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Opinion: The 'Nintendo Way' working wonders for resurgent 3DS

Opinion: The 'Nintendo Way' working wonders for resurgent 3DS
As failures go, the 3DS is doing a pretty good impersonation of a global success story.

Just over a year after its launch, it's already pushing 20 million sales across the world, and is about to top the 1 million mark in the UK.

Such results came at a hefty price, though.

To kick start 3DS demand and turn around its sluggish start, Nintendo had to endure heavy losses for the first time in its history - but when you've got the kind of cash reserves that Nintendo has, you can afford the odd mis-step.

Panic in Kyoto

The important thing, long term, is that the company acted swiftly and decisively. Some might have interpreted the 3DS' dramatic price cut as the sign of a panicked company lurching into crisis.

For a while, it was easy to look at it that way. With the spectacular performance of the smartphone and tablets - and their associated download stores - Nintendo looked stubborn, out-of-touch, and clinging on to a market that had moved on.

But having taken the hit and reduced the price to below cost level, it was a calculated risk that, with the timely arrival of headline titles like Super Mario 3D Land, turned the 3DS into Nintendo's fastest-selling console worldwide.

Positive signs

And the current financial year is looking far more positive for the Japanese giant. Another 18.5 million 3DSs are expected to shift, while software sales are forecast to double to 73 million units. Not a bad way to answer your critics.

More crucially, by the middle of its current financial year, the 3DS will once again be sold at a profit as Nintendo squeezes manufacturing costs - just in time for the lucrative holiday season.

And yet, despite the headline sales figures and clear signs of good times ahead, there's no shortage of dissenting voices, seemingly unwilling or unable to accept that Nintendo can succeed doing things its own way.

The world, his wife, and her secret bilingual lover seem to believe that Nintendo should just wave the white flag, roll over, let Apple tickle its tummy and release all of its treasured brands on the App Store and watch the money roll in.

The Nintendo Difference

That might well be one way of doing things, but it's clearly not The Nintendo Way; never has been, and probably never will be.

Like Apple, it prefers to create and control the platform - but unlike Apple, it exists purely to create a gaming platform to release its own brands, with third party content a very distant second in its list of priorities.

Sure, Nintendo's own 3DS eShop is a fairly ham-fisted attempt at providing downloadable titles.

Discoverability is beyond poor. Even if you do bother to gingerly step into this digital backwater, it's an exercise in patience to navigate, and the relatively high pricing and slow drip-feed of the titles gives the impression that Nintendo can't really be bothered quite yet.

Then again, the curated approach of the eShop is refreshing.

As with DSiWare, when the titles are good, they're very good indeed, and in a way it's preferable to flick through a small, filtered range of selected titles, than drown in the endless content ocean that is the App Store or Google Play.

But that's probably being a little generous to Nintendo's rather hapless digital strategy to date.

Digital dalliance

To put it mildly, it does need to rather get with the programme when it comes to selling digital titles, and it's no surprise to see that its full retail titles will finally be available to download direct to the 3DS once New Super Mario Bros. 2 arrives in August.

Whether this will coincide with a much-needed refresh of the eShop design itself remains to be seen, but no-one should bet against it.

Indeed, the upcoming release of the Wii U later this year presents Nintendo with a golden opportunity to create a unified digital ecosystem, similar to the way Apple has unified its iOS devices.

Rather than create distinct digital stores for each device as it has done to date with the Wii, DSi and 3DS, the Wii U eShop could potentially allow players to import their 3DS purchases onto Wii U, and play them on the tablet controller.

Integration

Likewise, full Wii U titles could include minigames designed to be downloaded onto 3DS and played on the move.

The fact that Nintendo is keen to court the hardcore this time around could make a huge difference to the long-term future of both systems.

Whatever Nintendo has released over the past decade or so, there's nearly always an initial bout of derision and bafflement, and people rush to pen their obituaries. And then as one set of sales figures after another hammer home the point that people want their systems, and want their games, a grudging acceptance sets.

So far, the 3DS story is playing out in a similar fashion as the Wii and DS - and look what happened to them.

Of course, companies like Zynga want to raise the game. The social giant isn't happy with only 100 million players. It wants a billion, and in the context of such figures, Nintendo's audience starts to look pretty small fry by comparison.

There's also this assumption that people no longer want to pay a high price for handheld games. While that may be true of the shovelware that has blighted handheld formats for decades, I'm not convinced that this applies to Nintendo's games.

Different class

I don't know about you, but for all the dozens of classic mobile apps I've encountered over the past three years, I've never come across anything like Super Mario 3D Land, and nor should I expect to.

It just doesn't make sense for developers and publishers to spend tens of millions of dollars making games that sell for 99 cents. And as long as that remains true, Nintendo will always have a point of difference that they can charge a premium for.

In addition to that, Nintendo has the kind of enduring, instantly recognisable brands that other companies would kill to have.

Hardcore gamers frequently roll their eyes whenever yet another Zelda, Mario or Donkey Kong game arrive, but they sell. And not only do they sell in vast quantities, but they somehow manage to hold their value over periods of time that defy standard market convention.

Simply put, Nintendo is the Pixar of videogames. Both boast quality levels that are unfailingly consistent, their appeal transcends age and gender, and no-one has ever managed to get near them. Write Nintendo off at your peril.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.

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Ryan Hunt
Great article Kristan. I have to disagree with you about the future of mobile though...in the end Nintendo will lose if they don't adopt phone OS'. You write off apps like Infinity Blade and NOVA that bring massive improvements in gameplay and graphics, both above the 99c price point--and they SELL, very well. The home console disrupted the arcade, just as the mobile device will eventually disrupt the home console. Nintendo's brand (hopefully) will live on, as long as they iterate.