It was almost 10 years ago now, when the Wii and Nintendo DS were taking the gaming world by storm and, thanks to their innovative control schemes, full of touch screens and motion controllers, introduced a whole new audience to video gaming. And while the games and the ways we played them definitely had a big hand to play in those platforms successes the marketing Nintendo employed to promote these systems was also very on-point and consistent, showing off a united Nintendo brand that helped potential consumers and repeat customers know what a ‘Nintendo’ product with just a quick glance. Fast forward to 2017 and the Nintendo Switch is blazing a new path for Nintendo’s branding, a branding that seems to have forgotten a Nintendo system completely.
Now it’s not uncommon for game systems (especially Nintendo ones) to feature completely new artwork, branding, iconography from their predecessors, however these older system aren’t usually supported for much longer, so they don’t tend to have much impact on Nintendo’s overall brand presence. The 3DS however looks like it’s here to stay, at least well into 2018 and beyond according to statements Nintendo made at E3 2017 and with major games like Fire Emblem Warriors and Pokémon (Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon) coming later this year its a system that will definitely still be a popular choice going into its 7th year on the market. That means the 3DS, a system whose name, design, packaging, UI and general stylings are basically taken from the DS and Wii era will still be at the forefront of Nintendo’s branding efforts for years to come.
And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (the DS and Wii were extremely popular systems) it does present a problem when compared to the new branding of the Nintendo Switch and to a degree, Nintendo’s mobile efforts. The new art and branding that has graced Switch products presents a clear break from the stylings of the DS, Wii, 3DS and Wii U, what with its ‘premium’ look of sharp reds matched with clear plastics, compared to the more subtle and muted 3DS packaging. In many ways the Switch branding is the embodiment of Nintendo’s new philosophies and approaches that break with what we saw in the early days of the 3DS and throughout the life of the Wii U, so wouldn’t it make sense to completely re-brand the 3DS to make it more in line with the Switch?
Of course, this is easier said than done. One of the very first things that you learn in advertising class is that re-branding a product, especially one that has established itself in the market is a very risky and expensive proposition, something which companies generally try to avoid. And while personally I would have liked to see Nintendo go full force and completely change the 3DS from its form factor, UI, packaging and even name, I realize this would not be easy to do and take resources away from the areas that are more critical in the here and now, like supporting the recently launched Switch console. But that doesn’t mean Nintendo can’t do smaller things, to help bring the 3DS in line with the Switch. I’m talking about things like changing the game packaging to clear plastic cases of the same shape and size as the Switch’s, upgrading the UI to be similar to the console and changing physical aspects of the design, like the pattern on the D-Pad to match too.
While this tactic does carry the risk of confusing consumers on what it is exactly they are buying into it wouldn’t be the first time that a game system underwent a re-branding as we’ve seen this done for the Nintendo Entertainment System with the game packaging, the Sega Genesis with just about everything and more recently with the PlayStation 3 changing from the ‘Spider-Man’ font to what it is we see today on the PS4 and Vita. So while yes, there are risks, the rewards of a strong, united branding effort and messaging are hard to resist. It can even lead to a resurgence in the popularity of an older system, especially if it’s tied to a major game release like how Sonic the Hedgehog and a re-design helped the Genesis compete in the early 90’s.
Despite these advantages its pretty clear that Nintendo has chosen to keep things as is for the 3DS. This was all but confirmed when the New Nintendo 2DS XL was revealed, a system that holds onto the past with fervor with very few concessions to Nintendo’s new branding. So for the foreseeable future we can expect to see the 3DS trucking along with the same packaging that its had since 2011, all while Nintendo tries to establish the Switch as the future of Nintendo gaming. Maybe this isn’t that big a problem as I’m making it out to be, in the end Nintendo is a multi-billion dollar company and I’m sure they have put some thought into what they are doing with the 3DS, it just seems odd to me that they would be trying so hard to shake the past with the Switch while embracing it at the same time with the 3DS.