It’s no secret that the Nintendo 3DS hasn’t exactly been lighting up the cash registers since it launched back in March this year. With its main USP still seen by many as an unwanted gimmick and under increasing pressure from iOS and mobile platforms, this particular $250 dedicated handheld was always going to be a difficult sell. Even judged by already tepid expectations, the 3DS has endured a rough start to its life on the market, struggling to sell units, and with only Super Street Fighter IV and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – both ports of existing titles from various points in the last 10 years – doing the business on the software front. When Sony matched Nintendo’s launch price for the shinier, more powerful and altogether more striking PlayStation Vita, Nintendo’s reaction almost became an inevitability.
Starting from 12 August, the 3DS will now cost just $169 in the US, £130 in the UK and 160 Euros in Europe.
Undoubtedly these are some serious reductions. Nintendo have slashed as much as a third off the launch price in some territories, and in the UK the price drop is roughly £100 just 4 months into the product’s life cycle. Rather than a mere response to market trends and sales patterns, such drastic discounts scream more of a “Holy shit, what the fuck are we doing?” realisation that Nintendo’s strategy isn’t working now and realistically was never going to work back at launch. Any potential good feeling for new consumers is probably going to be edged out by a frustration and annoyance that this is probably how much the system should have cost from the start, and in fairness it would be hard for anyone else to argue against them. Without really checking, these might just be the earliest and deepest hardware price cuts in the industry’s history. As far as the UK is concerned at least, I can only remember the original Xbox coming close. That can’t be understated in terms of its magnitude.
But what about those who bought the system at launch? Those who took their chances and paid their money when Nintendo came calling? There may be many early adopters who have been made to look and feel a little silly by today’s news. As someone who strolled into their local brick and mortar earlier this year and handed over 200 clams at the earliest possible opportunity, I know I sure do. Alas, these are the trials and tribulations of being an early adopter. It’s not the first time I’ve been burnt (hello PlayStation 3) and it probably won’t be the last.
Being brutally honest though, I don’t view today’s news with any real sense of regret or disdain for Nintendo’s decision; and that’s nothing to do with the 20 free NES and Gameboy Advance virtual console downloads they’re throwing as the bone to appease early adopters. I genuinely want the 3DS to succeed. It’s a nice system. I’m largely unimpressed with the 3D (which I instantly turn off on two of the three games I own) but the machine is capable of outputting some nice visuals and has enough good ideas up its sleeve to warrant its existence even if you never touch the 3D slider. Strangely for a company which has made such a mess of networking connectivity on the Wii, many of these brightest ideas are related to hooking up with others. Spot Pass in particular needs more 3DS units in the wild to work to its full potential. It’s an idea that would have skyrocketed on the 125 million selling DS, but is currently a dud on the faltering 3DS.
I’m also something of a traditionalist, and there’s a part of me that would be sad if such a central pillar of the industry’s past and present was to be eroded from the marketplace by Apple, who in reality half heartedly stumbled into the equation in spite of themselves rather than through a concerted effort to crash the gaming party. Even to this, however, there is an alternative view. Following on from more than half a decade of dominating the industry with the Wii and DS, many will suggest that Nintendo is still nestled comfortably in the warm grasp of complacency. If the 3DS provides a wake up call – which price cuts of £100 suggest it has – then we as gamers should be the ones who benefit. Nintendo’s long and storied history shows they have the capacity to respond to such set backs with a bang.
What’s clear at this point is that Nintendo needed to respond to a disappointing launch, and their response has been duly significant. This more sensible pricing strategy should help to give both the 3DS and Nintendo themselves the kick up the arse they both need, and will hopefully provide the sales boost required to not only take advantage of the hardware’s own features but also restore publisher and consumer confidence in the devices future. With Sony still set to pitch the Vita at the 3DS’ original $250 RRP, a sub $200/£150 Nintendo handheld with a holiday line up containing Zelda, Starfox, Mario Kart and an all new 3D Mario adventure could yet prove to be a success with the gaming public.
The most most crucial and obvious part of the puzzle has been fixed. For Nintendo, the real work starts now on what is essentially the 3DS’ second coming.
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Excellent reporting. Really breaks it down into an easy to read and understand manner.
At least you get a bit of a make-good in the form of the downloadable content… As a bit of a retrobate, I wouldn’t mind the free classics, at least if I was given a choice.
I do find it hard to want to purchase any first tier technology as soon as it’s introduced – you just know that in six months the price will drop significantly. The savings that price drop represents is too big to ignore.
And it’s always sad to see beloved companies do poorly. There have been a few large companies in Australia recently that have gone bankrupt, and the thought of Nintendo going down that road really does bring a tear to the eye, especially after all of the joy that they have given us. Still, companies need to produce more than nostalgia than to remain vibrant in today’s markets.
I hope that things pick up for Nintendo – maybe they’ve been focusing a little too much on innovation recently, and not enough on just doing things extremely well. Give us a console that has the best graphics and playing power – ditch all of the bells and whistles. Take us back to the halcyon days of the N64, and I’ll jump on the Nintendo bandwagon again.
As I recall, Nintendo’s aggressively high pricing strategy was based on the E3 reception to the beta hardware… which was a bad idea. Everyone gets excited about everything at E3. This cut might be what the 3DS needs to fly, but really what it needs is stronger software.
Thanks for the great piece, Mat. Your analysis is spot on, I think.
You’re right. Software is king really, and at the moment there’s not a lot out there beyond remakes and third party ports.
I also think the 3DS needs to find itself an identity. The DS had one in JRPG’s, at a time when the current generation of home consoles really didn’t deliver for fans of those games at all. I’m not a JRPG player, but ask anyone who is and they’ll probably tell you the DS has been the place to be for those for years. It was that identity that kept the DS at the forefront of core gamers minds even when Nintendo was pitching Brain Training and Nintendogs to the casuals. A two pronged assault.
Right now the 3DS has neither of those things going for it, but it’s early days yet. I’m still confident the system will come good, even though I’m not entirely such upon what that confidence is based on.
I’m planning on buying a 3DS at some point because there are a heck of a lot of DS games out there that seem good, and last I checked the 3DS has full backwards compatibility, yes?
But honestly, the lineup of true 3DS games thus far is pretty pitiful. I’m not sure the 3DS is even worth $100 more than a standard DS which Fry’s is selling right now for $80. I dunno, maybe I’ll just get a regular DS.
Nintendo’s marketing strategy across the board has been befuddling me for the last year or so, to say the least. I’d like to think this is a sign that they’re getting back on track, but I suppose I’ll believe it when I see it.
Excellent piece Mat. Me personally, I’d sooner see every pillar of the industry crumble and be replaced by better pillars than clutch on to the past and present ones out of nostalgia. I’ve got no brand loyalty and after seeing what Nintendo have been up to for the last few years they’re going to have to try a damn sight harder to make me want to part with my cash for another DS.