Typically following the handheld console business isn't the ideal topic unless it's a new device that might actually bring something new to the table. The Nintendo 3DS is a noteworthy machine given that it offers glasses-free 3D gaming while granting pocket-sized access to Netflix. The Vita looks interesting simply based on the hardware crammed into the handheld chassis, and Sony's obvious need to take on Apple in the mobile market.
The Nintendo 3DS launched here in North America back in March 2011, and sold just under 500,000 units before the end of the month, 440,000 of which were sold within the first week. But by the end of April, Nintendo saw only 673,000 units fly off retail shelves in the United States alone. According to company head Satoru Iwata, that just wasn't acceptable.
"Nintendo 3DS started very well but, on the other hand, did not perform as expected after the second week," he admitted during an investors call while noting the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in early 2011. "I should not blame this situation just on the impact of the earthquake. There are other challenges that have shown up."
So what did Nintendo do to push 3DS sales? Cut $80 off the pricetag, that's what. On July 28, 2011, Nintendo officially reset the 3DS price to a lower $169.99 USD. After that, 3DS units began to fly off shelves. For the week of August 6 -- just before the price cut went into effect -- Nintendo had sold 1,017,230 units since launch. For the week of August 13, the number rose to 1,074,328 and then 1,179,179 the week thereafter. By the end of its eighth month on the North American market, Nintendo said that over 1.65 3DS units had been sold.
That said, it looked as if the handheld gaming market had finally succumbed to the "casual" mobile smartphone/tablet market dominated by Apple's iOS and Google's Android. But Nintendo proved everyone wrong once the price decrease kicked in and the number of units sold began to climb dramatically. Still, had Nintendo stuck to its guns and kept the original pricing, what would have happened to the dedicated-gaming handheld market? Would it have crashed? Closed up shop for good?
Currently Sony is suffering the same fate with the PlayStation Vita over in Japan. The console saw significant sales in its first week, but the number of units have taken quite a nose-drive since then, indicating that either the handheld market is truly kicking the bucket, or that consumers simply don't want to pay $240+ for a non-tablet device that can't even make phone calls.
But Sony is rooting for success, and is eying Nintendo's recent jump in sales. Sadly, Sony seemingly hasn't caught on quite yet: that Nintendo's 3DS success is mainly due to a price cut which, so far, Sony has no plans of attempting.
"Normally we don't really reference the competition a lot when we talk about the PlayStation business, but in this case it's perhaps a little salutary that sales of the 3DS, having the advantage of releasing a little bit ahead of us, have been exceedingly good," said SCEI president Andrew House during CES 2012. "I think that shows that there is, in general, a lot of demand for a 'gaming-primary' device, which is how I would describe Vita, but our device in contrast has just so much more to offer."
"What I think we've done is point to a market that really has started out with potentially casual games on other devices but now wants a deeper, or better, or more premier gaming experience," he added."
He indicated that the North American release won't be quite so disastrous as the Japanese launch due to "an even more stunning lineup ... that will have a direct impact on success."
We'll see... things are looking rather bleak for the moment. Cross your fingers this device will fare better here in the States, as Marcus wants this thing real bad and doesn't want to purchase a dud handheld console. [Ed. Note: yes, this is true. I want it for Uncharted.] Who can blame him? $249.99 USD is a lot to pay for a dust collector.