Can bigger screens save a shrinking market?

[3 November 2009]

By Brian Crecente

Kotaku.com (MCT)

News of a new, extra-large, extra-priced portable from Nintendo was met more with confusion than enthusiasm when it was unveiled last week.

The DSi XL has screens that are an inch bigger than the DSi, comes with a regular sized and extra large stylus and is closer to size of a netbook than it is to something you would want to squeeze into a pocket or purse.

But while Nintendo president Satoru Iwata says he envisioned the device, due to hit North America early next year for an undisclosed price, being used to expand the horizons of portable gaming from a single player experience to one enjoyed by a group, analysts and pundits don’t seem to be biting.

Maybe that’s because when Iwata unveiled the two-camera, two-screen DSi to the world earlier this year he said one of the prime reasons the company was rolling out the more customizable handheld was because it wanted to increase the number of its portables in a home.

The thinking went, if you put all of your music, all of your photos on your DSi and you customized it with special clocks and calculators you wouldn’t want to share, you would want your own.

Now, almost exactly a year after announcing the DSi, Iwata unveiled the DSi XL, a device he says is designed specifically to do the opposite.

“Nintendo DSi LL is going to offer a new play style, where those who are surrounding the game player can also join in one way or the other to the gameplay,” Iwata told analysts. “When you look at the home console video games you can understand that the fun of great games can be conveyed to and shared by those who are watching the player play.”

While Iwata never really explained the seeming reversal of opinion, it is telling that unasked Iwata pointed out that the DSi XL wasn’t designed just for seniors in mind. That, despite the fact that the DSi XL comes with an over-sized stylus and is pre-loaded with two Brain Training games and a Japanese dictionary.

Industry analyst Michael Pachter describes the XL as a “nice to have” but not “must have” item, one that won’t drive sales.

“It appears to be geared toward people who want the latest model of every device, people who have difficulty reading, and people who can’t hold a skinny stylus,” he said.

But Pachter adds that he thinks that the DSi XL will eventually replace the DSi.

As for the notion of in-room collaborative gaming, Pachter doesn’t see it being very successful. Instead, he says, Nintendo should concentrate on expanding its online gaming offerings, releasing more titles that allow DS and DSi owners to play online via Wifi.

Dan Ackerman, senior editor at Cnet.com, agrees.

“Communal gaming, and the very important social utility it drives, will likely come from people sharing the same experience, but on their own personal screens, like with FaceBooks games or local WiFi gaming,” he said.

Nintendo was ahead of the curve in adding touchscreen technology to the DS, Ackerman points out, and he sees the increase in screen size on the DSi Xl as an acknowledgement that the iPhone and iPod Touch are becoming a juggernauts in the world of portable entertainment.

With rumors that the DSi will be getting its own video and audio chat program, another possibility for the DSi XL is that it could be used to try and tap into the same market as the increasingly popular, tiny and inexpensive netbook computers.

But Ackerman doesn’t see that happening either.

“While the DS has definitely found a niche among older and other non-traditional gamers, I’m not sure it’ll displace the growing popularity of Netbooks (or iPhones) as the default on-the-go entertainment/information platform,” Ackerman said. “Especially as basic Netbooks fall below the $300 mark (or less with subsidized mobile broadband plans), and Netbook-friendly apps, such as Facebook games, skyrocket in popularity.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/115703-can-bigger-screens-save-a-shrinking-market/