With the Switch coming out in just a couple of months, it seems that Nintendo is truly committing to a future in which it invests in just one platform that fulfils the needs of both portable and home console gamers (though it should be noted that it's pitched primarily as a home console at present). Obviously, the Wii U is getting the axe; it's ceased production, and development has all but halted for the console. An ignoble end for the ill-fated device to be sure, but a larger question now remains - what about the 3DS?
The 3DS is going on six years old now, and it certainly is beginning to show its age, but it seems as though Nintendo is keen on keeping it around. From a first-party standpoint we have games such as Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Fire Emblem Warriors (on New 3DS), and Pikmin to look forward to over the coming months, and that's not even counting the eShop and all the third-parties and indies that regularly contribute to it. If Nintendo's planning on pulling the plug on 3DS, it certainly doesn't seem to be in a hurry to do so. But then again, why would it?
Unlike the Wii U, the 3DS is in rude health; it's not a console on the decline right now, and in fact it's currently firing on all cylinders. Last month, Pokémon Sun and Moon continued breaking sales records for both its own series and all Nintendo software as a whole, and 3DS hardware sales in the latter half of 2016 (buoyed initially by Pokémon GO, as one factor) were up on the equivalent numbers from 2015. Though it hasn't been all sunshine and roses the whole time, the last six years have turned out well for the 3DS; the console has slowly amassed a diverse stable of excellent games spanning just about any genre that you could name.
Of course, the 3DS is beginning to show its age — there's a reason that some developers are increasingly taking advantage of the extra memory workarounds on the New 3DS. Hyrule Warriors Legends ran at a rather unfortunate performance level on the older model 3DS, and games such as Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Pokémon Sun and Moon can only run on the older models when just about all internal resources are being allocated to ensuring they run smoothly. The New 3DS is the obvious solution to this, but even that extra horsepower is a temporary solution to a larger problem. Nintendo's about to put out a device capable of portable gaming the likes of which the dedicated gaming market has never seen, and while it may be that it doesn't fit in your pocket, it'll still be attractive to developers - the 3DS will rely on factors such as its sizable userbase to attract fresh projects.
This puts Nintendo in an interesting position; it's got a device that — even in its advanced age — is showing signs of growth, but the hardware itself is becoming more and more obsolete by the day. It takes resources to keep the platform alive — resources which may have greater effect when put into use on the Switch — so it begs the question: how long should Nintendo keep the 3DS around? At what point does it make more sense to fully commit to the one platform mantra encouraged by the Switch? It's inevitable that the 3DS will be put out to pasture sooner or later, but despite question marks we suspect it'll still be 'later'.
When you really look at how the Switch is being marketed, it doesn't seem to be a replacement for the 3DS. The Switch is an expensive home console that you can also take with you if you so choose, while the 3DS is still very much the "pure" portable experience. There's room, then, for the 3DS to be positioned as a budget console for those who would rather not stump up the somewhat inflated cost of the Switch. Production costs for the 3DS have dropped over the years, allowing Nintendo - in theory - to drop the price considerably from the initial offering and still turn a decent profit.
While the hardware may not quite be able to keep pace with modern game development, it has an extremely strong library of games from over the years. A potential buyer put off by the costs of the Switch may find the 3DS to be a much more attractive option then; it has a lower barrier to entry, financially speaking, and there are more excellent games available than a first-time adopter will ever have time to play through. For the same price as a Switch and one retail game, you could buy a 3DS with five to ten games, and while the two obviously offer different experiences, it's tough to deny that there's still appeal there.
Of course, we'll have to see whether or not Nintendo actually chooses to give the 3DS system a boost. Those infamous stock shortages over Black Friday and beyond certainly seemed to indicate that the company is in no hurry to get units out the door, as it could've easily made many more sales if supply was on par with demand. Considering that there also hasn't been a true formal price cut for the New 3DS (and it doesn't appear that one is coming right now), it seems almost as if Nintendo is just looking at things in the short term. After the hype around Pokémon Sun and Moon inevitably dies down, there'll need to be more incentive for consumers to pick up a 3DS when there's an improved alternative next to it on shelves. This just ties back to the budget console idea, then; if Nintendo drops the price of the 3DS and keeps stock at reasonable levels after the Switch comes out, the 3DS will likely still remain a strong — if somewhat diminished — contributor to the company's bottom line.
It'll be interesting to see, then, what Nintendo chooses to do with the 3DS. For now, the console isn't going anywhere, but perhaps Nintendo could even have longer-term plans. The New 3DS certainly gives the console another year or two, but beyond that, who's to say Nintendo won't put out a successor that comes in at a similar price point? Rather than a future with simply one Nintendo device, perhaps we're looking at one in which there's two portable options; one device is a home console that has portable functionality, while the other is much cheaper and intended solely for portable use.
Either way, Nintendo has done an excellent job over the years of bringing the 3DS out of its initial slump, and the fact that it's lasted this long and done so well shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.