Today was supposed to be a great day. This was the day we all assumed that Nintendo would announce the release of the new Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL in the United States. I was looking forward to it. Jeremy's had the Japanese model of the new 3DS since its release in October and what he showed-off looked pretty good to me.
I'm still rolling with the original model 3DS in basic black. It's been a good companion for me, so despite the release of the XL, I never felt the need to upgrade. The new 3DS felt like the right product at the right time. Improved design, better screen, a switch to micro SD cards, better battery life, an integrated Circle Pad Pro, the Super Nintendo throwback color scheme, and most importantly... those amazing replaceable faceplates.
See, I like limited edition consoles, but I've never been a big buyer of them. I tend to be an early adopter of consoles and once I've bought one I don't see much reason to pick up the same unit, regardless of how snazzy the designs are. Faceplates are my middle ground. I can buy 4 or 5 different designs and switch them in and out at my leisure. Look at all of them! A Yoshi here, a Big Boo there, perhaps a neon Orange if I'm feeling frisky.
Sadly, those hopes have been dashed as today's Nintendo Direct revealed that only the new 3DS XL is coming to our shores.
Oddly enough, this seems to be in line Nintendo of America's current feelings on the original 3DS. Nintendo has three different 3DS models, but only certain units get the spotlight in each region: in Japan they only have the 3DS and 3DS LL, Europe gets to play with the 3DS, 3DS XL, and 2DS, while North America is stuck with just the 2DS and 3DS XL. Seriously, if you clicked that last link and weren't up on Nintendo's system portfolio, you might not even know there's a non-XL 3DS. At some point, Nintendo just decided North America didn't need a 3DS pricepoint between $199 and $129.
Now, this is a problem I would normally be able to fix by simply importing the new 3DS from Japan or Europe, but Nintendo is one of the last companies to have region-locked consoles. It's a stance that I've written about before and there are reasons for Nintendo to region-lock their consoles. People importing to benefit from currency fluctuations: right now, the Japanese 3DS costs 14,286 yen, which is only $121 dollars, $8 below the MSRP for a 2DS on our shores. There's also regional publishing and distribution agreements; some of your favorite publishers like Atlus, XSEED, and NIS America benefit from region locks in some fashion. For Nintendo, it has been the way the company has operated for a long time.
"From some people's perspective, it might seem like a kind of restriction. However, we hope people can appreciate the fact that we're selling our products worldwide," Iwata told IGN in 2013. "There are many different regions around the world, and each region has its own cultural acceptance and legal restrictions, as well as different age ratings. There are always things that we're required to do in each different region, which may go counter to the idea that players around the world want the freedom to play whatever they want."
However, we're currently in a market where its easy to acquire products globally. Where consumers can talk with developers in other regions directly. Where Japanese games are far more likely to make it to audiences in the US and Europe. If you're buying Japanese games, you're either a niche within a niche or publishers haven't given you any options; I'd gladly wait for Gundam Breaker 2 for Vita and PlayStation 3 to get North American release, but that's rather unlikely. Even Nintendo has be relenting on the issue.
"There have been various conditions at play in the game business, such as a history of localization taking an extremely long time, a variety of marketing constraints and circumstances in each country, and the fact that the license needed to sell games have not always been granted globally," said Iwata during an investors Q&A call this past November.
"In a sense, the region-lock has existed more for reasons having to do with the seller than the consumers. That has been the situation throughout the history of video game systems, and as for what should be done going forward, there may be advantages for the consumers and also for us if they were unlocked. Conversely, unlocking them would mean having to resolve different issues that would subsequently arise. While we have not decided whether we will unlock them or not, we do recognize that it is an issue that needs to be considered in the future."
That's still something Nintendo will probably fix in its next console lineup. Whatever will come after the 3DS and Wii U will probably free of this particularl mistake. But for right now, there are no options. I'll be sticking with my original 3DS because I'm not seeing any personal benefit in upgrading to the new 3DS XL. It simply doesn't have the things I'm looking for in a 3DS upgrade. I'll just longingly look at folks in Japan and Europe.