A major moment in the life of 3DS happened on May 11th this year.
The Sun wrote an article that called Nintendo’s portable the best games console ever. That’s not what they were saying 48 months ago. In fact, they slammed the console for causing ‘headaches, dizziness and even nausea’.
It was a horrible time for Nintendo. Its new console was floundering commercially and critically. But that was then. Today, the man in charge of promoting the 3DS is all smiles.
“We loved seeing that piece in The Sun,” says James Honeywell. “Our developers have worked so hard creating fantastic new games. We have been able to bring those together over the last few months, and it had made it – as The Sun says – the format to have.”
In a period where the market is depressed, and with Xbox One and PS4 dominating the headlines, it’s easy to overlook 3DS achievements right now. For the past six weeks, it has been outselling all other consoles, and it’s the only console that’s sold more games this year than it did last year.
“Sometimes handheld gets overshadowed by home consoles,” says Honeywell. “We seem to have loads of momentum now. We’ve had a fantastic line-up – Donkey Kong, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion, LEGO City – and these are just titles that we’ve released over the last three months. I think sometimes people are surprised to hear that 3DS is currently the No.1 selling format in the UK.”
Nintendo has to take the plaudits for rescuing 3DS. All of the games that have helped boost sales in recent months were published by Nintendo.
“We’d always like things to do better. But in
context where the industry is, we are really
happy, and we think we are going to go into
Christmas with a lot of momentum."
James Honeywell - head of consumer marketing, Nintendo UK
The firm’s marketing for Animal Crossing is one of the biggest and most expensive ad campaigns of the year. And its development teams are proving to be as talented as ever: Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion and Fire Emblem all have Metacritic ratings of over 85.
But with such acclaim and marketing spend, shouldn’t 3DS be doing even better?
“We’d always like things to do better,” says Honeywell. “But in context where the industry is, we are really happy, and we think we are going to go into Christmas with a lot of momentum. Pokémon X and Y is coming. That is already pre-ordering really strongly, ahead of other titles in the series. We think it is going great guns and is going to just get better from here on.”
That’s the crux of the situation. For all of 3DS recent successes, it is how the rest of the year pans out that will define the console’s 2013.
As of this week, Nintendo is starting to ramp up its Wii U release schedule. Wii U is a console in desperate need of some sales. Does that mean 3DS will take a backseat as its big brother takes the limelight? Honeywell says no.
“We have always done well keeping focus on both our home consoles and our handheld. We had a great Wii U showing at E3, and as we bring those games to market, yes we will do a lot more advertising around them. But that won’t be to the detriment of 3DS. We have a massive community out there, a lot of people we have brought in with our games over the last couple of months. And we want to make sure we can continue to deliver new games and promotions. Our focus won’t shift.”
There’s good reason why 3DS activity won’t soften as we head into the peak season. There’s a new Professor Layton, the aforementioned return of Pokémon, plus a brand new Zelda.
And Nintendo aren’t finished with the likes of Animal Crossing either.
“As a marketing team, one of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to create long-tail sales. We are pretty much on TV continuously through the summer and we will be re-promoting over Christmas. Animal Crossing will still get a lot of focus. But as we move into peak, Pokémon is probably our biggest new launch. It will be as big a launch as Animal Crossing, if not bigger.”
But it’s not all about physical games. Nintendo has booked online space to push its eShop offerings, too.
“We still tend to focus as a team on the big store launches. But the eShop is just growing and growing.
“The ability to buy games in store and on the eShop really seems to be working. But on top of that you have all these new indie and first-party titles. Even we are surprised by the volume of stuff that comes out every Thursday. We are trying to get people to pick up on the fact that Thursday is eShop Thursday.”
3DS has been a success story for Nintendo in a time where success has been hard to come by for the platform holder. But 3DS still got a long way to go if it wants to repeat the success of the original DS. DS brought in a broad gaming audience, something 3DS has yet to manage. But that’s changing, says Honeywell.
“Layton has always been one of those fantastic bridging titles, it really helped us take people from Brain Training over to a more classic-style of gameplay. And that audience of older female players has stuck with us. Last year’s Layton for 3DS still did tremendously well.
"Animal Crossing will still get a lot of focus.
But as we move into peak, Pokémon is
probably our biggest new launch. It will be as
big a launch as Animal Crossing, if not bigger.”
James Honeywell - head of consumer marketing, Nintendo UK
“We think Animal Crossing can work for an expanded audience. Our community manager is traditionally in contact with typical gamers, but recently he met up with women who were 50 or older, who all play Animal Crossing almost book club-style. We haven’t explored fully the potential some of our titles have with that expanded audience. We will be bringing new titles to them, like Layton. But part of our drive from now through to Christmas, is taking those existing titles to a wider audience.”
Based on the 3DS’ current performance and its Q4 line-up, the optimism at Nintendo makes sense. After a wobbly start, 3DS has won over critics, consumers and now retail, too. It’s turned it around. “Software sells hardware,” says Honeywell plainly, which is why the company remains optimistic that it can do the same for Wii U.
Yet if we look beyond Christmas, 3DS’ future is less certain. Almost all of Nintendo’s big titles will have been released by the end of this year for 3DS. Surely 2014 can’t be another year of growth?
“We have a lot of support coming,” concludes Honeywell. “We haven’t made a lot of announcements. But we have started to talk about some things like Super Smash Bros coming to 3DS and Wii U next year. And that will help keep 3DS flying. But our focus at the moment is about getting through the summer, bringing out more titles for Christmas and just expanding that audience. We will deal with 2014 when it gets here.”