Talking Point: The Great Nintendo 3DS Price Drop Debate

What's the impact?

The Nintendo 3DS dropped in price recently — you might have noticed — and with the Flame Red 3DS hitting North America on 9th September and both Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 due for Christmas, many are predicting a resurgence in fortunes for the console. But is the price drop and the promise of these two much-needed games enough to send 3DS rocketing up sales charts? And if so, where does it go from there?

Despite shifting 3.6 million units around the world in its first month, the machine sold just 710,000 units in April, May and June, way beneath Nintendo's projected sales estimates. Even so, the decision to lop $80 (or around 30% in Europe) off the 3DS price less than five months after launch was a bold move on Nintendo's part, and while it might renew uptake of the console in the short term does it send out the right message about the console's future?

In the past Nintendo has been proud of its ability to pull in profit on every console sold, in stark contrast to its competitors who lose money on hardware but make it up with software sales, subscriptions and more. Of course, without an expanded install base it's almost impossible for Nintendo to turn a profit on 3DS retail software, but the more 3DS consoles it sells at a loss the more software it needs to sell too.

At first, this seems a good thing: it's no secret that people buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games, one look at the DS software sales figures proves that. Despite resurrecting Pilotwings in Pilotwings Resort and including felines in Nintendogs + Cats, the only game that's had any lasting impact on the sales charts is, predictably, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. If the predicted increase in hardware sales is to be sustained, there needs to be a regular flow of new titles from Nintendo and third parties, and while we listed 5 3DS games worth buying before Mario many are hoping for dozens of new titles.

The price drop should drive more users to purchase the console and cement it as a viable platform for publishers, but even so it’ll take months until we see a significant increase in new titles coming to 3DS. New owners may get caught up in the buzz of that new gadget smell, but what is there in the long term?

It also raises the question of where the console price goes from here. Assuming the machine sells well at its new lower price, will Nintendo increase the price further down the road to reclaim some of its lost profits? If its sales don’t increase, will we see another attempt at a catalytic price cut? How low can it go before publishers, retailers and gamers feel Nintendo has lost faith in its current 3D experiment?

One crucial change Nintendo must make to turn 3DS into a runaway success isn’t just pricing or software, though: it must rethink the way it explains the console to the mass market. Early negative press about headaches and dizziness still hangs over the console, and neither word of mouth nor Nintendo’s “seeing is believing” approach quite hit the spot. Recent adverts in the UK stress the console’s power, online capabilities and array of games rather than the 3D display and camera that featured so heavily in the early marketing.

In some ways, the machine is held back by its backwards compatibility: the necessity of two screens resulted in a console that, to the casual eye, is indiscernible from a DS Lite. Of course, had Nintendo’s new machine not worked with any of the 840m+ DS games sold so far, parents would have railed against the company’s greed. The inevitable console redesign is likely to make a much more bold statement with its aesthetics, but we’re a long way from that yet.

Retailers also have to play their part: many online stores still lack dedicated 3DS sections, or combine the format with the regular DS. The Wii was never marketed alongside GameCube, and everyone knew DS was different to Game Boy Advance, but the major difference here is that many retailers still turn a decent profit from DS, and may not believe a new console is required.

The price drop has brought 3DS back to the top of the agenda for many gamers and media outlets, but it’s a sticking plaster over an open wound. It will stoke the interest of those who wouldn’t have given it a second glance before, but Nintendo must have a newly reinforced plan for long-term software and third-party support if it’s to get anywhere close to the unbelievable success of DS.

What do you make of the 3DS price drop, and what do you think Nintendo should do to turn the console into a hit? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.