As recently as a year ago, Nintendo was riding high. The Wii not only introduced motion gaming to the world, but became the highest selling console in the company’s history, even beating the original NES. On top of that, the DS was the most successful handheld gaming system on the market, virtually annihilating the far more powerful PSP.
Yet somehow, Nintendo currently finds themselves in one of their lowest slumps in history. The company wowed E3 when they debuted the 3DS, but blew the release of the system in way that invites worry not only about the future of the 3DS, but the future of Nintendo in general. Top tier Nintendo executives took pay cuts and the system itself received a massive price cut not even 6 months into its release. With the popular Wii at the end of its lifecycle and plans for an unproved successor console to arrive next year, things aren’t looking good in Nintendoland. Mario may even have to start up that plumbing career again soon.
Now that being said, there’s really no need to worry about the death of Nintendo or even the 3DS. As dire as things seem, we’re talking about Nintendo here. This isn’t like when the Dreamcast failed to deliver sales following the disastrous Saturn and Sega decided to abandoned systems all together and become a software manufacturer. Nintendo is too big for that. They are the Disney of the gaming world and much like how Disney always found ways out of their fallow periods, so too will Nintendo. The company has already made risky moves to pull themselves out of a slump and they are at least initially working. After only a week following the price drop, Japan reported the highest sales since the 3DS launch, Gamestop claimed there was a significant increase in sales in North America, and Ubisoft reported a 700% increase in 3DS software sales (and they don’t even have the best line up of 3DS titles). Nintendo is already climbing back. They may have assumed a little too much when they release the 3DS, but that doesn’t mean the handheld system will be the next Virtual Boy. It is a rather amazing piece of hardware after all, not a monochrome gimmick.
It’s kind of appropriate that Nintendo plans to revive Kid Icarus on the 3DS, because the company could have learned a few lessons from the Icarus myth lately. Nintendo clearly felt invincible at the end of the Wii/DS era. They were flying high and assumed that brand loyalty and internet buzz would make the 3DS the company’s next record-smashing success. The reason the WII and DS took off was because they targeted casual gamers rather than the hardcore market locked up by the Playstation and X-Box. It led to massive financial success, but that audience isn’t going to just buy a 3DS because they read it would be “totally be amazing” in a blog one time. They need to be coddled with advertising and hype. After the media blitz that accompanied the Wii’s perpetually sold-out release, Nintendo put the 3DS into stores with practically no marketing and only handful of new games. Those paper wings that took Nintendo to previously unknown sales heights? They got burned.
Most people didn’t even know the 3DS was coming out, and those who did had no idea which games to buy. Systems normally launch with less than satisfactory software, but the 3DS came to stores without a single must-buy title. On top of all that, the online Eshop with it’s promised array of 3D videos and addictive downloadable titles wasn’t available yet either. Unless you were anxious to get your hands on the 3DS itself, there were very few reasons buy the system and it cost $250 just to see what the thing could do because no display units were available in stores. It was one of the worst system launches ever, and Nintendo justifiably got burned. Fortunately, they went into action fast.
The massive price slash the big N offered made the system barely more expensive than the DS. Early adopters will be getting 20 free downloadable NES and Gamboy Advance games so that they don’t feel left out and a collection of marquee 3DS titles like Mario 3DS, Starfox, and Mario Kart will be available by Christmas. Nintendo may have lost the launch battle, but the 3DS war is far from over and they are coming out for round 2 with guns blazing. It’s easy to forget amidst the controversy that the 3DS is an amazing piece of hardware and gamers need simply to get their hands on one to understand. Nintendo started to think that they were invincible, but in a world where they have to compete with Sony, Microsoft, and Apple for gamers’ attention, there is just no room for laziness. The fact that they are acting so quickly and dramatically shows that they are ready to address the problem and thankfully, it’s already paying off.
It’s far too early to jump to conclusion about the future of either Nintendo or the 3DS. However, the 3DS will only look more appealing in the coming months and now that the company has learned some hard lessons, they’ll know what to avoid when they launch the Wii U. Let’s not forget that this is hardly Nintendo’s first period of struggle either. The Gamecube was the least popular system of an entire console generation and the company made drastic and dramatic changes when they designed and launched the Wii. Was it a mistake to soft launch the 3DS and pretty well only release two original Wii titles (Zelda and Kirby) for an entire calendar year? Yes, absolutely. But we also have to assume that shift in focus was to do with their development cycle. With two new systems on their plate, Nintendo is undoubtedly creating some groundbreaking and system defining software for both the 3DS and Wii U right now. This may be one of the low points in they company’s history, but it’s hardly the end. This is just the beginning of a new chapter for Nintendo and it’s still far too early to tell where things will go. At least we know that they’ve learned some hard lessons. Now let’s see what they do with the new knowledge.