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Analysis: What Do The 3DS's Sales Figures Say About Rumours Of Trouble For Handheld Gaming Consoles?

Nintendo-3DS-AquaOpen.jpg

I've been spilling a lot of ink recently about handheld gaming and smartphones - like, a lot a lot; so much so that I'm beginning to wonder if it's my "thing" as a writer here. Some developers are getting cold feet about new handheld consoles (while others are not), while sales of smartphones and smartphone games are skyrocketing. Meanwhile, Nintendo has its eyes on Apple as a future (if not current) contender. The internet is rife with nervous stories about what will come of handheld consoles, with some writers going so far as to call game over already. The 3DS's lacklustre performance earlier this year has been often cited as proof that gamers just aren't interested in laying out money for a handheld console when they already own a smartphone.

Earlier this year, Nintendo slashed the price of the 3DS in an attempt to get sales moving. Many commenters (this writer included) suggested that the 3DS' sluggish sales had more to do with its price point - $249 US seemed awful high, considering - than iPhones or Android.

So how has the 3DS been doing since the price cut?

Sales data from VGChartz indicates that the 3DS has sold better worldwide than any other console on the market since its price drop, pushing over 900 000 units in August (300 000 better than the PS3, its closest competitor) and almost 900 000 again in September (over 150 000 better than the PS3, again its closest competitor). To contrast, in July the system sold just over 300 000 units, putting it behind the PSP and ahead of the PS2 in sales, and in June it was in the same position, pushing just over 400 000. In the month of May, however, the system's sales were down around 300 000 again, suggesting the higher June number may have been a bump from the release of the Ocarina of Time 3D. The fact is, the system's current sales are its best since the 3DS's launch.

I'll be the first to admit there are a lot of other factors that may be affecting the system's sales, but it's pretty hard to argue at this point that the 3DS's price point was a major - if not the major - stumbling block the system faced. Yes, it needs more games; yes, 3D seems to turn some people off; and yes...well...well, you've seen that extra stick thing... But when a system's price drops and its sales triple for two months straight...well, that's a signal.

Whether or not selling around 900 000 units a month is a sign that a system is failing against competition from iOS and Android is a much harder question to answer. Who knows how long the momentum will last (though, coming into the holiday season, when everyone's numbers traditionally soar, these sales figures may well be making Nintendo execs breathe a sigh of relief). And what will the PS Vita's launch tell us? After all, it will be selling around the 3DS's former price point, albeit with some mighty fancy tech.

Regardless, data are better than speculation, and the actual data on handheld console sales show that, for the 3DS, something big happened over the summer; and, for the last two months at least, the system has found some traction.

11 Comments

Bearfamily said:

All it proves is that just like the PS3 you can put all the tech you want into a machine but without the software to back it, up whats it worth exactly? We buy these things to play GAMES not be in awe of what it "could" do.

Azuremage said:

Actually all it proves is that you need to make sure the price point for a device isn't absurd for what it can do, and then people will buy it.

Chris said:

I think it's also partly that this is the fourth DS iteration in as many years. For me, the addition of 3D isn't significant enough to justify shelling out cash for something I feel like I already own two of. Especially not when almost all the games available for it are just handheld versions of games I've already played.

silenthillbaby said:

The 3DS is not selling well because of 1. the bad economy and 2. lack of good games. I would not be too concerned about smartphones taking over its niche.

Personally, I really want one, but I can't afford one right now, and also I know that Nintendo will just come out with a new 3DS within a year, so what's the point of investing that money into getting one now?

Rosa said:

I hope handhelds don't fall out of favour completely. I'm not really interested in smartphone games and I really prefer traditional button input to 100% touch. Don't have a smartphone, don't want one.

Meanwhile, handheld is my favourite game delivery system ...

It would be tragic if the market dies.

I don't have a 3DS because there isn't a SINGLE friggin game for it that I want to play yet. I'll be getting a vita at launch, though.

Caracticus said:

The optimal user interface for playing games is not the optimal user interface for making telephone calls or texting. So, purpose-built devices will never go away, even though some people make do with one or the other and accept the compromises in usability. Who wants to play a FPS on a BlackBerry even if it IS technically possible... and playing PacMan on an iOS device is painfully un-fun.

