All hail the Nintendo DSi
Over the last few years we have heard a new message from Nintendo with increasing frequency. It's not about new games, it's not about hardware, it's not even about their impressive sales figures. Instead it's that they still care about hardcore fans.
Nintendo are doubtless well aware that they have long relied on their core following to support them through the years. From the breakthrough of the NES, the heady domination of the SNES on to the tardy N64 and the under appreciated Gamecube. While they have long appreciated this loyalty, they are equally aware that of late they have made a new bunch of friends - the open seas of their casual and family gamers.
With the launch of the DSi they are again saying that this is part of their strategy that includes hardcore gamers. As representative Charlie Scibetta Charlie Scibetta told MTV Multiplayer last week, "Right out of the gate [the DSi audience] is probably the hardcore gamers. They're usually the early adopters that want to get the latest version of something, and they'll be the ones that put it through its paces the hardest and give us all kind of feedback and tell us what they like and don't like."
What better way to gauge spin with reality than to see the response first hand from the high street on launch day. With the release impending we headed down to our local Game Station to see who would turn up to their Thursday late night opening for the launch. With impressive numbers of units promised from Nintendo and strong back orders they were confident of a strong turn out. The question for us though was not so much how many gamers stayed up until midnight to be amongst the first to play the DSi, but what sort of gamers they were.
Before they opened their doors we had a chat with their Nintendo sales person. He was keen to point out the new features of the device, the camera, the SD card storage, the DSiWare store and the music player. All pretty much casual gaming fare, he agreed. When asked about what the DSi had for the core gamer he had less to say. "Most hardcore gamers are likely to wait and see what Nintendo does next with the device."
It's a pattern they apparently saw with the DS and DS Lite. "The games that sell well are the Touch Generations titles like Brain Training and Professor Layton's. The more hardcore titles like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are often overlooked."
As midnight approached and they opened the doors for the launch it became apparent we wouldn't be seeing any queues. The eight or nine people who did roll in were mostly older as well. A dad and his son, and a couple of older dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo fans. The same was apparently true in their other stores.
This could be taken as a bad sign for the DSi, but pre-order numbers would say otherwise. Our Game Station had in the region of 100 orders for the 140 or so units allocated to their store, and there is little doubt that as we approach the holiday season they will become hard to find on shelves.
Getting home with our unit, we found more reasons for families to enjoy the device than core gamers. Parent controls now enable games to be locked for the console depending on their age rating. The camera will undoubtedly appeal to youngsters who can snap and play with pictures before swapping them with friends over Wi-Fi. Then there is the SD card support to play music and save said pictures.
It's not without more core features. The Wi-Fi now properly supports a wider range of security so you can more easily get online. The DSi store also offers a chance for niche games, that maybe wouldn't suite the shelves of Toys R' Us, to see the light of day. Not only should some of the unreleased Japanese titles find their way through this service, but also there is hope that classic Gameboy and Gameboy Colour games may have their own Virtual Console space on the DSi.
For the hardcore however, as we saw last night, it will take time to determine how well the DSi suites their gaming needs. This largely depends on Nintendo's resolve to put their development muscle where their mouth is. If a clutch of first-party games are brought to the table, be they DSiWare or cartridge based, that are genuinely built around the two cameras, music abilities and SD card there is more than enough potential to keep core gamers coming back for more. An episodic DSiWare Zelda game, for example, would easily make these gamers sit up and take notice.
The DSi launch, like the rest of Nintendo's business of late, is hard to judge by the usual video gaming rules. It's undeniable that their sights are set on new more casual gamers, and with that comes a much longer slower-burning model than the pack mentality of the PS3 or 360 hardcore. Accordingly it's easy to see what the DSi means for this family demographic. Hard to divine is quite where this leaves the hardcore, although Nintendo is certainly still talking a good game.