It’s been one great ride for Nintendo over the past five years, with quarter after quarter bringing in greater results than the one prior; at one point the house that Mario built showed no signs of slowing down. For a good long stretch, as competitors Microsoft and Sony were busy trying to bring the costs down of each of their respective consoles, Nintendo pulled away with an insurmountable lead in the console arms race. By the time the Wii found itself in one of every nine American households, the console finally began to show signs of slowing down. At the same time Nintendo has hit similiar strides in the handheld market with their DS. Even with revision after revision the handheld continued to sell well, meeting or exceeding expectations every time. But along came the 3DS.
I’m not here to bury the handheld and damn it to hell. I just want to take the time to paint a little picture. You see, I was among those present at the flagship Best Buy store in New York City’s Union Square, where Nintendo had their launch festivities for the 3DS. To say that it was an underwhelming showing would be an understatement. While the internet was buzzing with the story of a guy who stood in line for a week for the device, the real story was the fact that (besides his pals) no one else was there with him as no one (outside of core gamers) really knew or cared that the thing even existed.
Nintendo had the sidewalks surrounding the store closed off for what they thought would be fans coming in droves to pick up the new handheld, only to be left with tons of food (the streets were lined with food trucks) that had no people to eat it and promotional giveaway items with no people to take them. At one point Nintendo’s people were picking up random New Yorkers off the street just to offer them food in exchange for standing on the line — you know, to make it look good for the cameras.
That was the kind of botched 3DS launch Nintendo was dealing with. Blame it on consumer confusion. Blame it on the lack of marketing. Nintendo only has themselves to blame as it’s the first time since their dark ages (N64 & Gamecube years) that they’ve missed a step and shown people that they too aren’t perfect.
During the Nintendo press conference at E3 this year it was Reggie Fils-Aime who took to the stage to reassure everyone that their 3DS would be used for more than just “StreetPass”, that there would be eight first party titles that would truly be difference makers. It’s pretty much what was expected from them at that point considering it had only been four months since launch. Even though it’s only natural to assume that there will eventually be a price cut and with that cut a hardware revision, at that point in time it was in Nintendo’s best interest to justify a 3DS purchase at 250 bucks. It was just business 101.
It was during the same conference Nintendo took the time to outline its home console plans moving forward with the announcement and subsequent demonstration of the Wii U. And while it was all smiles and kissing babies throughout the show, the 3DS was still falling below sales expectations at retail. Falling so short, in fact, that according to their most recent financial forecast Nintendo was forced to cut their projections from ¥110 billion to just ¥20 billion. This is what led to the sudden and steep price cut that was announced for the 3DS on August 12th. Sony hasn’t been making things any easier for them either, with the Vita launching at what would have been the same $250 price point, with much more power (and some would argue functionality and potential) under the hood.
So now Nintendo is finding itself in quite the pickle here. Not only are consumers not completely sold on the 3DS, but after the E3 honeymoon ended it’s starting to seem as though the same could hold true for their next home console, the Wii U. When you think about it, the Wii U can potentially cause the same kind of consumer confusions as the 3DS did. I can already picture GameStop employees failing to come up with rebuttals to customers who ask “so it’s still a Wii?” Or even this one: “so you’re saying I can only use one of those new controllers on the console… so what’s the point?”
The thing is, while we all truly believed (myself included) that Nintendo needed this mythical “Wii HD”, the fact of the matter is that they really didn’t. At all. Like it or not Nintendo broke the mold with the Wii, and if you don’t agree just look at Microsoft and Sony, who both tried to duplicate the same magic with Kinect and Move.
With that success came the feeling of being untouchable, the notion that Nintendo could release products, not market them, and that people would just buy it just because it has the iconic Nintendo logo emblazoned on it. That same attitude is what could potentially spell disaster for their next home console. With the recent 3DS price drop it may seem as though they’re coming back down to earth as a company. Hopefully now they learned that if they do a repeat of the 3DS launch, with this holier than thou attitude and combined with a lack of marketing, they’ll be in for one rude awakening. Those same 3DS troubles could very well carry over to the Wii U. But hey if they do, at least we’d get a price cut five months after launch, right?