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What's so confusing about the Nintendo 2DS?
by Christian Nutt on 08/29/13 12:35:00 pm   Editor Blog   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


So yesterday Nintendo announced the Nintendo 2DS -- a rugged 2D-only, non-folding 3DS with a really attractive price point ($129.99 vs. $169.99 for the 3DS and $199.99 for the 3DS XL).

The name is not great. We can all agree on that. The company painted itself into a corner with the name of the Nintendo 3DS, of course. What seemed clever at the time (3D + DS) turned out to be confusing to consumers (is it the DS, just in 3D?).

The problem being, of course, that if you take the 3D out of the 3DS, you have to take the 3D out of its name, too. Oh, dear. I've seen a GameStop clerk struggle to explain the distinction between the DS and the 3DS to a confused parent. Maybe she didn't even understand it herself. Adding more confusion to the equation isn't likely a great idea.

So, yes, brand confusion, a major affliction at Nintendo of late. That I will not just concede, but am openly critical of.

Beyond its name, though, I can't see anything to complain about or criticize with the 2DS. You have to understand what the purpose of the unit is, and why it is the way it is.

It's pretty simple.

The entire point of the design of the 2DS is to make a sturdy but cheap-to-manufacture console that the company can sell in the Western mass market to kids (and, critically, their parents.)

While Nintendo's Scott Moffitt calls its launch alongside Pokémon X & Y "coincidental" in this interview, he's right only in the sense that the console wasn't made specifically and only to sell alongside that game on that day. But at the same time, the implications of the dual launch cannot be ignored.

For parents: Here is a cheap way to get your kids Pokémon. For Nintendo: Here is a way to get the next generation of Pokémon to more kids.

In many ways, the 2DS is Nintendo working backwards, and this seems really weird to gadget-head, tech-obsessed gamers. But bros… I have to tell you. You are not the target audience for this thing. Stop trying to wrap your head around it as though it's a potential purchase.

You have to think back to the Game Boy Advance generation to really get it. This is like the GBA to GBA SP transition, but in reverse. The original iteration of the hardware was sturdy and plasticy and kid-friendly (and cheap).

The SP revision was slick and metallic, and its lighted screen aimed at the large hardcore audience that the system had attracted (which, by the way, was pretty much the first time a Nintendo portable had done so -- the Game Boy Color was at best simply ignored by the enthusiast press of the 1990s).

The GBA and GBA SP were sold alongside each other at retail: two choices, two audiences.

The 3DS has a fantastic software lineup -- who can argue? -- but it's pretty expensive as a gift for a kid, there's that scary warning that 3D is only safe for ages 7 and up on the box of every game, and the clamshell hinge is a bit fragile for a system that kids are carrying and tossing around.

I don't know if you remember the U.S. Super Nintendo, but you could throw that thing off of a moving truck and it would keep working.

So the company removes everything that makes the 3DS more expensive to manufacture: the hinge, the 3D screen, even a speaker -- while keeping everything really important to its functionality (wifi, SD card, dual screens, stylus). You can still buy games from the eShop, play multiplayer, and StreetPass.

And I would bet you a very pricey Starbucks latte that the fact that the two screens are really a single panel split by a plastic bezel, again, goes to reducing manufacturing costs -- overall, aside from losing the expensive 3D screen, simplifying the manufacturing process is my very slightly educated guess about what makes this one so much cheaper for Nintendo to make.  

As for the fact it doesn't fold anymore, the last time I checked (and I'm not a parent, so feel free to call me on this one) kids didn't really shove stuff in pockets so much as carry it around with them in bags or cases. As far as I recall, too, Nintendo had plenty of success with and few complaints about non-folding portable systems from 1989 - 2003.

Reggie Fils-Aime told IGN that Nintendo hopes to capture kids younger than 7 -- the earliest recommended age for 3D play -- with the 2DS. Guess what? Everybody who's on Facebook has read a million updates about how their kids know how to use tablets and smartphones by 2 years old these days. Does that really seem like a dumb move to you, to try to capture even a slice of that market? 

The 2DS is rugged, cheap -- Fils-Aime told Kotaku that it's got a slim profitability margin, but hey, slim is much better than none, right? -- and expands the audience to more kids and their value-conscious parents (of which there are a lot in the U.S.). And as a side benefit, it might even appeal to a swath of hardcore gamers for whom the 3DS is still too expensive or unattractive (for what it's worth, I talked to a friend last night who said he's been waiting for a version of the system where he didn't have to pay a premium for a 3D display he wouldn't use. Well, here it is).

So yeah. Why is this a bad idea again? I don't know how well it's going to work (my gut says: really well, if the name thing isn't too damn confusing) but that's just my gut. But I find it hard to argue that this is bad move on any level.

Again, stop thinking of this as a downgraded 3DS you don't want to buy and start thinking about it as a starter 3DS kids and parents might end up buying.

