With the UK launch of the 3DS looming on the horizon, Chris Kohler of Wired sat down with the man behind the third dimension, Hideki Konno, producer of the upcoming handheld firing questions at him specific to the automatic system update feature. If you’re a console owner, you can relate to the sometimes barrage of firmware upgrades, particularly on the PS3, that have altered the way we play with them significantly over the years. Nintendo could have a similar intent to reshape the 3DS as it ages with the first example coming in May with the addition of an eShop and web browser.
The last generation of Nintendo handhelds offered a clunky online multiplayer experience so this time around, the company are trying to position the 3DS more in line with current hardware by allowing the user to trade their friend code with others to then see what they’re up to and the games they’re playing. But that’s it. No chatting, no game invites no real communication at all. Konno hinted to Kohler that a messaging service may be headed in a later update: “We are going to be making updates to the system, and I think [text chat could be] something that would be really interesting to do.” I hope so or it would feel like the online functionality has been left unfinished. A crying shame when the system is full of such promise for a thriving online community. The fear of unwanted text messages or game request from those will ill-intent is a barrier that a little common sense can overcome.
One area that Nintendo lags behind all other systems is their approach to demos, or rather lack of. They flirted with the idea for WiiWare games a while back but only released a select few for a short amount of time. Similarly, the Nintendo channel offers a few DS downloadable demos which tend to generate a flurry of excitement from fans so the reluctance on Nintendo’s part is even more bizarre. But Konno argues whether or not demos are actually worthwhile. It’s not that they can’t be done on the system as he said entire games could be automatically sent to your 3DS. Konno simply isn’t sure whether they’re effective: “There are cases where people play a demo game and they’re satisfied with that play experience and they don’t buy the game. There are also times when they play a demo and think, ‘Wow, this is great, I’m going to buy this when I have the chance.’ So whether or not it’s an effective use of resources, I’m not sure.”
I think the key is making a good demo, one that teases your interest leaving you wanting more and not seemingly showing you everything the game has to offer. It’s true, a bad demo can be disastrous, take Hour of Victory on the Xbox 360 for example. That played terribly in demo for leaving gamers soured by the experience. But on the other hand, the necessity to include a demo version of every arcade game has helped those with decent tasters to go on and become profitable titles. A quality demo can be crucial and should really be the norm what with ever expanding game prices compared to the ever shrinking budgets of players.
Speaking of budgets, Konno was asked about the possibility of sales or reductions for games akin to that of Steam and the App Store with his response confirming Nintendo’s defiance of the flexible pricing scheme: “If what you’re coming up with [is something like] the Apple iTunes store, where people can freely set their prices, I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” adding, “Having a business model that allows for the prices to be driven down that low, as a developer it’s kind of scary because we want to protect our content, and the only way we can justify creating good content is if it makes business sense. It’s more than a pricing issue, it’s a company value. We want to compete with ideas, we want to surprise our consumer base.” I like the idea of competing with ideas rather than price tags but ultimately, price flexibility is what a large proportion of people would want. If you have a great idea that goes on sale for a week, it’s more likely to give a boost to sales than a crappy concept which is always cheap. At the moment, Nintendo are still in a strong position but with a market as fickle as that of video games, it could change rather quickly.