Still behind 3DS

For Satoru Iwata, there are plenty of priorities and challenges to face. Nintendo is currently preparing to brings its next home console to the market, while also generating and sustaining momentum for 3DS. Both are important, but it's perhaps 3DS, and dedicated handheld gaming as a whole, that has been under the most pressure over the last year. Nintendo has had to act quickly to revive 3DS sales to a level that is, at the moment, acceptable, while its traditional rival from Sony, Vita, is still struggling to sell in good numbers. Many point to the same cause: smartphone and tablet gaming.

Iwata-san has tackled this issue in an interview with Kotaku, in part by highlighting figures used by Reggie Fils-Aime at E3: 3DS has been selling quicker than DS did in terms of hardware and software. He acknowledged that these figures can be argued against, but made the point that despite apparent doom and gloom Nintendo is still selling a lot of handhelds, even as it recognises new challenges on the horizon.

I'm not saying there aren't people out there who aren't going to purchase a dedicated handheld device based on the availability and the fun factor in their smartphones. The examples you gave are factual. I'm not saying that that's not true. I do want to say that there are still people buying our devices and that is also factual.

I don't think there's not a bright future for handheld devices but I understand that the competition, again with the rise of smart devices is different, and I do recognize that.

Previously we had to think, ok, 'How are we competing with Sony?, How are we competing with Microsoft?, How do we compete with all the other software titles and all the other publishers out there?' That environment has changed. And the games available for smartphones, I'm not saying that none of these are interesting, rich or fun experiences, because I know that there are some. And one way we can ensure that there's a market for handheld gaming devices is by continuing to bring out entertaining and engaging software that will provide users experiences that they cannot get on these other devices.

Iwata-san then made a point that is often heard in the debate about the continuing relevance of dedicated gaming handhelds against smartphone games: that the game experiences can be different, deeper and richer.

I think within games you have two needs that people fill. One is the time-filler need. The other is that it's a very important time for me and I want to have a rich experience. Those are two separate needs, I think.

The other thing is how much are consumers willing to pay to play. I think that consumers who are willing to pay money for a gaming experience are looking for something that is more rich and are willing to spend some of that valuable time on that experience. I believe that as environments change and as the world progresses we're going to have different ways in which people want to spend their time. That being said, I don't think we're going to see the desire to have, again, rich and deep sort of gaming experiences... we're not going to see that vanish. That's not going to go away.

This represents just the latest defence of the continuing role of dedicated handhelds, and at the moment Nintendo can point to respectable sales — if not on the stratospheric levels, yet, of the DS family — and say that the market still very much exists. What do you think of Iwata-san's comments?