Sure, you can ask a more fundamental question: Whether parents even want to buy $40 cartridges for kids anymore. That's a valid question. Certainly the bottom has completely fallen out of the Nintendo platform shovelware market, which of course says something loud and clear. But there's plenty of great games for kids on the system already.

Nintendo's strength is its own software, and it has figured out a way to deliver a device that makes its premium-priced software significantly more attainable. Now it's up for the market to show us if that's going to work.

It's impossible to argue that tablets aren't encroaching on Nintendo's kid-oriented business. Kids' apps generate lots of money on mobile devices. It's also difficult to argue, I think, what effect this move will have -- how big of a wave it will create. But what it can do is make Nintendo's 3DS platform into a broader, more sustainable business. Maybe the company can never climb as high as it once did in the West -- because times have changed.

The 2DS is not an attempt to fundamentally change the game -- console cycles only allow for that if you cut them off at the knees. But there's a difference between a difficult battle and a pointless one, and from that perspective the 2DS seems like a smart move, particularly in the middle of a generation that's overall going well for the company.

Remember, before the GBA, Nintendo's handheld platforms were plasticy bricks for kids. This is a return to form.

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E Zachary Knight
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As a long time Gameboy fan and a parent of 5 young kids who love handheld gaming, I am certainly the target for this device. I have had a DS for a couple of years and it always makes me cringe when my kids play it because they really stress the hinges. That and the price were two main reasons why I have not upgraded to the 3DS. The 2DS puts that generational upgrade right in my reach.

Ronald Johnson
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I have 6 kids, myself, and I'm right there with you. While only the oldest 3 have a DS at the moment, I want to upgrade the older two and hand down their old DS to the next two in line without one (our 5 and 6 year olds), but I wouldn't do it with the 3DS, I just couldn't justify the cost, just yet (so we settled for more console games and a Leap pad for the little guys, last year).

This Christmas will see a couple of happy kiddos (the younger two) and the older ones are getting a next gen console (well, I am, they're just along for the ride).

James Yee
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I too am the target audience with both of mine (5 and 1) still well below the 3DS age limit of 7 (and honestly I always thought it was 8) yet my daughter uses my old 1st Gen iPad all the bloody time. It'd be nice to have a more rugged, less expensive, game specific device that she could call "hers."

Plus it comes in Red and Purplish Blue so two colors she likes.

So yeah, well played Nintendo. This is the first time I've been interested in one of their products since... the slimmer DS actually... :|

Ian Fisch
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I agree with everything in this article. Software is king and price is queen. If Nintendo can offer the same software on a cheaper platform, then more power to them.

It sucks that 3d is getting the heave-ho as I actually think it really helps in 3d platformers, but I guess that's the way it is.

Bob Johnson
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Very clear concise write up. Bravo!

Jay N
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Actually, I think the name is pretty awesome. It's clear from the get-go that you're not getting 3D, which then puts that functionality at a premium. Nintendo are of course aware of the naming confusing between the DS and 3DS in the past, and in a way, the 2DS kind of fills the void between the names – DS to 2DS to 3DS. Brilliant!

An added bonus for Nintendo is that it is now free to continue to manufacture the 3DS without completely redesigning it or dropping its price this year around. Yearly product updates are usually not easy to sell in a saturated market, unless they offer better performing hardware (like smart phones do, but which handhelds usually don't).

Loren H
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When you put it like that (DS to 2ds to 3ds), it actually kinda makes some sense.

However, the DS brand name already implies that it has 2 screens, so putting a 2 in front of DS just seems redundant and also makes it sound like a previous system. Not only that, but it's technically very similar to a 3ds just minus the 3d bit. Which I think will be confusing to parents, because they'll think they need to go find "2ds" games, when in reality all the 3ds games will work just fine on the 2ds apparently.

Jay N
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Yeah, there might be some initial confusion, but I fully expect 3DS games from now on to carry a label saying they're compatible with the 2DS as well, starting with Pokémon X and Y. That, and a bit of employee training, should smooth over the worst of it.

My biggest gripe is the 2DS screen size being that of the original 3DS, not the 3DS XL, but I guess that leaves the door open for a 2DS XL variant in the future...

And looking at Nintendo Europe's factsheet, they're already positioning the 2DS as I imagined they would (to the left of 3DS and 3DS XL):

Marc Schaerer
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I like the announcement and the idea.
But really, this design will be an even worse pain in the hand than the normal 3DS (I upgraded to a 3DS due to the pain it causes when using L and R for an extended amount of time) aside of the strange way to look at it due to the two screens no longer being 'at least as high above ground as your hands', forcing you to stress your neck even worse or hold up the device more.

