Nintendo President: 3DS sales show that smartphones haven’t killed handheld gaming yet

nintendo 3ds xl

Handheld gaming isn’t dead! That’s the rallying cry of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Even as the iPhone and other smartphones wash over the portable video game market—a market Nintendo used to stand astride as the uncontested master—Iwata is convinced the Nintendo 3DS will be a success, a survivor, and a foundation for future portable game consoles.

“I think that is we are able to provide experiences on handheld devices that consumers cannot get on another device, then we will continue creating software and hardware going forward, and if it comes to a point when we’re not able to do that, I think, yeah, you will see the portable handheld gaming devices go the way of the Dodo, I guess,” Iwata said to Kotaku in a new interview.

“I don’t think there’s not a bright future for handheld devices but I understand that the competition, again with the rise of smart devices, is different and I do recognize that.”

That said the Nintendo 3DS is doing just fine. It recently broke 7 million total sales in Japan alone. The Nintendo DS took 18 months just to sell 10 million worldwide. 3DS games are also moving swiftly, despite a somewhat limited selection.

“3DS software sales [are] excedding DS software sales. I think this is proof that even though we see an increase in smartphones and tablets… there’s obviously a huge flood of games in the market, I think the software sales that Reggie alluded to [at E3] and pointed out really prove that these people, even with this flood of free games and whatnot for these portable devices are not keeping people from purchasing software for dedicated hardware.”

The Nintendo 3DS’ greatest trials are ahead of it though. Comparing its sales to the DS over that devices first two years isn’t a sign of its eventual success. It will be how it compares to the DS during its peak, 2007 to 2010, that really determines if Nintendo has a future in portable gaming.

Iwata’s been having a renaissance this summer. Rather than the classic stoic Japanese executive, the man has been unusually honest and contemplative about his company’s recent decisions. He admitted that 3D is not an audience lure, that it was a mistake to not embrace digital distribution, and he’s adamantly defended some of Nintendo’s unusual hardware design decisions. Iwata was clearly humbled by the failure of the 3DS in 2011—a 50 percent pay cut will do that—and his direction of the company since reflects lessons learned.