Today's rumors of Nintendo entertaining the idea of adding a right thumbstick accessory to the 3DS are troubling at the very least. First, let me definitively say this: a right thumbstick attachment will not save the 3DS.
Unfortunately this bit of news sounds to me like an unwise gut reaction of a company very desperate to right the 3DS ship. But the thumbstick chatter isn't all that the latest rumors have suggested. Further rumblings seem to indicate that Nintendo is working on a completely redesigned unit that will stray away from what's now widely regarded as a 3D gimmick.
Let's also not ignore the other ramifications should Nintendo actually go through with this. By completely redesigning the system, Nintendo would be turning its back on the loyal early adopters who have already purchased the system (pre and post price drop), not to mention the developers who pledged their support from the start as well. In the short term it will almost certainly have an immediate impact on current sales; who would want to buy a 3DS after reading today's rumors?
But perhaps the 3DS was doomed from the start. A high price point, a serious lack of triple-A titles at launch, and a major focus on 3D, which not only raised health concerns, but also rendered mixed results in practice. This was especially evident in games that required movement of the system itself, which almost always caused the 3D effect to come undone.
GameSpot UK suggests that adding a right analog stick would increase the ease of porting portable games over from a platform like PS Vita. But if current console porting is any indication of how seamless such a process is, we won't see too many titles make their way from such a technically powerful platform down to a lesser system without some serious performance and graphical sacrifices.
Whatever Nintendo is planning, it seems the 3DS may become this generation's Virtual Boy should a completely redesigned device (that will most likely lose the 3DS name) hit the market in 2012. While I don't think a right thumbstick can save the 3DS, a completely rebranded and refocused effort may allow Nintendo to stop the bleeding. This means a bigger commitment to quality first- and third-party titles, reasonable and thorough access to the company's back catalog of games, a more robust online experience, and hardware improvements that are on par with other current-generation gadgets (we're looking at you, 0.3-megapixel cameras).
It's also worth considering that an extra thumbstick will almost eliminate stylus-based touch-screen functionality, so maybe the new 3DS will get rid of that lower screen altogether?
At any rate, the 3DS' future is now up in the air. Will a redesign afford the company a second chance at a portable gaming market it used to dominate, or has too deep a hole already been dug? What should Nintendo's next move be?