I truely hope though that if they have that much space and no 3D screen, that the battery life finally is back to nintendo standards. Cause a 3rd device in a row with 'PSP style crap' battery life is not gonna work well in days where even my 13" notebook pushes beyond the 10h boundary, while Super Mario Bros 2 kills my 3DS XL in half of that while having infinitely less pixels and hardware capabilities (aka no excuse to have such horrible battery life at its nearly 260 USD here in europe)

Loren H
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That was well said and I see your point about it being for kids (which is rather obvious anyway), but I personally still think "why not just get a 3ds and turn the slider down?"

Then again, I don't have any kids so I don't know how rough they can be on handhelds. I guess your point about the hinge (and the fact that this is a cheaper alternative to the 3ds) is what this console really has going for it.

I've been thinking about getting a 3ds, but this new 2ds isn't changing my opinion because personally, I like the clam shell design of the 3ds and even though I'm not enthusiastic about the 3d part of the console, I can easily just turn the effect off. I also personally really think the design of this 2ds is really goofy looking.

I guess your article has changed my opinion a bit on this handheld and I can see it's value for parents with young kids, but the one thing I think we can all agree on is the name is terrible and will cause brand confusion. I don't know what to call it though.

Johan Wendin
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" I don't have any kids so I don't know how rough they can be on handhelds".

Anything that can break, will break. :-) That clamshell hinge was begging to be bent the wrong way around.

Bob Johnson
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What i want to see is a 3d glasses 3ds model so I can better enjoy 3d at home. :)

Frank DAngelo
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I'm not a fan of the 3D gaming, and the 3D on the 3DS especially hurts my eyes. I haven't played a single game yet with the 3D on. At $70 less, I would gladly pick this up if I didn't already own the 3DS. I think this is great honestly, there are lots of people that don't want the 3D, so now they get to play all the great 3DS titles at a fraction of the entry cost. I only wish this had a folding design like the DS/3DS, but it will sell like hotcakes.

Gord Cooper
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I think there's going to be a lot of 'As I parent... [approval]' and 'This is two steps backwards [not a parent]' in this thread. The system itself is polarizing at that level.

That being said, as a parent of 3, with my oldest learning to play some of the educational games on the DS, I think this is awesome. Definitely worth looking into.

Thomas Happ
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This was yet another case where I watched the internet overreact to something that just doesn't seem either horribly bad or wonderfully good. The only noteworthy aspect, I thought, was the reaction, not the product. Does this happen in other industries? "Just in: Toyota Releases Two Wheel Drive SUV, calls it 2Runner. ZOMG Everyone flip out!"

Michael Wenk
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All the points in here make sense. But what confuses the hell out of me is that Nintendo basically bet the whole portable vs mobile space on 3d. So for them to take it out, to me concedes defeat. If I'm buying a kid a generic device, or my kid is getting a generic device, which seems to more and more happen, why would I buy this and not a tablet? The kid will be able to get more out of the tablet than the DS. Sure its a bit more money (129 vs 159$), but the software price more than makes up for it. So, I see this as the beginning of the end for Nintendo in the mobile space. They will not be able to price compete with either the Android/iOs/Amazon software markets. And yes, some gamers will say the titles on the DS are much better than the other markets, but they're really not THAT much better.

"Nintendo's strength is its own software, and it has figured out a way to deliver a device that makes its premium-priced software significantly more attainable. Now it's up for the market to show us if that's going to work."

I would say 10 to 1 against it really helping. As more and more tablets go out, you'll see these devices go to hardcore gamers only.

Christian Nutt
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Rightly or wrongly, Iwata/Nintendo put their faith in their software quality, not in the economics of cheap games. We'll see how that goes.

John Flush
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the most disappointing thing of this whole announcement is my kids just saved up to get a 3DS and bought them two weeks ago and the 2DS would have done just fine. They hate the 3D, just like I do. Best jettisoned idea Nintendo has come up in recent memory.

Those that are confused with this I would like to know why 3D was ever compelling because having played 5-6 titles I can't figure out why anyone would like the 3D. Maybe I'm playing the wrong games?

Matt Ponton
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"You have to understand what the purpose of the unit is, and why it is the way it is."

I think you hit the nail on the head, it's confusing because you HAVE to understand the purpose before going into it. Nintendo just hasn't been able to explain that purpose.

Jeremy Alessi
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Great article, spot on!

It'll be interesting to see if Nintendo can stand up to the slew of old tablets, iPhones, and iPods hanging around with an unlimited supply of free entertainment.

My daughter's one if those two year olds who has it figured out. We don't even give her screen time but the devices are so simple that the few times she's gotten her hands on one she's unlocked it and opened a game. Heck, the other day she grabbed my wife's phone, activated Siri, and requested the virtual assistant to turn the TV on!

That's got to be scary for Nintendo.

