Looking back on the 3DS as it turns two years old
The 3DS has been on the North American market for almost two years with its second birthday approaching on March 27th. Nintendo’s 3D handheld has seen its fair share of ups and downs since it released but things are looking up as the system continues to move around 15 million units per year.
We all know how badly the 3DS launch went. Games like Super Street Fighter IV and Pilotwings Resort were good but far from software that would convince consumers to spend $250 on a new device. Nintendo would alleviate a nasty software drought for the 3DS by releasing Ocarina of Time 3D on June 19th of that year but the writing was on the wall. The 3DS wasn’t selling very well.
I worked in a gaming retailer during this time and the 3DS was truly stuck on store shelves. Nintendo admitted to selling roughly 700k 3DS units worldwide between April 1st and July 31st. Why did the 3DS launch so badly? There are a number of reasons.
Price is an easy target because most consumers believed the 3DS costed way too much. I really thought Nintendo was going to set the price at $199 before they announced the system’s release date in January 2011. It shocked me that they were going for the same price as the Wii at its launch.
Had Nintendo choose $199 perhaps the 3DS wouldn’t have had such slow sales out of the gate. The $169/$199 price point they used for the DSi/DSi XL for years seemed to work and it continues to do well for them with the 3DS/3DS XL combo right now.
A better solution would have been to delay the 3DS until June 2011. It could have launched with the eShop (the 3DS didn’t receive the eShop until 3 months after launch in NA) and had a improved launch line up. Dead or Alive: Dimensions, Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D and Zelda would have pushed more 3DS units in a June launch than Steel Diver and Pilotwings ever could.
Dropping the DS Lite’s price to $99 a month after the 3DS came out didn’t help things. The DS/DSi combo consistently outsold the 3DS or sold nearly as much for most of 2011 and well into 2012. The DS is still selling around 100k per month in 2013 almost ten years after it originally came out. Nintendo should have stopped production on at least the DS Lite back in 2011. I understand the need to have a cheaper console for lower income consumers but the DS’s healthy sales really hurt the 3DS in 2011 and 2012. Imagine how many more million 3DS units Nintendo could have sold if even 1/4th of recent DS buyers opted for the 3DS instead.
If you remember how bad 2003 was for the GameCube you probably know that Nintendo’s July-September was pretty bad. They took a ton of flack in the media for the 3DS’s sudden price drop. People were getting their pitchforks ready and heading in Nintendo’s direction crying out about how they botched the handheld’s launch.
In 2003 the GameCube was just coming off a less than stellar holiday season in 2002 despite Nintendo releasing heavy hitters like Mario Sunshine and Metroid Prime. Not only that but Wind Waker and a price drop to $99 didn’t turn the ship around. Nintendo even stopped producing GameCubes for a small time in 2003 to let retailers clear their overstock.
Nintendo probably thought nothing could have been worse than the Cube’s 2003 but the 3DS certainly tried hard to top that disaster. It wasn’t until November 2011 that everyone began to see how Nintendo’s sudden price cut was working magic and turning the 3DS into the handheld we know today.
Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 couldn’t have come soon enough and their healthy sales prove that the Mario name can sell $170 handhelds with ease. 2012 was even better with Resident Evil: Revelations, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, New Super Mario Bros 2 and many more.
On the heels of Luigi’s Mansion’s release on 3DS Nintendo is celebrating the two year anniversary of the 3DS’s American release. It seems ironic that Nintendo is resurrecting an old franchise at the time when the 3DS is gaining steam and fully resurrected from the grave many analysts were digging for it in 2011.
The 3DS has a bright future. It has the support of many Japanese developers and Nintendo’s first party line up continues to be amazing. Animal Crossing, Pokemon X/Y and the next Super Smash Bros game will surely continue the 3DS’s stream of great software into 2014.
What can Nintendo do to take the 3DS the next step, to the lofty sales heights of the DS? What will it take to get more western third party developers on board? I’m not entirely sure but I’d wager another price drop later in 2013 along with an improved regular 3DS model would help.
I’d like to see the long rumored 3DS Lite (though they should probably not call it “Lite”) model this year. Simply make the bezel on the top screen smaller, make the L/R buttons bigger like the 3DS XL’s and enhance battery life. Along with this a price drop to $129.99 and the 3DS could easily begin posting sales numbers like the DS did for many years.
Its no secret that the 3DS isn’t doing as well in the west as it is in Japan. With smartphones and tablets in the $150-$300 range getting onto children’s birthday/Xmas gift lists a price drop to $129 would be a great move. Tablets can’t touch the $100-$130 price point. There are a few major tablets near $199 and Nintendo would be wise to move their price point as low as possible to avoid any chance that consumers opt to buy a device like that for their families during the holidays.
Nintendo may have botched the 3DS launch but they’ve turned the ship around like no one could have predicted. In a time where every analyst is saying the gaming handheld is dead Nintendo continues to move 15 million + units per year. When analysts are demanding they go third party and make cheap phone games they continue to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars off a handful of first party releases each year.
The 3DS is turning two years old and is just hitting its stride. It wasn’t an easy adventure getting to this point but Nintendo has the IPs that people want and their July 2011 price cut shows they have the courage to do what is necessary no matter how hard the road ahead might be.