ANALYSIS: Nintendo 3DS – One Year On

Following the phenomenal success of Nintendo DS was always going to be a tall order.

The handheld has sold 13m units in the UK alone since its 2004 debut, making it the largest-selling games machine to hit the market.

One year ago this coming Sunday (March 25th), Nintendo’s answer to the insurmountable pressure of succeeding this powerhouse arrived on shelves: the Nintendo 3DS.

Undeniably, 3DS got off to a shakier start than expected. But 12 months on, Nintendo is keen toremind people that its newest handheld has come a long way.

Industry expectations around the launch of the 3DS were high,” says Nintendo marketing manager James Honeywell. 3DS was the fastest-selling Nintendo handheld device ever and the sales are comparable to DS sales within a similar timeframe.”

Matthew Castle, associate editor at Future Publishing magazine Nintendo Gamer, suggests the hype for 3DS escalated out of control: After dominating E3 2010, we expected something bigger from 3DS. What looked like one of the strongest launch line-ups of all time became one of the most disappointing.

Even the most die-hard Nintendo fan can’t survive on N64 ports for six months. Thankfully, Nintendo got its act together in time for Christmas: finally charging the right price and releasing the games that caused such a stir the year before.”

The software line-up was one disappointment shared by Nintendo fans and the press, but the 3DS’ shortcomings were arguably blown out of proportion.

Within days of its launch, The Sun and other outlets plastered their pages with talk of headaches induced by the 3D effect. Some games publications were also critical, comparing slow Japanese 3DS sales to the market-leading PSP.

I think some went out of their way to find fault – although that didn’t stop them from taking a big chunk of Nintendo’s advertising budget,” observes Jason Brooks, HMV’s senior games buyer.

Castle adds: Labelling 3DS a ‘headache machine’ was textbook scaremongering. The real problems Nintendo needs to learn from were the ludicrous pricing and the confusion between DS and 3DS. 3DS followed four iterations of DS – it was all too easy to mistake it for a fifth. No wonder we hear rumblings about regional Nintendo offices wanting to change Wii U’s name.”

Brand confusion was one lesson the platform holder learned and acted upon. By the end of 2011, PR campaigns had been drawn up around the message of ‘This is not DS. This is Nintendo 3DS’.

Nintendo continues to increase its efforts marketing the broader functions of 3DS: downloadable eShop titles, new SpotPass content and videos from Aardman Animation to name a few.

However, critics are quick to remind Nintendo not make the same mistake and lose focus on software.

Does anyone need low resolution videos of Eurosport? Nope,” says Castle. Nintendo wants what it had with DS: a mammoth games library.”

A major shot in the arm for the 3DS was Nintendo’s decision to cut the trade price by a third last August. This saw retailers bringing the handheld down from the 230 mark to the much more appealing sub-150 region. And that turned more than a few heads.

The price cut was intended to help expand the gaming population and maintain the momentum achieved at launch,” says Honeywell.

Within months, 3DS received another boost in the form of its Christmas line-up, headlined by smash hits Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

From its slow launch, the 3DS stormed into 2012 with millions of unit sales under its belt.

More big games arrived this year. Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3D are already with us, while Nintendo’s next flagship title – Kid Icarus: Uprising – is out today (Friday, March 23rd). Still to come are Luigi’s Mansion 2, Mario Tennis Open, Animal Crossing and a new Layton – not to mention guaranteed system sellers.

Castle adds: Dr Kawashima turned DS fortunes around and New Super Mario Bros is a proven money-spinner. Both are heading to 3DS in the next financial year.”

Brooks adds: It would be great to see Nintendo build on the base it has created by getting its value price message more strongly out there and supporting it with some more top titles.”

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