Something has gone wrong. Earlier this year, the 3DS was hailed by Nintendo as its most successful handheld launch to date. However, after the hordes of Nintendo devotees were finished picking up their system at midnight, sales began to decline fairly rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that by April 27, one month after the system’s March 27 launch, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata explained to investors that the fledgling system had already failed to meet the company’s expectations. Since then, things have gotten a lot worse. Unlike nearly all previous Nintendo handhelds, the 3DS has had trouble getting off the ground. Our big question is why? Even through the hardest times at Nintendo, when consoles like the GameCube continually struggled to stay alive, Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS handhelds have retained dominance over the handheld game industry — an industry Nintendo created decades ago.
The 3DS is selling so poorly that Nintendo has announced that it will cut the price of the 3DS from $250 to $170 on August 11, and President Iwata will cut his own salary by 50 percent, along with the salaries of several other high-ranking Nintendo executives. “I feel greatly accountable for having to make the markdown shortly after the launch, for having damaged our consumers’ trust, for having made a significant impact upon the financial forecasts, for the annual dividend now being expected to be significantly less than originally expected and for now forecasting that there will be no interim dividend,” said Iwata.
So, if the 3DS is selling this poorly, we have to ask: why? Nintendo’s line of DS products has been popular for seven years. What’s different now? We have some theories. Below are a few reasons why Nintendo’s new handheld is bombing.
It’s too expensive
The original Game Boy launched at $90 in 1989; the Game Boy Advance launched at $150 in 2001; the Nintendo DS launched at $150 in 2004; the Nintendo DS Lite launched at $130 in 2006; and the DSi launched for $150. Games were priced at $30 or less until the Nintendo DS, when prices rose to an average of $40 for new titles. With the 3DS, Nintendo decided to take a different, more expensive route. The 3DS launched for $250 in the United States, making it the most expensive handheld the company has ever released. Even the new reduced price of $170, while $80 cheaper, will be relatively expensive compared to Nintendo’s history. With the price of video game consoles, cell phones, and everything creeping higher and higher, perhaps many weren’t prepared to shell out so much for a new handheld system.
The only good comparison to the 3DS price would be the Sony PlayStation Portable, which struggled due to its high price of $250, among other things.
3D is a lame selling feature
People don’t seem to mind 3D, but unfortunately for Nintendo, they aren’t lining up to experience it like they were a couple years back. Recent NPD data backs up this trend, showing that consumers aren’t buying 3DTVs. When I play the 3DS, I find myself turning the feature off due to eye strain. Others seem to enjoy it more, but I’d gamble that few people are blown away by 3D and would pay $250 solely for a handheld that provides it. While many may enjoy the added dimension at one point or another, the 3DS’s big gimmick is glasses-free 3D, and it doesn’t seem to be paying off.
If you remove the 3D, the 3DS looks, well, exactly like every DS before it. Nintendo hasn’t progressed its hardware in many other ways. Sure, it has a bit more juice, there is an eShop now, and the system has an analog joystic, but the vision behind the 3DS seems less about game innovation and more about a 3D screen. Nintendo even failed to update the touch technology of the DS line to match the responsive finger touching you find in most smartphones. Nintendo actually chose to use an old resistive-style touchscreen in its 3DS despite the entire smartphone and tablet market moving toward capacitive touchscreen technology, which lets you use your fingers and multitouch gestures. There are probably good reasons for this, but the verdict is in on styluses: Most people don’t really want to use them.