We've been wondering when it would happen, and it's finally come. Nintendo has bitten the bullet and confirmed New Nintendo 3DS models for North America that will cost under $100. Now, you don't need to be a genius to proclaim that selling goods at a budget price is a way to attract interest, but let's look at the longer term picture - of which these models could just be the start. A future where, hopefully, equivalent plans are also in the pipeline for other regions and more New 3DS models.
Plenty of people, not entirely unreasonably, have greeted the news by saying it should have come along before now. In fairness, that feeling is particularly acute in North America, as the smaller models have been limited to a few select bundles and deals, and not as widely available as the XL versions. After all, Nintendo of America made the baffling initial decision in February 2015 to only release the XL model at first in its region, which is still confusing to this day. A counter-argument could be that the New 3DS only arrived in the West in February 2015, so a 20 month wait for a notable price drop isn't exactly excessive.
However, stock could be an issue with these cheaper models in North America. Nintendo is pitching them as Black Friday releases, timing their arrival for just that occasion, so you can bet that these $99.99 units will be in high demand as 3DS owners in need of an upgrade (and fence-sitters) jump in to grab these as festive treats and gifts. We just hope Nintendo of America has a lot of these units to sell, because otherwise it's sleepwalking into a public relations backlash.
Beyond this one example, though, it's an interesting move. The New 3DS models have remained relatively pricey, though sales have continued to be decent for the big N - albeit at a much lower momentum than during the portable family's peak. The 2DS range has seen price cuts from its already-modest initial cost, and has been a hugely attractive option for gamers on a tight budget or parents looking for a tough little system to give younger kids. Yet the New Nintendo 3DS has stubbornly stayed at a high price since its February 2015 arrival (in the West) - a typical New 3DS XL is $199 / £179.99, while the smaller models are actually now tricky to find in the UK at a sensible price, with bundles and limited availability dragging the cost up. The better-selling XL seems to be dominant at UK retail at the moment, as is also the case (naturally) in North America.
So the issue at hand is that, actually, the 3DS (approaching its 6th Birthday in March 2017) isn't currently the cute and cuddly budget option that it needs to be. Granted, Nintendo is unlikely to slash prices across the board (aside from these small models in North America) until Pokémon Sun and Moon have dragged out a few extra sales in November and December; the reality is that the 3DS can remain relevant beyond that, to a point - but it needs help.
We've had some interesting conversations in the Nintendo Life team around Nintendo Switch pricing, for example. One number bandied around has been $299.99 for the 'core' system, in order to compete with the aggressive pricing seen with the PS4 'Slim' (which is really just the PS4 now) and Xbox One S; In this climate it's a stretch to convince people that a New 3DS XL is worth $200. Whether we agree with the race to the bottom in technology pricing or not, it's very real, especially in the portable space where cheap tablets continue to flood the marketplace. No, 3DS isn't competing directly with tablets, but it's battling for consumer spending in a similar space. $200 for a New 3DS? It's a tricky sell, especially after the Sun & Moon hype fades into 2017.
Yet as Nintendo made clear in its '3DS Direct' in September, the portable has a role to play in 2017, and perhaps a little beyond. That broadcast highlighted some high-profile games coming next year, and didn't mention quite a few others that could potentially get the localisation treatment out of Japan if it seems viable to publishers.
The question some may ask is this - why invest effort in a price drop to prolong the 3DS lifespan when the Switch is about to arrive? It's simple, actually. Console lifespans, apart from when they're a bit disastrous (as was sadly the case for Wii U), run successfully across multiple years, and the key is sustaining momentum beyond year one. In year one, and even year two, Switch will aim for its most aggressive sales periods - of course - and will then hope that good results in that window will setup the momentum for solid sales into years three, four and beyond. The 3DS pattern was similar, though its big years were arguably two and three (following a price drop and key releases after the poor initial launch window); after its peak years it's kept on ticking, and the games - first- and third-party - have kept coming.
In any case, if Switch achieves that pattern, it won't be chasing the fence-sitting and budget-conscious demographics, we'd suggest, until at least late 2018 (as an educated guess). If the company can achieve solid numbers from the 3DS through 2017, that'll help keep aspects of that very demographic interested in the Nintendo brand, alongside other initiatives like licensed promotions, smart device games and so on.
A price drop is arguably needed, though, if a solid number of 3DS units is going to be shipped in the 2017 / 2018 financial year. Nintendo plans to ship six million 3DS units in this financial year, and will be hoping a Pokémon bump delivers that, but it may not want the number for next year to be too much lower. It all depends on how it can drive those sales. This likely means an eventual price cut (again, after Sun and Moon hype has faded) to the more successful New Nintendo 3DS XL - after all, as of 30th September this year the New 3DS XL has shifted 7.83 million units, while the smaller New 3DS stands at 2.11 million. Even in regions with the smaller and XL model both widely available since the New 3DS launch, the larger size has fared better.
A price drop on the New 3DS XL could be helpful then, perhaps to $150 (or further if Nintendo can swing it, ideally with an 'evergreen' game included), to bring it closer to the 2DS and that smaller model Black Friday deal. Importantly, it'd help make it a more attractive late-generation purchase, and also help separate it from the Switch, whatever it'll cost in its first year. As much as anything, the New 3DS needs to be at a price that reflects its place in the world: a desirable and popular device, but one that's also technologically old and lacking - ironically given its 'New' name - that sense of being a modern piece of gaming kit. It's a fun gaming system, but in 2017 and beyond it can't easily be argued as a current-gen competitor.
It can provide a charming counterweight to Switch though, a tempting system for those yet to upgrade or not planning to spend big. There are some notable games still coming, and a particularly rich catalogue of fantastic titles to explore. The New 3DS, too, is a beautiful representation of Nintendo at its best with portable console design - the smaller and XL models are excellent, attractive machines. It's a lovely system worthy of a final hurrah; Nintendo can give it a better chance with more realistic pricing.
Hopefully 2017, ahead of the year's slate of new games on the 3DS, will see those price cuts to the New 3DS models. The interest in today's - likely limited - $99.99 NA unit shows that plenty are ready to upgrade from older models at a budget price, and there's scope for the small and XL units to earn more upgrade customers and even some new owners next year. With the right pricing, bundles and advertising, the 3DS legacy can end on a high through 2017.
As far as we're concerned it deserves that late-generation success.