange them by DSiWare, 3DSWare, app, etc.

Thomas Whitehead: Let’s not talk too much about the excitement of icon organisation!