There’s been much fuss made recently about what to “do” about Nintendo as the company finds its footing in the dawn of the next-gen console era, and a time when everyone has a smartphone in their pockets.
I’ve previously made the (unpopular) argument that Nintendo may want to consider ceasing to make home consoles, focusing on making their beloved series multiplatform instead. I did, however, stop short of saying Nintendo should abandon their handheld devices, and start releasing Pokemon games as $2.99 iOS apps. The 3DS has been performing admirably as of late, as did the DS before it, and Nintendo seems to still have a handle on the handheld market after all these years.
But now, third party companies making games for the 3DS are wondering if the famous mobile “freemium” model might not work on Nintendo’s system as well as smartphones. Sega, in particular, is about to start a grand experiment with Initial D: Perfect Shift Online, a free-to-play racing game that uses microtransactions to encourage customers to spend money once they’ve started playing. Sega chief creative officer Toshihiro Nagoshi spoke about the idea with Famitsu (via Siliconera):
“We don’t intend to stop with this title, and after looking over its results, we’ll think about what to do next. However, unlike games for smartphones, I believe there’s a perfect shape of ways to do things, somewhere out there, for the Nintendo 3DS. I believe that finding it will be our challenge, and in many ways, Initial D will be our first step…We have suggestions amongst ourselves like ‘wouldn’t this be a perfect game for a F2P title on Nintendo 3DS’ and many more. “
The plan is to see if freemium games can work on the 3DS the way they do on mobile, which has exploded that gaming scene exponentially over the last few years. Nagoshi says it’s worth investigating as the 3DS is the most popular device in Japan after the smartphone.
There are two ways to look at this. Either this idea is a great way for Nintendo to compete with the massive smartphone market. It’s a hard sell asking people to pay $200+ for a device that only plays games, and $40 for some individual titles. Smartphones might be more expensive overall, but offer incredible functionality and hugely popular games that are dirt cheap.
But then, that’s the problem. If you start opening the 3DS up to a market that can be flooded with cheap games, quality is bound to take a nosedive. The 3DS is an alternative to smartphones because it offers a far richer gaming experience, hence the hefty individual price of games. If it simply opens up an “app store” in the traditional sense, it would just be another smartphone without even being a phone to boot. And add on Nintendo’s unstable relationship with the internet, and such a device seems fairly useless.
While I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a company like Sega to experiment with the model like they’re doing with Initial D, I don’t think it’s a direction the 3DS should move en masse. I can’t see a stubborn Nintendo ever offering free-to-play first party titles littered with microtransactions, and in this case, I think they would be right to be intransigent. They can’t lose what differentiates themselves from mobile, the high quality of their games only made possible because they’re not on sale for 99 cents.