Today brings us the launch of the New Nintendo 3DS, the latest portable hardware iteration that will aim - like the DSi before it - to prolong and invigorate the current generation. The original 3DS models have accumulated over 50 million sales in under four years - an impressive feat considering the challenges they've faced - and the "New" arrivals will aim to revive momentum into the rest of 2015 beyond.
Compared to the DSi this iteration certainly packs more new features - additional control inputs, improved 'super stable 3D', amiibo (NFC) support and, of course, an improved processor. Some new titles - such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate - have improved performance on the system, while April will bring us the first game exclusive to the new hardware with Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. We can expect the system to be a major focus from Nintendo, and is full of intrigue considering the fact that the 3DS game library is still due to be fleshed out for the rest of the year.
With the systems hitting stores we caught up with James Honeywell, Head of Consumer Marketing at Nintendo UK, to discuss the launch, marketing priorities for the hardware and early momentum from pre-orders.
With the New Nintendo 3DS about to land, can you summarise some of the key benefits the new hardware offers gamers?
The New Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS XL both have a host of new features, including improved 3D capabilities, extra power, more controls, amiibo compatibility and for the New Nintendo 3DS, customisation, so it's difficult to narrow it down. Everyone will find different benefits that they prefer whether it is the ability to skip between menus more quickly or enjoy the extra precision the new controls offer, but based on feedback from the Ambassador units and other territories the immediate thing that most people notice once they get hands-on experience is the super stable 3D. This has led many to also go back and experience some of the past classics all over again as they play even better now. Obviously the improved 3D visuals are a tricky thing to explain in traditional advertising so it's always been our aim to ensure people can try for themselves at events across the UK and on in-store interactives.
At launch the New models set an early sales record for a Nintendo portable revision in Japan - based on early indicators for the UK do you think we'll see similar success in the West?
With this new hardware revision coming early in the year alongside lots of amazing titles like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D at launch, and lots of exciting titles beyond, we hope to see an overall increase in the momentum of the format in 2015. Pre-orders are going well, especially for the limited edition hardware, and we are expecting to have a strong launch and then to build on this through to Christmas.
From the pre-orders we can see that the majority of sales are going to be XL initially, but we think that this is skewed due to the amazing limited edition bundles coming for launch and the audience we've targeted.
Which of the system's features are key selling points - and therefore the focus of marketing - in the UK, and does this typically vary per territory?
In the UK we are focusing on the core features I mentioned before but mainly through the software. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an amazing demonstration of what the new hardware offers, loading up more quickly, looking great in super stable 3D and benefiting from the extra controls. We've seen a similar pattern across the other territories but each will be focussing on the things that matter to their fans.
Do you anticipate that the new hardware will play an active role in driving the continuing success of amiibo?
Absolutely. Adding amiibo functionality is a massive benefit for owners of the New Nintendo 3DS and will be something we focus on more and more as more games with this feature are launched.
Which of the models - standard or XL - do you expect to be the most popular in the UK, and why?
From the pre-orders we can see that the majority of sales are going to be XL initially, but we think that this is skewed due to the amazing limited edition bundles coming for launch and the audience we've targeted. We hope to even out this balance throughout the year as we push the customisation and the fact that the screens of the New Nintendo 3DS are actually 20% bigger than the original while still maintaining a compact and light design. This fact has shown through with the ambassador units where owners have been pleasantly surprised by the increase. We think this will become a more important factor once people see the actual units for themselves. I've personally gone for the New Nintendo 3DS as I want to be able to use the cover plates and I just couldn't resist the SNES style buttons, which bring back so many fond memories.
Is there confidence, in light of well-reported previous stock issues with amiibo and the Wii U GameCube Controller Adapter, that there'll be plentiful stock availability of accessories such as cover plates, and do you expect these to be particularly popular?
We are anticipating that sales of the cover plates will be in-line with the sales of hardware so we've closely matched the level of stock however it can be a little difficult to predict exactly which cover plates will sell best and exactly how often people will want to change their covers. While some cover plates will inevitably sell-out in some locations we have new waves coming to expand the range in the coming months and we've even managed to pull forward the launch of the cover plate featuring the Skull Kid from Majora's Mask to offer more choices from the start. We'll try to maintain a core of the most popular cover plates in key retailers while also adding lots of exciting new ones along the way.
Are games with enhanced performance (such as improved framerate in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and the upcoming New-exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles 3D) likely to be major selling points with the New Nintendo 3DS, or do you feel consumers are more attracted to the core improvements in technology?
We really think these titles are key for the launch and beyond so they are the focus of our advertising. People don't tend to just buy new hardware without a new game in mind so it's important to have them at the centre of our communication, but as I mentioned before we've also seen people going back to play old favourites like Luigi's Mansion 2 and continue to progress on Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. It will also be a massive draw for people to experience Super Smash Bros. for 3DS with new amiibo compatibility and the added C-stick control. I know it's helped improve my game already.
Software is continuing to grow and the installed base increases, so it's great to have the new hardware to inject some more energy into the format and ensure it remains strong for years to come.
Looking at the wider dedicated gaming market, what do you consider to be the major competitors for New Nintendo 3DS?
We are all aware of the various other products out there trying to fighting for consumers' attention but for us we focus on trying to bring the best gaming experiences to our fans rather than worrying about things outside our control.
It's well-known that the 3DS was the top-selling hardware in the UK in 2013 - can you outline how 2014 compared, and how vital a role will New Nintendo 3DS will play in 2015?
2014 was still a strong year for Nintendo 3DS although after four years on sale we had started to see a slow down on hardware. Software is continuing to grow and the installed base increases, so it's great to have the new hardware to inject some more energy into the format and ensure it remains strong for years to come.
Looking ahead to 2015's 3DS games, which titles do you feel will be most important in driving system sales this year?
Our focus is very much on the launch titles around launch coupled with continued promotion of evergreen titles like Pokémon ORAS, Super Smash Bros., and Tomodachi Life. We have so many great titles for new and old fans, plus on top of this an exciting schedule of new titles yet to be announced…
We'd like to thank James Honeywell for his time.