Four months into the 3DS regime, Nintendo looks like it’s stumbled out of the starting gate like someone had tied its shoes together. Few people are buying, new games are rare finds, and a new trend towards penalizing consumers who don’t buy new games are just a few of the issues that the 3DS already faces. Perhaps it’s a bit early to be judgmental, but there are problems that really shouldn’t be explained away due to the newness of the platform.
For starters, let’s look at that $250 price tag. That’s pretty steep. It’s the most expensive portable platform in Nintendo’s history and is over $100 more than its highly successful Wii console right now. In fact, that price is exactly what consumers paid for the Wii nearly 5 years ago. Back then, Nintendo was competing with platforms that were $400+, so buying a Wii was a more frugal proposition than splurging on the Xbox 360 or the exorbitant PlayStation 3 platform. The playing field has changed considerably since then. It’s possible to buy an Xbox 360 for as little as $200 now (although it comes without a hard drive) and the PlayStation 3 is only $50 more than the 3DS while doing many of the same things. $250 is also 47% more expensive than the DSi at launch and 32% pricier than the DSi XL, which debuted a year ago. Granted, the 3DS is a brand new platform instead of DS revisions that we had seen each of the last two years, but sticker shock is still sticker shock to the average consumer. 3D without glasses is nice, but for $250? It’s a debatable point.
Lack of games is another issue. Yes, it’s only been four months, but the list of games continues to be short. What are the must-own games for the 3DS? You can argue Super Street Fighter IV, which was a launch title. Many will counter with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, which is not exactly new or groundbreaking. After that… well… it gets sparse. Several titles have seen delays, and there have been weeks at a time with no new games to offer on the 3DS platform at all. The 3DS eShop finally opened in June, over two months after the 3DS launched, but the games offered are mainly DSi downloads. Virtual Console games had been added consistently until an empty slot last week, which immediately conjures up bad memories of how Nintendo handled the Virtual Console on the Wii. It’s only one empty week so far, but an empty week only 6 weeks in to the eShop lifespan raises eyebrows. Some have tried to deflect concern by pointing out that Nintendo had offered more than one game in weeks past, but this isn’t a quota problem– it’s a consistency issue, which Nintendo hasn’t proven that it can manage effectively. As for the Virtual Console games themselves, they’ve been wildly inconsistent– Link’s Awakening and Donkey Kong are at the high end of the quality chart while Tennis and Baseball are just awful.
Staying on the topic of games, we’ve been starting to see a decrease in confidence from third-party publishers regarding the 3DS platform. Delays and cancellations are beginning to grow. UbiSoft cancelled its Assassin’s Creed project for 3DS. Capcom recently pulled the plug on Mega Man Legends 3. SEGA delayed Crush 3D and Shinobi and cited poor sales as a factor. Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D now looks to be facing a delay into 2012. Although Nintendo is promising to fill the gaps with Star Fox 3D, Mario Kart 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Super Mario 3D, the company is repeating history by having to rely on sales of its own software to succeed. While we saw what looked to be considerable third-party interest at E3 back in 2010 when the 3DS was introduced, that level of interest appears to be waning. It’s not too late for this to change, but sales of the hardware likely need to accelerate for third-party publishers to resume interest.
A new and unsettling trend is starting to appear in third-party 3DS software, too. Permasaves– which are single save files that cannot be erased or rest– are starting to infect these releases. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D and Super Monkey Ball 3D first introduced this trend, but criticism exploded when Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D also had a similar “feature”. As I recently mentioned, Capcom has repeatedly tried to explain that the move wasn’t a direct assault on the used or rental game markets, but I’m sure that they’re not all that broken up to find that games with permasaves tend to have lower resale values, either. Namco‘s Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions title for the 3DS also sports the permasave feature. Once you set a high score, that’s it. There are no high score tables to compare to. Worse yet, there are minor achievements to be unlocked while playing the game. Want to go back and earn them again, or share with a friend or family member? Tough break. Renting the game or buying used practically guarantees that users will miss out on unlocking much of anything themselves. Buy new, or deal with it. Indeed, the industry wishes to punish those who don’t buy new. Welcome to today’s video game industry.
As I mentioned, it may be a bit too soon to be critical of Nintendo and the 3DS at this point, but early adopters have definitely been on the short end of the stick here. With the potential for some territories to drop the price of the unit below $200 so soon after launch, it calls into question the value of the hardware that some paid so much for. After going through so many launches in its history, how does Nintendo not have a decent library of games set up for release? Why are the Mario games so tardy, given that the Mario IP is the biggest driver of sales? What took so long for the eShop to become available, and where are the games that aren’t DSi offerings? Where are the games that aren’t remakes, even if they are in familiar IPs? These are questions that should have been addressed and that Nintendo should have been better prepared for back in April… not as we roll into August. if the price does drop to $200 before the end of the calendar year, what will that say to early adopters for the Wii U and it’s likely price tag of $350+? Disappointing consumers who adopt early doesn’t bode well for future platform releases.
The good news is that it’s not too late for Nintendo to get up, re-tie those laces, and get back in the race. Getting quality software to retail and working with third-party publishers to try and fill the pipeline will be a major goal for Nintendo to achieve as we prepare for Q3/Q4. Generating consistency in downloadable software and video releases will also be important. These issues must be addressed now, because Nintendo is losing market share to Apple and Android gradually and Sony’s PlayStation Vita is waiting in the wings. If the 3DS continues to stumble into Q4, the race between Sony and Nintendo could be closer than anyone might have predicted.
It’s only been four months, but it’s time for Nintendo to start running. NOW.
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