On the upside, she adores Pikmin ;)

Christian Nutt
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Nintendo's biggest advantage may be that all the kids who had the NESes are parents now =P

Christopher Totten
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Actually I was thinking the same thing. Then had the sudden realization that I'm a mere few years away from being in the target audience for products like these.

y h
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the confusing part about the 2DS is that the people still thinking it's an April Fool's joke

Peter Eisenmann
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I did at first, but have to admit it makes more and more sense, besides the name perhaps.
The question remains if developers will continue to give much thought how to make best use of 3D if most people turn it off anyway, or have a 2DS in the future. I like the 3D, but it's in no way the killer feature Nintendo made it out to be.

Ryan Carson
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Yup, me and my son are 100% the target audience for this. Possibly why I couldn't understand the some of the negativity on twitter about the announcement. Nintendo have always been more family orientated than other Console Companies, so this handheld console makes a lot of sense to me, also, it's only just over Ł100 over here in the UK which is pretty good really.

Nicholas Bergquist
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Well, I'm definitely in their target audience here. I intend to buy two of these one for myself and one for my son, as his first actual handheld gaming device. I'll get a chance to play the small but distinct collection of games on the DS lineup aimed at people over the age of 13 and my son will get the lion's share of the entertainment...and we might even be able to enjoy some games together.

Shea Rutsatz
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I don't have kids, but I feel like this is more for me than the 3DS. I've wanted one for a while, but the price/hinges/3D were too many negatives (the 3D is one of my main dislikes - feels like my eyes bleed). And for the people who think its a bad idea - don't buy it!

As Toney Walker said above, "...because a larger install base means more games for us all. A rising tide lifts all boats..."

Even if it's targeted at kids, this is right up my alley.

Greg Wondra
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Spot on with this comment right here....

"But bros… I have to tell you. You are not the target audience for this thing. Stop trying to wrap your head around it as though it's a potential purchase."

Eric Pobirs
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It should be blatantly obvious that this is all about something Nintendo had been neglecting in recent times: cost of entry. Price, until the 3DS and Wii U, had always been part of the Nintendo formula for success. This is a major reason why they waited so long to bring color to the handheld platform. It was too costly and too demanding of battery life to suit their requirements for the product.

The DS is fading fast. Software development is down to a trickle, if that. Nintendo needs a lower price point for the 3DS platform and the 3D aspect has proven to be something that isn't that much of a market driver.

What is interesting to me is how they're sourcing the screen, which looks like two separate displays to the user. Is this the panel from the Wii U tablet, labeled defective for having bad pixels and then rescued by an application that doesn't use the portion of the screen where the bad pixels are found? If a good number of otherwise unusable panels were being saved from the garbage bin, it could make for a good savings on multiple levels.

Jay N
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I assume bad pixel screens are whisked away as early as at the production line and recycled, never to be seen by Nintendo itself, so these screens are probably brand new.

Besides, the 3DS screen looks to be a higher quality than the Wii U Game Pad screen, which looks positively mediocre at best (and downright awful compared to the PS Vita), so I doubt there any additional cost saving measure going on here, aside from the cost of entry to the consumer.

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The writer of this article is only answering the most idiotic criticism directed at the 2DS, instead of focusing on the real issues. Also, the petulant tone of calling complainers "bro" (as if it were the "bro-gamer culture") doesn't help one bit.

The whole machine looks too big and clunky, which is the opposite of what they should be aiming at. If it's for small children, then it should be far smaller to allow the children to hold it in one hand. Remember that MOST DS/3DS games require you to use an stylus (even if it's for short sections of the game), which seems virtually impossible with this new apparatus.

Not only that, but making the whole thing smaller would have help to greatly reduce the production cost, which in return would have reduced the price. There is no denying that 40$ dollars is a difference, but not big enough to make the thing "look like a toy you would buy for your toddler". If they had managed to drop the third digit (making the whole console cost around 99$), then it would be a completely different.

Also, there are a couple of side problems which are not that important but could generate further issues. Removing the microphone is problematic since many games require it to play through certain parts (including Nintendo's own "Zelda Phantom Hourlgass"). Not solving the relatively short battery life-span. Not adding a second analogue stick which has been proven to improve gaming quality. Etc, etc, etc.

Bob Johnson
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Hands-on impressions say the 2ds is much lighter than a 3ds. Screen size is the same so dimensions can't be tht bit. Reports say it is actually smaller than it looks. Pics show it smaller than 3ds stretched out.

And, actually, making something even smaller, at some point, does not lessen the cost but actually makes it more expensive. Think laptops compared to desktops. Plus to think that Nintendo didn't do this if it was an option to lower the cost is absurd. Give them some credit. They weren't born yesterday.

2DS does have a mic. No word on battery life. A 2nd stick just not going to happen mid-generation. It would divide the install base - generally not a pracitical idea. None or almost none of the games make use of 2 sticks. IT wouldn't help lower the pricepoint either which was a big goal of the 2ds.