In the eternal struggle to win over gamers’ thumbs on the go, Nintendo’s been the uncontested champ for decades now. The only other dedicated gaming device to ever mount a worthy challenge has been Sony’s Playstation Portable. Just a week after Nintendo announced its launch plans for their new 3DS, Sony pulled away the veil of secrecy from their Next Generation Portable or NGP. But, we can’t forget that the landscape’s changed significantly with the rise of smartphones with robust technology and game catalogs. These new handhelds by Sony and Nintendo will jockey for market share alongside the ever-growing Android device population and the inevitable new iOS hardware doubtlessly coming from Apple coming this year. With all this activity, it’s worth thinking about the pros and cons for each platform.
Stereoscopic presentation is obviously the main selling point of the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime called the company’s new hardware “a category of one,” making the point that no other gadget will be capable of showing of 3D content. Many are still skeptical as to how 3D will ever enhance gameplay but the chance to watch movies and TV shows without glasses will surely appeal to some of the people who shell out for the experience at multiplexes.
Meanwhile, Sony made no announcement with regard to 3D on their handheld. Still, the PlayStation division is part of a larger company, one that also happens to make 3DTVs. It’s been stated that Sony views 3D gaming as a big priority so it wouldn’t be beyond the pale for them to implement some sort of stereoscopy–either with or without glasses–into a NGP and charge a premium price for it.
Also, it’s entirely possible that any of the buzzed-about 3D Android phones might have a killer game that uses stereoscopy in a clever way. But for now, Nintendo’s the company with a 3D handheld while the content that lives on Sony’s portables and other platforms stays stuck in two dimensions.
Software development and distribution
The thing that truly builds a user base for gaming machines big and small is the software. Nintendo and Sony have the advantage of strong first-party IP and great relationships with entities such as EA, Activision and UbiSoft, and have shown off big titles from major publishers. Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Madden NFL and Konami’s Pro Evolution soccer titles make up part of the games slate Nintendo will roll out with the 3DS, while Sony teased fans with promises of installments of the mega-popular Call of Duty and Metal Gear Solid franchises, along with a portable version of its own first-party hit Uncharted.
However, Apple’s low barrier to entry for iOS development has enabled hordes of programmers, designers and coders to populate the App Store with surprising and innovative games. Google’s followed a similar strategy with Android, too, and they’re getting a boost with the announcement of official Playstation content coming to their marketplace. Angry Birds couldn’t have happened with the licensing and approval structure that Sony and Nintendo have traditionally had in place. Even as handheld devices with gaming capabilities begin to replicate functionality–multiple cameras, touchscreens, motion-sensing, persistent wireless connectivity– the respective creative culture around each platform matter more and more. How easy is for developers to get onto your platform and how easy it will be for users to parse the content that lives there will be as important tech specs.
Sony and Nintendo have relied on proprietary physical media like UMDs and cartridges for years and part of the reason for that has been to try and lock out those who’d abuse the tech of the systems. But that reliance makes both companies’ models more inflexible than Apple or Google’s purely digital methods. Right now, Apple wins because they can wield the surprise of an indie-generated hit as well as efforts from established companies like Capcom or Activision.