Capcom has been getting a lot of flack from its most hardcore of fans lately, and deservedly so: starting with the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, then continuing with the uproar that followed the announcement of a new version of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 less than a year after the original version’s release, Capcom seems to be either completely oblivious towards the wishes of their fanbase, or they’re just out to troll all of us (if so, they’re doing an excellent job.) Today Capcom announced their newest misstep: the upcoming Resident Evil Revelations for the 3DS will be priced at $50, a good $15-20 higher than the usual MSRP of new 3DS games.
Now, on the one hand, I can see where Capcom is coming from: Revelations is an absolutely gorgeous, console-quality game. When I played it at E3 I was amazed at how much it resembled RE5, both in terms of looks and play mechanics (now with the added ability to move and shoot at the same time!) It even ships on a 4GB cart, so in terms of raw assets, the game is actually as big as most console game. The game really did feel like I was playing a big budget console game on a handheld, and it’s obvious Capcom invested a lot of time and money into creating this game, so charging a premium price almost seems reasonable.
Except that it isn’t. It’s no secret that the 3DS is struggling, but it’s been gaining momentum as of late, and thanks to its recent surge of sales, Nintendo has sold more 3DS’s in its first year than they sold original DS’s during that system’s first year… But the 3DS’s recent sales spike and it’s original lack of sales can all be attributed to one thing: price. With a launch price of $250, the 3DS was simply overpriced by most people’s standards, and, judging by how quickly the price dropped, Nintendo themselves seem to have realized that the premium price of the system was a massive mistake.
Its no secret that the 3DS hasn’t performed as well as Nintendo would’ve liked, but as any sane market analyst or anyone within the gaming industry will tell you, the market that used to be dominated by dedicated handhelds like the DS or the PSP has been thoroughly cannibalized by games on smart phones and tablets. The 3DS is picking up steam, yes, but will it ever become as popular as the original DS or the Game Boy? Probably not. It’s not a problem specific to the 3DS either, because as cool as it is, I seriously doubt that the Vita will turn into the pop-culture phenom that the DS was in it’s heyday either. Casual gamers have moved on to getting their fix from cheap $1 iPhone apps or Facebook games, while the hardcore continue to pour most of their time (and money) into console games, turning dedicated handhelds back into the secondary market of ports and budget afterthoughts, recreating the Game Boy style market conditions that a pre-PSP Sony exec once famously dubbed “the handheld ghetto.”
And that’s why Capcom is completely out of their minds to charge $50 for a non-special edition, standard 3DS game. Yes, its a console quality 3DS game, but most hardcore gamers I know would rather just spend that $50 on an actual home console game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t see any casual gamers dropping $50 on a handheld game when they most of them are perfectly satisfied with their $1-10 iPhone games. While the original DS (and to a lesser extent, the PSP,) was popular enough to draw gamers’ attention away from other forms of gaming, handheld games in this generation have once again reverted to playing second-fiddle to consoles. RE: Revelations’s ambitious scope and hardware wizardry are certainly impressive, but game publishers now are going to somehow have to strike a balance between delivering the polished, content-rich experience that gamers desire while at the same time keeping project costs down so they can stay competitive in a shrinking market. Whether casual or hardcore, I can’t think of anyone who’d be willing to pay console level prices for handheld games.