Posted on March 31 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
It’s kind of funny. The 3DS apparently achieved new records for the highest numbers of preorders and day one sales for any Nintendo portable system, ever. We’ve seen crazy turnouts for launch day parties, high optimism from Nintendo, and everything that you’d think would mark a strong handheld launch. And yet…we’re not seeing the level of shortages we saw with the Wii. While some stores exhausted their stock pretty quickly, other still have plenty. Some sites like GameDaily have already gone on to project why there just isn’t as much of an explosion with the launch of the 3DS as Nintendo might have expected, and we’re going to try our best to consider all the factors too.
Spring is a Stagnant Time of Year for Game Consoles
Since when have games performed outstandingly well in the early quarters of the year? Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario Kart Wii, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl all despite going strong out the gate didn’t fully tap into the initial sales boom until the holiday seasons months later, defying the conventional wisdom that sales are consistently strongest at launch and decline from there (Mario Kart is the best example as it actually sold better during the holidays than at launch). We see this more keenly with consoles – Wii’s strongest quarter ever came around when New Super Mario Bros. Wii debuted, despite the game not appearing until three years into the console’s life. Given that the 3DS is debuting right smack in the middle of the deadest sales season in the industry, it’s no surprise that it didn’t make the same waves that Wii did given that Wii launched right before the holiday shopping season.
I get the feeling Nintendo is doing this on purpose. First of all, it ensures that their shipments will be able to meet demand so that there aren’t terrible shortages. Second of all, it gives their system more of an install base for later in the year when the killer apps start flowing. It may not seem like the best idea, but we’ll see in the long term.
Now, some of our staff have the impression that later on in the year, we’ll start seeing Wii-level shortages. It’s certainly possible – at certain points there were Wii shortages in some stores even in the later years – but I’m not entirely sure we should expect that. Nintendo kept the 3DS launch pretty late in order to make sure that production kept up with demand and I think they’re going to keep that up for the rest of the year.
Full Functionality Won’t Come About Until May
This is probably the simplest reason: no Internet browser or e-shop until later this spring. People aren’t going to pay top dollar for something that isn’t fully functional out the gate – they’ll wait until they know exactly what they’re buying. We haven’t seen the web browser in action and even though there’s been some talk of re-releasing “3D Classics” we don’t exactly know what that’ll mean exactly just yet, so they’re understandably not the system’s strongest selling points right now. I wonder how consumers will respond when these things go live and we know more.
Lack of Strong Advertising
And by that I don’t mean there hasn’t been any advertising – I just mean that most of the advertising has been focused on the software itself, and most of that on its glasses-free 3D. Where are all the game advertisements? I guess we should consider that there hasn’t been any game worth dumping a massive promotional campaign on – but still, Nintendo did a great job marketing the Wii and it feels like they haven’t done as good a job selling the gameplay possibilities that the 3DS offers. It kind of worries me – particularly given that a lot of people, even fans of the initial Wii software like Wii Sports or Wii Play, are responding to the early 3DS games as though they’re shallow tech demos.
I can kind of see why this is. Outside of Nintendogs + cats, none of the 3DS software offers a strong multiplayer mode. The game content has a set ceiling, and once you reach that ceiling there’s not much more the game has to offer. Sure, Nintendogs was pretty darn popular, but among the hardcore gaming crowd, the major game console customers, it probably won’t justify an early purchase.
Lack of Killer Software
That brings us to the heart of the matter – where are the killer apps? This is the first Nintendo console ever to not have a key first-party offering at launch. NES had Super Mario Bros., Game Boy had Super Mario Land, SNES had Super Mario World, Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64, the GBC had Link’s Awakening DX, the GBA had Super Mario Advance, GameCube had Super Smash Bros. Melee, DS had Super Mario 64 DS, and Wii had Twilight Princess. The earliest major piece of first-party software this year will be Ocarina of Time 3D in June – so not surprisingly even the most hardcore Nintendo fans like myself are holding out.
The linked GameDaily report speculates whether the new iPad plays a role – but I won’t go there.
Don’t misinterpret the sentiment here. I’m definitely not saying the 3DS isn’t doing well – I’m just trying to figure out why it’s not the Absolute Best Launch in Gaming. Of course, this is pretty much a DS tradition – the original DS didn’t have the best launch, either, and it came out in November of all months! But once the excellent games started popping up, beginning with New Super Mario Bros. a few months later, the system shot high to heaven.
If I had to guess – and as someone who reports on gaming news, I probably should guess – it looks like even if things aren’t going so hot right now, there’s no reason to suspect that we won’t see a major upturn come June. If that doesn’t happen…well, we’ll just have to take things as they come.