Nintendo 3DS: The Facts About The Launch

We officially have all of the launch information, as well as some information that has come out afterwards, about the Nintendo 3DS. News items have been reported, dissected, re-reported, confirmed, retracted and changed. Finally, we have some solid information, and my goal is to list the relevant facts relating to the Nintendo 3DS launch, and have this be a one-place FAQ relating to the March 27th release.

The system is slated for release in North America on March 27th of 2011. Europe and Australia will be getting it two days earlier, on March 25th, and Japan will get the system first on February 26th. It will retail for $250 in the US, and Â¥25,000 (about $300 by current rates) in Japan. Europe doesn’t have a set price; Nintendo of Europe instead announced during their presser that the price would be left up to retailers, with various U.K. retailers alternating between £220 and £230 ($350 – $367). Keep that in mind the next time you complain that Europe’s getting the system two days early. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter has been critical of Nintendo’s price in North America, saying that they’ve left “money on the table” and could have charged more. Apparently, Mr. Pachter doesn’t understand that 1) Nintendo needs market penetration, and 2) they are usually loathe to drop prices, as proven by the Wii’s one (1) price reduction since release.

As mentioned last week, the 3DS will be region locked, with different versions of hardware for North America, Japan and the European markets. In addition to this, there have been conflicting reports to Eurogamer about the nature of the region lock. While the Nintendo statement stated the possibility of region locking on games, a separate interview with Nintendo PR had someone saying that all games would be region locked. Official reasons given by Nintendo of Europe’s David Yarnton for the region lock include issues with rating systems (something I’ve noted in the past, and which is understandable), whether DLC is possible in one region but not another (I didn’t know digital packets needed passports…) and that DVDs are also region locked (not only completely irrelevant to this issue, but a misnomer; the vast majority of DVD players available now are region free, though there are multiple DVD manufacturers, and exactly one Nintendo 3DS manufacturer). Push comes to shove, anyone who is insistent on importing is going to have to import the system as well.

In terms of going online, the system will utilize friend codes, but unlike the unwieldy system the DS has of one code per game, there will be one friend code per system. There will also be an internet browser and an online store for downloading games, demos and retro Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. There is conflicting information as to just when this will be available, however. An initial Wired report stated that Nintendo would add these features in post release via a firmware update, but then a PR rep told Eurogamer that while the initial firmware would not have browsing and e-store capabilities, they would be patched in via a zero-day firmware update. When Wired asked for confirmation on this from Nintendo of America, they were given the PR runaround, with NOA basically telling them nothing more than the fact that they would release more information later.

In Europe, the system will have a special SpotPass service that allows Sky 3D and Eurosport to provide streaming services to the system, not unlike similar applications one would see on an iPhone. There are no announced plans for a similar service in the United States, though Robert Workman of GamePlayBook agrees with me that this would be a great place for ESPN to step up; I also think Hulu should seriously consider this.

There will be some interesting features for the system in terms of trying to get players active. There is an activity log that will keep track of how many games are played, what games they are, and how long you played them. There’s also a pedometer in the system – much like the Pokewalker that came with Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver – that tracks how many steps you’ve taken with the system. Large numbers of steps will unlock Play Coins, which will be used to unlock items in compatible games. This combined with StreetPass – which allows gamers to put their systems in sleep mode and exchange information with passers-by (think tag mode in a game like Dragon Quest IX) – shows Nintendo’s dedication to making a system that is a social tool, in addition to a just being a system to play games on. It’s a novel approach, at the very least. Like the DSi, there’s also the option of loading music onto an SD card – the system comes with a 2GB card out of the box – and taking it with you, so at the very least, it can act as a somewhat clunky replacement for an iPod or iPhone.