JTSpender said:

I think most of the analyses people are writing up about this are overly simplistic. I think everything that has been pointed out (lack of games, price, smartphone competition, 3D concerns) is potentially a factor, but each is a problem for a different market segment.

Yes, smartphone games are going to draw away a lot of the casual/puzzle gaming market, but the mass-market smartphone is not going to be an adequate platform for portable gaming for even the semi-serious gamer. (I would expect more convergence in this area in the future, though... isn't the Vita *alllmost* a smartphone at this point?) Yes, the price was a bit high in this economy... but would it have been too high if there had been games people actually had to have? Aren't there plenty of adult gamers who are still willing to blow large sums of money on game stuff if they want it? And really, would we all be sitting here if Pokemon White/Black had been a launch title for the 3DS instead of reminding parents (and some of the rest of us) that there was still a lot of life in the current DSes? (And don't get me started on how the slew of DS models have taught consumers to wait for their favorite color or an XL model or something.)

One thing I think people aren't necessarily talking about is "gimmick fatigue". Starting with the original DS, we've had a slew of gimmicky products come out in the last 6 or so years (DS, Wii, PS3's original sorry attempt at motion control, Move, Kinect, 3DS, and now the announced WiiU). The touchscreen technology in the DS is the only one of these that has been completely successful. Sure, some of these devices sold a bajillion units, but the DS is the only one that really lived up to most consumer's expectations.

And even ignoring the gimmick aspect of it: modern games have reached a "shininess" level such that I think it's hard to wow people with graphics, or... really much of anything. Consoles are a bit more of a commodity now, like computers, especially since "everything" is released on every platform. I think the bar is a lot higher to get people to lust after a console the way they used to. The model where a console comes out with a bunch of shitty launch titles that we all ogle just because the graphics/console/whatever is shiny is probably not going to cut it anymore.

Branovices said:

It seems like many of the comment people didn't even read the article... since Hal is pointing out that the 3DS sold 900,000 units two months in a row since the price drop... and it hasn't even quite reached holiday time yet.

ironmouse said:

I'm getting tired of hearing how iOS/Android games will beat portable systems (3DS/PSP etc). I've yet to see any real compelling games on the iOS market. They are all puzzle, 5 min flick-a-thons. Big deal.
(it also explains why they go for $1, as they are not deep games compared to "console"-like games on 3DS/PSP)
One thing that amuses me about the people who tout iOS/android gaming as the next big thing - battery life! Everyone complains about 3DS/PSP battery life, but no one seems to mention iphone/android battery life in comparison??
I for one keep my iphone just for phone calls and music with the occasional app usage - which when you do use apps eats up the battery something fierce! I would rather keep my battery power for phone calls and music, and not suddenly have my battery power drop to 20% after a 5 minute session of a game.
So really, I'm getting tired of this 3DS/PSP vs iOS/Android gaming thing.
Real buttons and analog sticks always win over touch screen controls (like iphone).

Mikey said:

My 3DS is amazing. I love it. Best handheld I've ever had, it's genius hardware and in your hands it really feels like it's something out of the future. It just needs some good games.

Enough with these kid games, mini games, TV/movie games, 3D versions of games already released, etc.

We want real games. New games. Deep, long games that you can really dig into.

IDEAS:
New Chrono Trigger title.
New Final Fantasy title (an actual full game, not some strategy game/sequel/remake/etc).
New Earthbound game.
New Princess Peach game.
New Silent Hill game.
New Mortal Kombat game.
Some new side-scroller beatem-ups (Turtles, X-Men, Power Rangers, etc).
New Buffy The Vampire Slayer game.
New Nightmare On Elm Street game (cool 3D possibilities)
New Legacy Of The Wizard game.
New Zombies Ate My Neighbors game.
New Super Mario RPG game.
New Animated Batman sidescroller.
New Eternal Darkness game (3D insanity would be awesome)
And finally, shocker -- new, original games to start some new franchises.

We just need some game developers to get off their asses and take the risk of making something that isn't shiny and colorful for 8 year olds with a Disney logo slapped on it.

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