The video games industry is fast-paced and never lacking for surprises, so it takes a real piece of news to make us put down our teacups and declare “Oh my heavens.” But Nintendo made us all double-take on July 28 when it announced that the price of the Nintendo 3DS will be slashed by a full $80 in North America; down to $169.99 USD from $249.99 USD.
Many of us believed, deep in our heart of hearts, that a Nintendo 3DS price cut was inevitable. It’s been a prickly point about the 3DS since the handheld was priced at 25,000 yen. Taking the exchange rate into effect, that’s still considerably more than the $249.99 USD price tag the United States got saddled with. Even so, the slow Nintendo 3DS sales out of the gate indicated that customers weren’t thrilled to pony up that kind of money for a portable game system that lacked a solid library and a gimmick that they’re are not quite sure about just yet. We anticipated a price cut, sure–but not one this deep, and not quite so quickly. Most bets were laid down for after the holiday season, when the PlayStation Vita is still scheduled to make its entrance and start poking the 3DS in its ribs.
Nintendo’s price cut is a pretty hefty act of surgery for the ailing system, but whether or not it was wholly necessary for the system’s very survival will remain a question for future game historians to argue over beers. Sure, the system was a slow seller, but a weak launch library can be blamed in addition to the 3DS’s high price. Four months is simply not enough time for us to judge whether or not the handheld was in serious, irreversible trouble.
But Nintendo is not used to anything less than dominance of the portable game market, a trophy that’s getting harder and harder for just one company to cling to. Nintendo says it has broken a million 3DS units sold in Japan, which is certainly a respectable number, but it’s not Nintendo-Awesome. Even the original Nintendo DS had sold a few million units within four months of its launch, and the original dual-screen handheld is still held up as an example of a system that was slow to catch on, but demonstrated major long-term life and success.
In short, the Nintendo 3DS is not selling anywhere to Nintendo’s satisfaction, and the company has decided that it’s bloody well time to do something about that. The system’s price cut, in addition to a strong holiday game line-up (including <em>Super Mario Land 3D, Kid Icarus Uprising,</em> and <em>Star Fox 64 3D</em> will certainly muffle the volume on the PS Vita’s holiday hype. From this angle, the 3DS is set to be this year’s most asked-for Christmas toys–and, thankfully, it’ll be one of the more affordable ones, too. Other than timeless giveaways like love and peace, of course, but those don’t play Mario games.
It’s a good move, but the company isn’t out of the woods yet. Despite the “Nintendo 3DS Ambassador” program that rewards the 3DS’s early adopters with 20 free downloadable retro games, the price cut might boil up some bad blood between Nintendo and its fanbase–and this is a fanbase that has already muddled through the hassle of buying a Nintendo DS and then facing down a brand-spankin’-new incarnation of the system a few months later. No one has the patience to deal with Nintendo’s constant engineering-on-the-go.
How forgiving will Nintendo’s staunchest supporters be towards the company? We’ll know by the time Santa Claus has come and gone.