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A man plays with the Nintendo 3DS at an electronics shop in Tokyo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon

For a time, people had more reasons not to buy a Nintendo 3DS than to buy one.

 

First, consumers learned of the extremely short battery life of only three to four hours. Then, both the American Optometric Association and Nintendo issued statements warning young children from playing the 3DS at length, citing potential harm to a child's developing visual system. (There is, however, some dispute over this assertion.)

The closer you hold or view the 3D system, the more strain it will put on the convergence and focusing system of the eyes, says optometrist Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, chair of the Children's Vision Committee of the Florida Optometric Association. Therefore the strain of watching a 3D TV, which is ideally 10 feet away, or 3D films, which are much further away, is less intense for the eye systems. It is in this way the Nintendo 3DS is inherently less safe and more likely to cause 3D symptoms like fatigue, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and eyestrain.

Nintendo sold 3.6 million 3DS units in its first month on the market, but following that period, demand for the system dropped off precipitously: Only 710,000 units were sold in the three months post-launch. Poor 3DS sales sunk Nintendo into a first-quarter loss of $321 million, so the company responded in July by slashing the original price from $250 to $170.

Since July's mammoth price drop, the company reports selling another 235,000 3DS consoles in August, but as a whole, the company's share price has dropped 45 percent since the start of 2011. So in a last ditch attempt to ramp up interest for the holiday season, Nintendo said this week it would announce a bevy of new games for the 3DS, the most extensive line-up that has probably ever been seen before in the history of video games, according to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. With more than 40,000 viewers watching live online via Ustream, Nintendo was ready to turn the 3DS ship around.

Nintendo's hour-long presentation came and went, and unfortunately, it failed to wow fans and investors alike, resulting in a five percent drop in Nintendo's shares.

The value of 3D images without the need for special glasses is hard to be understood through the existing media, said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. However, we have found that people cannot just feel it by trying out a device; rather, some might even misestimate it when experiencing the images in an improper fashion. This makes it more important to give people more opportunities for appropriate experiences of glassless 3D images.

Nintendo is doing what it can to boost 3DS morale: The company is looking to create games that appeal to both core and casual gamers alike, and is specifically trying to target women. However, Nintendo has yet to address the most glaring issue: 3D is quickly becoming passé.

Indeed, 3D wasn't much of a staple until 2009 when James Cameron's Avatar became the world's highest grossing film of all-time, which then subsequently caused a flood of 3D movies in its wake. However, studies show that 3D's waning interest, even from last year to this year, has little to do with pricing; rather, viewers seem to be more familiar with the medium and, consequently, more critical of it.

Believe it or not, the 3DS isn't Nintendo's first foray into 3D. In fact, it was in 1995 when the creator of Nintendo's Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi, began to develop the Virtual Boy, which later was widely considered to be a commercial failure.

The Virtual Boy system was a complicated affair, said Shigeru Miyamoto, inventor of Nintendo's most famous game franchises, including Mario, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda. Virtual Boy had two big tasks to accomplish, and it went out into the world without satisfying either one. It's not so much that the machine itself was wrong as a product, but that we were wrong in how we portrayed it.

Normally, I think it would have been understandable if Nintendo experienced a kind of trauma with regard to the whole 3D genre, Iwata said. But Nintendo continued to doggedly make attempts in 3D technology. And you can say that those attempts have now finally borne fruit.

The fruit, unfortunately, is quickly oxidizing. Nintendo has always been about revolutionizing the gaming experience, but lately the company seems willing to sacrifice third-party support for simple gimmicks, such as 3D with the 3DS, or alternative motion control for the new Wii U. While Nintendo doesn't need to bag the whole project like Hewlett-Packard shuttered the TouchPad, the company needs to find a solution quickly: Apple is gaining momentum with its ever-growing library of games available for a fraction of the price. Without more support and major upgrades to the 3DS system, not even Mario will save this handheld from going down the drain.