After a strong initial release, sales of Nintendo's
newest 3DS have slumped significantly. The company had planned to sell at least four million units by the end of its fiscal year, but only moved 3.61M. During his speech at the company's investor conference, company CEO Satoru Iwata said the latest handheld required a different approach.
We have revised our scenario for diffusion and are making efforts to get the popularity of Nintendo 3DS back on track for the upcoming summer season... The value of 3D images without the need for special glasses is hard to be understood through the existing media.
It is clear from our market research that many people feel that they 'want' and 'want to buy' Nintendo 3DS, and the latest demand for this device is the largest in comparison with our previous new platforms at the time of their launches, but on the other hand, there is a big proposition that not that many people believe 'Now is the time to buy it!' The penetration will not gain speed without overcoming this challenge.
We have found that people cannot feel it just by trying out a device, rather, some might even misestimate it when experiencing the images in an improper fashion. This makes it more important to give people more opportunities for appropriate experiences of glassless 3D images."
Nintendo was concerned enough about consumer's understanding of 3D that it sent multiple units on tour across the country to help build excitement ahead of the product's launch. It's possible that the 3DS's slumping sales have little to do with its 3D technology one way or the other, but are the result of the unit's weak battery life
, $40 game prices at a time when almost all mobile games are $5 or less, or the 3D warnings regarding children under six (the UK's tabloids tried to spin this into a health panic
If the 3DS could do this we don't think it'd need to be explained to anyone.
The problem with Iwata's statement is that products with value that's "hard to understand" or requires "appropriate experience" are often products that face slow ramps and poor consumer differentiation. Nintendo's decision to give users an option to shut the 3D effect entirely off was a good one, but DS owners who do so consistently due to problems with the 3D gaming may be unhappy with the other updates and capabilities that separate the 3DS from the DSi.
We suspect that the unit's battery life (generally 3-4 hours with 3D and WiFi enabled) and the three hour recharge time are substantial contributors to its weaker-than-expected sales. This should be offset in the future by new titles; games from first-tier franchises like Zelda, Mario Kart, and Kid Icarus are all in the pipe.
Thus far, the 3DS has done little to indicate just how much consumers actually want 3D technology. 3DS sales will seed the market with 3D capabilities, just as lower-end televisions are seeding the mass market. There's still no strong evidence that the mass market sees 3D as a must-have feature or will base their buying trends around it. That may not matter much to a TV manufacturer, but it matters quite a bit in the handheld market, where very limited GPU/CPU resources must be leveraged to produce the best possible gaming without draining power so drastically.