Sony Has An Opportunity To Capitalise On Nintendo's Muted 3DS Launch With NGP.

Numbers for Nintendo's systm were also disappointing across Europe, with exact figures in North America seemingly hush-hush. It's worth stressing that the 3DS represents Nintendo's best ever launch, but with its predecessor exceeding the lofty PlayStation 2 in many regions, it's fair to expect more from the DS' successor. There are a series of issues that may pertain to the 3DS' muted launch: high price-tag, hard to communicate gimmick, familiarly styled hardware, unfinished features and a serious lack of must-own content. It's the latter point that's the crux, and while Nintendo goes about squandering the 3DS' early advantage, it's easy to spot the window with which Sony can capitalise.

In fact, the whole situation feels like de-ja-vu. Last generation Sony was in control, but the PlayStation 3 crippled the platform holder's fortunes. A high price-tag, hard to communicate gimmick, unfinished features and a serious lack of must-own content hurt the system at launch, and if we're honest, continue to do so. Sound familiar? The PlayStation 3 has recovered in a dramatic fashion — the PlayStation Network has evolved phenomenally at such an accelerated pace, and the system's game library is certainly the strongest available in 2011. But the stigma attached to that launch period continues to be problematic, and it's something Sony will be actively trying to avoid when the NGP releases later in the year.

A system launch must be the most utterly panic-inducing period for a company. Everything has to come together at the same time: the hardware needs to be good, the marketing needs to be good, the pricing needs to be good, and the the software needs to be good. I can only imagine how difficult it is to release a new system with a bang. Perhaps the hardest aspect of the launch relates to the software. Produced on an accelerated time-scale, the software doesn't only need to be good — it needs to be exceptional. It needs to be a showcase of the system's features and technology. What's more it needs to compete against the established library of current systems.

This is the problem the 3DS is facing in Japan. Players can opt for a more expensive system with very few games — and even fewer of them exceptional — or they can pick up a PSP for half the price with an enormous catalogue of titles readily available. Even those players that need to be on the bleeding edge are faced with a challenging decision: sure the system's 3D effect is fresh and impressive, but visually the console is rather weak. I've spent a good amount of time with Ridge Racer 3D and while the effect is fantastic, visually it's about on par with the PSP. While time is certain to unlock the potential of the system, it doesn't necessarily feel like a quality step-up for those that have spent numerous hours on Sony's machine.

The software problem is a bigger issue though, and its a misjudgement on Nintendo's part. With a Mario, Pokemon or Zelda title, the system would undoubtedly be right at the forefront of gamer's minds. Without those big names, it's easy to ignore. And this is exactly the area that Sony need to capitalise with NGP. Personally, I don't think they can do that with first-party releases.

I think Sony need to use their first-party titles as a way of reinforcing two enormous third-party brands: Monster Hunter and Call Of Duty. In my opinion, the games don't necessarily even need to be new iterations. A graphically enhanced, better controlling Monster Hunter Portable 3rd would undoubtedly do gangbusters in Japan. It's the kind of release that would have gamers queueing outside stores for days to ensure they get hold of a copy. But it would do more for Sony than just shift launch hardware: it would lock a large install-base of active Japanese gamers into the NGP ethos, and that's important. It's massive in fact: it aids the prospects of additional software, and cements developer support going forward. I think it's pretty important Sony make the release a timed-exclusive too; it's imperative that Monster Hunter comes to NGP first.

It's a similar story with Call Of Duty — perhaps to a less emphasised extent. The draw of Activision's military franchise is enormous in the West, and I think it's important that Modern Warfare 3 (or whatever the publisher's pumping out this year) is available at launch on NGP. Purely from a marketing perspective, showing a current crop of hardcore CoD players a familiar experience on a handheld system is exactly the kind of buzz Sony need to generate around the system's Western release. It might not be the experience everyone's looking for, but it's guaranteed to get people talking and that's key. Any kind of connectivity with console versions would only emphasise the effect.

And of course that's where the first-party stuff comes in to support the message. What else is there to buy? Little Deviants, a cute title that takes full advantage of the NGP's range of input formats. Uncharted, a spin-off to one of the most critically acclaimed PlayStation 3 titles of the generation. Combine those titles with third-party brands like Call Of Duty and Monster Hunter and I think Sony will have a very persuasive launch line-up — one that certainly eclipses anything Nintendo has available on the 3DS right now. I'd argue that those four titles would even out-muscle anything Nintendo can muster between now and the end of the year. Zelda, Kid Icarus and Resident Evil all look fantastic — but would they necessarily compete with Call Of Duty, Monster Hunter and Uncharted?

It's an interesting situation, because I genuinely feel like Sony are poised to take advantage of Nintendo's weaknesses right now. We're still in the NGP's honey-moon period for sure, and there's still stuff that could go wrong. Price, supply and software quality all qualify as concerns for Sony's next handheld, and of course the audience is yet to dictate if NGP is the kind of handheld experience they want. (It's a resolute "yes" from me, but the rest of the media appears to disagree.) With the PlayStation Network already established, and the hardware lightyears ahead of its contemporaries, I feel like there's an open opportunity for Sony to capitalise on the handheld market, and I maintain convinced that the platform holder is resolute on not retreading mistakes of old.

Are we on the verge of an upset?

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