Finally, we get to the games. Gamasutra has the full list of confirmed titles for the launch window, which is defined as the period of time between the system’s release and early June. The image in this paragraph is a document leaked from Gamestop (courtesy of GoNintendo) that shows prospective release dates; I have confirmed personally through multiple sources that the document and the SKUs within are accurate, though caution needs to be taken as these dates are unofficial. If these dates end up being accurate, it means that the majority of the big-name releases – Ocarina of Time 3D, Madden 3D, Mario Kart 3D and Kid Icarus 3D, among others – won’t be coming out until over two months after the system releases. People buying the system on day of release will essentially have Pilotwings Resort, Dead or Alive Dimensions, Samurai Warriors, Nintendogs + Cats, Super Street Fighter IV and a couple of packed-in games – Face Raiders and AR Games – that utilize specific system gimmicks.

Almost a week after the dual press conferences held in the U.K. and U.S., it’s astonishing how much we don’t know about the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo has proven once again that they are the Apple of the video game industry with their astounding ability to obscure information, control information, and double-talk, especially as shown by their unclear and contradictory statements regarding region locking and the online store. There are also numerous questions we don’t have answers to, and won’t have answers to until after release. How will the firmware process work? Is it as annoying as what we see on the PSP? Will it even be worth it? Will piracy bring this system to its knees the way it did for the DS? Are there any bugs that have to be worked out? What are the details of the DRM limits in regards to transferring data from one 3DS to another 3DS? The only thing Nintendo IS sure of is that demand is going to be stupidly high, and to make sure you preorder it if you want a prayer of getting one. Considering Nintendo’s history of intentionally shorting stock that dates all the way back to the Zelda II chip shortages, this is one thing they would be expert at.

I know quite a few people that either will be buying this on day-of-release, or will be getting one some other way. Sean Madson is getting one because he wants Zelda. Jon Widro is getting one because he’s a self-described fan of getting hardware on the first day. Lucard’s getting one early from Nintendo because he’s fuckin’ Lucard. The Notorious M.A.S. will be waiting until he’s no longer in New Zealand (and therefore stuck with the EU/AUS version), and a couple of others are on the fence. My advice to anyone that’s on the fence and wants it is this: wait a couple of months. Wait until the questions I’ve brought up – and even some I haven’t – have been addressed. Wait until you hear some user reviews of not only the launch games, but the hardware, the system’s online functionality, potential issues with piracy and/or cheating, etc. I admit I’m generally cautious about new kit – I almost never recommend a day one purchase for not only video game kit but also personal computers and other gadgets – but there’s other issues in addition to the questions I still have. As mentioned, all of the really good stuff looks like it’s coming out in June. I stress again that these dates are subject to change, but the Gamestop information is the most solid information we have at this point. Furthermore, there’s going to be a heavy push initially, and there’s almost guaranteed to be a shortage. I’m willing to bet, based on Nintendo’s recent history with the Wii, that there’s going to be stock available between July and September, because once October wears on, people are going to start sucking them up for Christmas. Personally speaking, I would aim for that period of time, though I’ll also have a better idea of just what the system’s got when I try out Madden 3D at an Electronic Arts event in less than a month. I’ll have actual impressions then, NDAs permitting.

EDIT ON 1/25/2011 AT 11:02PM EST: Ars Technica points out an interview that WIRED did with Bill Trinen, Nintendo’s senior manager of product marketing, in which Mr. Trinen states that purchases from the Nintendo 3DS will not be able to be transferred; once they’re bought, they’re on that system, and if something happens to that system you’re out of luck. This is similar to the (crappy) system the Nintendo DSi has. However, as Mr. Kuchera points out, this is in direct conflict with Nintendo’s own words on their own website:

System Transfer is a feature that enables you to transfer downloadable software already purchased on a Nintendo 3DS system to another Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo DSiWare games & applications purchased on a Nintendo DSi or a Nintendo DSi XL system also can be transferred to your Nintendo 3DS.* This function will be available after hardware launch.
*There is a limit to how many times transfers can be made. Some software may not be transferred. More Information Coming Soon

Once again, we have a conflicting report from a company that has long been notorious for conflicting reports and unclear internal mandates. Simply put, this is inexcusable on any level, no matter who’s right. If what Mr. Trinen says is correct, then people who purchase the 3DS need to think very long and very hard about purchasing DLC, games and other store items from the digital store. If he’s wrong, then Nintendo’s internal communication is completely and utterly broken.

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