Nintendo 3DS Slow Sales: Sign of Trouble?

Nintendo 3DS Slow Sales: Sign of Trouble?

The Nintendo 3DS has been available in Japan since February, and it’s been available worldwide since March. It’s had time to worm its way into the hearts of gamers (in glorious three-dee!). Let’s check in: Sales-wise, how is the Nintendo 3DS doing?

It looks like the system’s sales numbers have leveled out and possibly even stagnating after an initial burst. Oh oh. What does this mean for the Nintendo 3DS’s long-term prospects? Is this indisputable proof that the smartphone market is indeed taking a bite out of dedicated handheld gaming systems?

No doubt the smartphone market is shaking up sales of the Nintendo 3DS, especially as casual gamers adopt the iPhone as their definitive go-to system for distractions. But Apple will not be the death of the Nintendo 3DS, nor is it solely to blame for the 3DS’s sales troubles. The Nintendo 3DS has a long, prosperous life ahead of it, but numerous factors have put a damper on consistently strong early numbers.

The earthquake that devastated northeastern Japan in March affected sales negatively, no doubt; it’s hard to think about video games when you’re fretting over the well-being of your relatives, or your own survival. The earthquake can only take a small bit of the blame, however, as the leveled-off sales appear to be a worldwide issue.

If the anecdotes garnered from message boards across the Internet also count towards a valid analysis, it would suggest that there are three additional reasons for the 3DS’s slow sales numbers as well:

-The high price of the handheld

-A mediocre launch lineup

-Cautious buyers

Point number three is not exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. It’s pretty common for a game system’s sales to slow down after fans snatch up the initial shipment. A quick scan of Tiny Cartridge’s chart indicates that even the original Nintendo DS had a pretty dismal showing for the first nine months of its life. Obviously, the two-faced system’s fortunes reversed given time and a stronger game line-up.

Which segues into our second reason for the Nintendo 3DS’s slow start: The launch lineup is a bit meh. Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition and Tom Clancy’s Shadow Wars: Ghost Recon are both excellent core titles, but much of Nintendo’s fare, including Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort are a bit more casual. Nintendo resolved to step back and let third parties find their legs with the new system, which more or less explains the current state of the Nintendo 3DS’s game library. Mediocrity abounds, but developers will find their 3D legs soon enough.

In the meantime, we can assume that there are numerous potential Nintendo 3DS adopters who are waiting for must-have games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Tme 3D, Star Fox, and whatever Super Mario game Nintendo manages to conjure up.

Also, the price of the Nintendo 3DS–$250 USD–is quite a sum for a handheld gaming system, even though that number will probably look a lot better when Sony prices the NGP at $300 or above. It’s still a lot of money to ask for, especially from a public that may not quite yet understand that the Nintendo 3DS is a full-fledged successor to the Nintendo DS. It’s not another DSi or DSi XL upgrade.

Common sense dictates that most of these issues with the 3DS’s slow sales will resolve themselves in time, as the public becomes more familiar with the system. Even so, Nintendo is obviously disappointed that the 3DS isn’t burning up the charts, and president Satoru Iwata has admitted that the system’s 3D feature has been a bit of a hard sell. That’s not to say it’s failed by any means, but it does mean that people aren’t going to pick up the system to ogle the 3D display until they see what it can do in-game. Miyamoto has talked a bit about how the 3DS’s 3D feature will make it much easier to judge the distance needed for jumps in 3D games; if we see that put to good use, the 3DS’s most notable feature will sell itself. Developers needed time to demonstrate what the DS’s dual screens could do for gaming, too.

Either way, Nintendo has realized that the 3DS might take a little work to push onto the world, as the system obviously won’t sell itself on its name alone. At least the company acknowledges this, and has resolved to fix some of the issues at hand.

Maybe Nintendo has also learned the benefit of taking some extra time to accessorize and dress-up a system before its launch. Frankly, having to wait months before we can access the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop and web browser gives the handheld a half-finished feeling. We’ve been hyped for the 3DS since the day it was announced, but it wouldn’t have killed any of us to wait for a June launch.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. I think the price is the biggest factor. It’s just too high. I’d say they’ll need to lower the price ASAP or they’ll be in trouble when Sony’s NGP hits, but it looks like the NGP will be even more overpriced.

    I’d probably buy a 3DS for $200. Eventually. But $250 for a handheld is simply too much for me to justify.

  2. For me, it’s the software lineup. I’d pay for the system if there were games I really want. Pilotwings is cool, but awfully short, from what I’ve seen on my friend’s systems. Zelda will help, but the 3DS needs more unique titles that say “This is why you want a 3DS”… of course, the original DS didn’t get that overnight either, Kirby Canvas Curse came out months after the DS launched, and Mario Kart DS didn’t come out for a year. They need those big titles to really hit critical mass and make people pay attention and start buying systems.

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