Recently Nintendo announced a massive price cut for the 3DS, dropping it from US$250 to US$169 (AU$350 down to AU$250 in Australia) due to poor consumer uptake of the new console. This comes a mere four months after the release of the unit (April 2011) which has prompted a large number of websites to deem this to be a foreshadowing of the death of handheld gaming in this form. I disagree.
First and foremost I want to put a nail in the extremely common belief that the iPad and smart phones are causing the death of handheld gaming consoles. Most of the people who play games on smart phones were never in the market for a handheld gaming console, they just play casual games because they are close at hand. Don’t get me wrong I love games on iOS and Android, I just reviewed Pirates! for iPad a few days ago and really liked it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play my PSP. Handheld gaming consoles are aimed at a different market, pure and simple.
The original DS was marketed at kids and had a plethora of great games (and a heap of dodgy ones too). It came out with a price point slightly less than what the 3DS has now been dropped to, and it sold millions of units within the first week. Following that was never going to be easy, but Nintendo clearly dropped the ball when it came to their planning for the launch because there was a number of glaring errors in judgement that I can throw out off the top of my head.
Number one is the fact that the DSi received a price cut around the same time as the 3DS launch. Really? Who came up with that lightbulb idea? “We have a new system but we’d like to encourage you to buy our old one”. You want an uptake of your new tech then take a page out of Apple’s book of sales. When the iPad 2 was launched they stopped production of the iPad forcing all new customers to purchase the new unit. Sure the 3DS is backwards compatible which is nice, but with the quality of games available even now there was never a reason to buy the newer model. Let’s not forget the fact that Nintendo actually told everyone they were going to intentionally overprice the 3DS because there was so much consumer demand for it when announced at E3 last year.
Next up is the games, if you want to sell a handheld gaming system then what do you need? Games! The launch lineup for the 3DS was dismal and the vaunted Augmented Reality system was fantastic for the 5 minutes before it got boring. Nintendo have a number of massive gaming franchises under their belt such as Mario, Metroid, and Zelda, none of which had a title in the launch lineup. Oh but what about Nintendogs + Cats, surely that would sell units… guess not. Most importantly in my mind is the fact that the Black and White versions of Pokemon came out for the DS just before the 3DS launched. I guarantee if they had made them 3DS only then the system would have sold like crack to kids.
This is fast turning into a rant so I’m going to finish it up with a comparison from my fanboy side. Those of you out there who think the PS Vita will suffer the same fate as the 3DS should probably rethink the situation a little bit. The upgrade from the DS to the 3DS has absolutely nothing on the upgrade from the PSP to the PSV. Perhaps Nintendo could have listened to all the gamers out there crying out for dual analog sticks instead of implementing a single nubbin like the PSP has (because it was such a hit with the masses). The launch lineup for the Vita is incredibly impressive, even if just half the games that have been announced for launch actually are available day one. Sure the games may be expensive, especially compared with free or 99 cent games on the iOS App Store but from what we’ve seen so far they will be well worth it.
To put it simply, to all those haters out there who think handheld gaming consoles are a thing of the past, just you wait and see.