The 3DS story has been one fraught with ups and downs.
A high price, coupled with negative press reports, a poor launch line-up and confused advertising forced Nintendo to cut the console's price just three months after launch.
The 3DS' unique selling point – a 3D screen – quickly lost its novelty appeal. The popularity of smartphones was taking its toll. And the press was far from kind. The announcement of the Circle Pad Pro accessory (which added a second analogue stick) was greeted with derision from the media.
Yet now, over two years since that difficult debut, and 3DS is on a winning streak. From Super Mario 3D Land to Resident Evil Revelations, the console now has a diverse library of critically admired software. Sales have risen significantly, particularly in Nintendo's Japanese homeland. And its release slate for 2013 is arguably its most impressive yet.
3DS has really come into its own over the last two years,” says Nintendo UK marketing and PR director Shelly Pearce.
Along with the strong software line up, the introduction of the Nintendo 3DS XL last year has really helped invigorate the market.
The Nintendo eShop has also gone from strength-to-strength. Each week we add to the eShop exclusives which are being met with a really positive response by both media and gamers. PullBlox, VVVVV and Dillon's Rolling Western are all great examples. It also means that people have access to titles at varying price points with games available from 1.79.”
DS is the largest selling games
consolein the UK ever so
there was a lot tolive up to."
Nintendo UK marketing and PR director Shelly Pearce
One of the early issues faced by Nintendo was the perception that the 3DS was just another DS, only with a 3D screen. A misconception that Pearce says Nintendo ‘has worked hard to rectify'.
And that's evident not just in its advertising, but its PR. Nintendo signed Aardman to create Shaun the Sheep short films for 3DS, the BFI were brought on board to encourage budding film makers to create movies using the 3DS, while The Saturdays were hired to promote the 3DS' 3D camera. All activity to highlight that there's a lot more to 3DS than a clever new screen.
It appears to be working, but 3DS has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to break from the shadow of its predecessor.
DS is the largest selling games console in the UK ever so there was a lot to live up to,” says Pearce. The DS has been on the market since 2005 whereas the 3DS is only two years in, so it's comparatively young. Our aim is obviously to upgrade as many DS owners as possible and with our strongest ever software line-up and with games which appeal to all of our different audiences, this year really is the year of 3DS.”
It may sound like it, but ‘the year of 3DS' is more than just marketing hot air designed to convince the trade the console has a decent year ahead. Just look at that release schedule.
Nintendo has dubbed 2013 ‘the year of Luigi', what with the recent Luigi's Mansion 2 and the upcoming Mario and Luigi RPG (plus Luigi DLC for New Super Mario Bros U on Wii U). But it's also the year of Pokmon, and the year that marks the return of Brain Training, Animal Crossing and Donkey Kong.
Best of all for retail, most of these games are launching over spring and summer, two periods otherwise notable for a lack of games elsewhere.
Summer is traditionally strong for handheld in-store and with the stellar line up in 2013 combined with an increasingly strong back catalogue, 3DS provides a strong in-store proposition,” says Pearce.
We will see increased focus on key franchises in-store such as Mario, Pokmon and LEGO to further enable retail to capitalise on the buoyancy of the 3DS format throughout the year.”
3DS product manager Roger Langford adds: We were really excited to kick off our ‘year of Luigi' with the launch of Luigi's Mansion 2 and we think this has set the tone for the rest of the year; it scored highly across the board and was positively received by fans.
Fire Emblem: Awakening looks set to follow in Luigi's footsteps with the game already getting 9s and 10s. Animal Crossing: New Leaf will be a key focus for us this June – both digital and physical sales in Japan have been incredible. And Pokmon X and Y is definitely going to be a highlight for us in the autumn.” Langford adds that we will see a lot of 3DS on TV this year alongside ‘significant' online activity.
And sampling events and social media activity will play a big role for the platform holder this year. Meanwhile, Pearce hopes to keep attracting new demographics to the 3DS family, including women.
We will see increased focus on key franchises
in-store such as Mario, Pokmon and LEGO to
further enable retail to capitalise on thebuoyancy
of the 3DS format throughout the year.”
Nintendo UK marketing and PR director Shelly Pearce
Whether it's Super Mario 3D Land, New Style Boutique, Luigi's Mansion 2 or the forthcoming Animal Crossing: New Leaf, we're really starting to build an appealing female proposition.”
By the end of 2012 3DS had shifted 30m units. Nintendo has managed to avert a costly failure and given its handheld some momentum. A feat that bodes well for Wii U.
But the bosses at Nintendo HQ are still not happy.
30m units is still below the firm's own lofty expectations, and so the pressure is on for 2013's impressive release slate to deliver the goods. Yet there is optimism around 3DS now that was certainly lacking two years ago.
And there's still more to come. Nintendo has yet to detail its plans to sell eShop games via the High Street, something the company says it's planning to do aggressively – and soon. Smash Bros. is coming to 3DS, probably next year. Monster Hunter 4 is also on the way, and there's bound to be a 3DS specific Zelda game in the works, too.
Nintendo has turned 3DS around. And all it took were some great games, an attractive price point and decent marketing.
Who'd have thought it?