Nintendos never dropped the price of anything so quick, should we be worried?

Nintendo yesterday dropped the most extreme price drop on a console in recent history. A mere four months after launch the Nintendo 3DS has dropped $100, Nintendo is in trouble at the moment and they need the 3DS in people’s hands. Nintendo’s also got more competition on the way with the Vita due out later this year, its reign of supremacy in handheld space is also under threat from smartphones and Apple.

There’s a lot to talk about, lots of things in play so to help sort it all out we’ve got Mark ’King of Scotland’ Serrels to get to the bottom of it.

Mark: Let’s get straight into it – the 3DS price drop. What’s your general opinion of it? Good move? Sign of weakness? The end of the world as we know it?

Vook: The drop itself really isn’t a surprise, they had to do something with the 3DS, it just wasn’t moving as Nintendo’s latest sales reports showed. What is a surprise is that it’s a whole $100 – that’s a ton of money for a four month old device. As we know, Nintendo don’t like dropping the price of anything, but they want and need the system in people’s hands to sell it and, well, they had no other choice at this point.

Mark: We talked about this before, but while folks embroiled in the day to day business of video game news have interpreted this as a massive sign of weakness on Nintendo’s part, the mainstream audience this price drop is obviously targeted at won’t see things the same way. It may just be the encouragement parents need to pick up a 3DS for their kids at Christmas, or for Nintendo fans waiting to take the plunge.

I think the real issue is that Nintendo, with the 3DS, hasn’t really changed its strategy, or evolved its device properly to adjust for the new ways in which we use handheld devices. I’ve mentioned before that my 3DS is literally gathering dust and part of the reason for that is a lack of quality games, obviously, but another is the fact that there is simply very little space in my life for the 3DS. When I bought my DS it was pre-smart-phone. It provided this function I couldn’t live without. Now? It’s a luxury.

I guess my real question is – will the price drop have an impact? Or is the 3DS a device that people simply don’t want or need?

Vook: It is a massive sign of weakness for Nintendo. Nintendo sees price drops as a sign of weakness and a lack of quality. Iwata himself has said he personally doesn’t like them at all – so for Nintendo to do it, they have to be hurting and they are.

The 3DS wasn’t going to sell at the current price point, it was just too much. It’s just the sort of price that’s needed for Christmas, it’s now cost relative to a DS and it’s the ‘latest and greatest’. $350 was too much for the mainstream, but even the core audience held back – a lot of the guys on my forum haven’t picked up a Nintendo 3DS either, so it’s not just a mainstream problem – it’s always been about the cost and, as you mentioned Mark, games.

Quickly on the games issue – there has been a severe lack of good games on the system but I think people are being a little short sighted on this. By the end of the year we’ll have Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Starfox 64 3D and more – time is going to fix this problem. It doesn’t help us, the people who already have it – we want games to play on it right now, not three months down the track.

And there’s no doubt that smartphone gaming is infringing on the Market space for portable consoles, people’s phones are a need item every day and they have it on them at all times. A portable console means another thing in the bag or pocket and since you don’t need it on a daily basis it can be left at home. There’s also the cost factor, games are cheap or even free on the App Store. But that’s another problem for another time.

So after all that, to answer your question – I think people want a 3DS, but they’ll never need one.

Mark: Smartphone gaming is just an incredible area of growth for third parties, while we’re starting to see publishers get cold feet on the 3DS – games being cancelled, delayed, de-prioritised. A price drop is all well and good, but what the 3DS really needs is games. Not the promise of games, but games that exist right now, and can be purchased and played!

We were discussing the price drop in the office and Seamus mentioned that while Nintendo’s commitment to quality in the face of cheap iPhone games is noble, they have to walk the walk. I wouldn’t pay the iPhone premium price of $12 for games like Steel Diver, let alone full retail price Nintendo is asking for.

Handheld gaming is in a massive transition phase at the moment, and I’m beginning to openly wonder if the 3DS really has what it takes to compete. It’s not a powerful machine, the touch capabilities are outdated and outside of the 3D (which plenty of people do not like) is has zilcho when it comes to point of difference.

This will sound harsh, and as a big Nintendo fan it hurts to say, but the 3DS is starting to feel like an old fashioned gadget, only four months after its release.

Vook: I don’t disagree with you on that and Nintendo only has itself to blame for that, it let third parties take all the attention from launch and didn’t step up to the plate. Outside of Street Fighter and Ghost Recon the launch quality of many games just wasn’t there, and good games like Pilotwings could have been so much more. Nintendo then didn’t rebound by saying, well you had your chance now here’s three top games in a row. They gave us Zelda four months later and that’s it.

Steel Diver and other launch games are perhaps not the best examples – they are launch games and launch games are always going to be light on content, but perhaps that in itself needs to change. Seamus is right, Nintendo do need to walk the walk but dropping the price of games isn’t the answer. People will still pay for quality titles, what Nintendo need to do is use its back catalogue and diversify what they’re making. Instead of making Game Boy and NES games $4.50, make them $0.99. SNES and GBA Games shouldn’t be $9. Why is Plants Vs Zombies on DSiWare $12.00 when it’s $2.99 on the iPhone? Keep the big titles at $40-$50 sure, Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 3D will be worth that – but have a range of smaller priced games too.

The Nintendo 3DS both hardware wise and software wise isn’t as flashy as iOS or even Android, it’s a heck of a lot better than the DSi was though. It’s an improvement for sure but Nintendo still has a long way to go. The 3DS feels old for sure, especially when you have nothing to use it for, it just magnifies the feeling. Nintendo need to get progressive in the way they do things, they can be that company and push boundaries but they have even tougher competition than ever before. The 3DS hardware isn’t bad, it’s a nice bit of kit – it’s not being used to its potential.

Mark: I think it’s a classic example of what happens when a company becomes successful, rapidly. The Nintendo Wii and the DS were both incredibly successful and with great success comes the need to mitigate risk. Nintendo had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, when they released the DS and the Wii – being on top tends to breed complacency and the end result is a handheld console that has really played it safe.


Happier Times

In addition, the Nintendo Wii continued to sell regardless of the software quality – a handful of brilliantly made, evergreen first party titles appeared to be more than enough. With the 3DS, for a number of different reasons, this is simply not enough. The competition is too strong. I have no doubt we’ll see big spikes in 3DS sales when big first party titles come out, but there is no way we’re going to see the massive consistent, sustained growth that the original DS had.

Vook: There’s no doubt in my mind that Nintendo got complacent. They rode the wave and just kept going until it crashed. The Wii is the best example – like you said they relied on those evergreen titles and never bothered to follow them up or make new titles that got new people buying consoles. The DS’s success won’t ever be repeated and despite the 3Ds outpacing what the original DS was when it started, it won’t be able to hold pace like its predecessor.

For all the money they’ve made in the last generation, Nintendo are now going to be playing catch up. Maybe not in power or hardware but in software, online services and originality. First party titles are going to boost things no doubt, but people are always looking for the next big thing. At the moment, Nintendo doesn’t have one. It’s time for them take stock, use all that money and make something that really kicks the ball out of the park.

I really don’t want to be playing Super Mario Bros on my phone.

So folks, we’re running a poll for to get your thoughts about the price drop but we’d also like to hear what you think about how Nintendo’s doing going forward from there - price drop, games, everything. What do you think?