Of all the days to oversleep and rush through the morning routine to catch the commuter train to work. Usually for a few minutes after waking I have time to hit key websites to catch up on current events that happened while unconscious, but this particular day I had to read about Nintendo’s drastic and sudden 3DS plan on the ride into to work through a series of twitters from colleagues who got to the news before I did.
I’ve been in Nintendo’s 3DS corner since before its launch because I dig the technology and its capabilities. But I never hid from my opinion that the system, and its games, were too goddamn much. And clearly the consumers have spoken with a very muted first three months. Of course, more than 800,000 systems sold stateside isn’t exactly something to scoff at, especially considering it’s a launch outside of the Christmas/Holiday gift giving window. For a New Piece of Technology with a Unique Device-Selling Gimmick, though, that’s kind of a weak start.
The drop from $250 to $170 in a matter of three months is easily one of the most severe strategic moves I’ve seen out of Nintendo. Does it smack of desperation? Sure. But it also smacks of humble pie: Nintendo was playing the egotistical Sony mindset of “Hey, people are going to want it for its name alone!” like exactly what happened with the PlayStation 3.
Just like Sony, I think Nintendo’s going to come out of this just fine with the sudden, enormous price drop.
Now (or rather, in a month) the system’s sticker shock is gone. The 3DS is an enormously capable system with a cool and unique stereoscopic feature that no other gaming device offers as a stock function, and it’s been brought down to the price of the last generation’s system. This is where it should have been from Day One.
And judging from the previous systems’ costs, I don’t believe for a second this price drop will put Nintendo in the red. We’ll never, ever know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that Nintendo’s still making a bit of change on each system at $170…and even if it’s only a small margin, Nintendo’s currently hard at work shaving costs by shrinking and swapping components behind the scenes to beef up those profits.
I also have to commend Nintendo for proactively squashing the outcry of complaints from early adopters: the Ambassador’s Club is a brilliant move to make people who already bought in feel special. The cost involved in the free NES and Game Boy Advance games is minimal to Nintendo but hugely valuable to gamers, and 20 games across Nintendo’s backlog of titles, completely at no cost to owners of 3DS, is one of the most satisfying apologies I’ve experienced out of a game publisher. I’ll be surprised if Nintendo holds up its promise of keeping these games exclusive for the Ambassadors, and I’m not going to complain when I see them hit the eShop for everyone to buy.
From my perspective, Nintendo needs to continue this apologetic momentum by embracing all the evolutionary changes that have been happening while the publisher’s been in its “success bubble.” Online persistence is a great start, but there’s not a whole lot of point when very few software titles take advantage of this “always connected” internet support. Three months out of the gate and we’ve only got two games that can be played online…and they’re both fighting games.
40 dollars for gaming experiences that aren’t much beyond what handheld gamers were getting at $20 and $30 on the DS – and under $10 bucks on Apple’s App store – is insane, and this premium needs to shift dramatically. I don’t think cartridges need to disappear, but it definitely feels like going digital distribution in the majority might be a strong strategy.
Along those lines you just can’t ignore the Apple perspective anymore: the device is open for anyone to develop for – cheaply, I might add – and the App Store is constantly being refreshed with a huge variety of cheap AND premium experiences, with the publishers in command of the prices to give them full control of sales strategies. You might not enjoy playing on a button-free device, but it’s hard to dismiss the freedom the developers have had with Apple’s devices – it’s fueled enormous innovation in touch-screen gaming and spawned a revival of retro-style experiences.
The price drop will definitely help boost the user base, but only a total shift in strategy will turn 3DS into a true success.