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How the huge 3DS price drop rounds off Nintendo's worst-run launch since the Virtual Boy

The marketing has been an unremitting shambles

It seemed that after five years successfully coasting along on Wii and DS hardware sales by way of vague, aspirational lifestyle marketing to the casual demographic, Nintendo had forgotten how to sell to the core gamer. As such, the first few months of the 3DS' marketing have been a disaster. Nintendo finally had another competetively -specced machine on its hands. It had a software philosophy angled back towards real games. It had stunning home-console-quality graphics, a proper analogue stick, and a downloadable legacy catalogue of long-revered Nintendo games on the way. Okay, 3D was always going to be a hard sell in resolutely 2D TV adverts, but as we said frequently in the office after the system's big reveal, with everything it has going for it, that 3D is just the icing on the top of a seriously seductive game-cake.


Above: This is not what we wanted, nor is it what the 3DS needed

Unfortunately, Nintendo didn't seem to realise that, and so continued its Wii-style marketing approach of focusing on gimmicks and happy smiley lifestyle droids. But this time the gimmick was impossible to sell without hands-on experience, making it a rather useless tool in a TV marketing offensive. Regardless, we got more footage of people in sterile white environments grinning and whopping. We got months of ads focusing on a new variant of Nintendogs, a game the casuals those ads were aimed at had played to death six years previous.

There was no mention of extra horsepower. There was no mention of the new machine's focus. There was no mention of any of the games that had made this system matter at E3. But the biggest mistake Nintendo made was in not noticing the dangerous situation it had already set up for itself via the precedent it had built with incremental DS hardware upgrades. DS. DS Lite. DSi. DSi XL. By now the public was conditioned to new, slightly tweaked versions of the five-year-old hardware popping up with a couple of new letters in their marginally new names. Nintendo had taught them that a slight name modification meant the same machine you already owned with a couple of extra bells and whistles. So to release the 3DS, with essentially the same naming model as every incremental last-gen DS before it, without drawing attention to any selling points beyond the simple bell-whistle of 3D, was a disastrous move.


Above: This is what we wanted, and it is what the 3DS needed

It was completely unsurprising to me that after the initial early-adoption spurt (driven, as usual, by core Nintendo gamers, who were by definition already clued-up on the new machine's capabilities), the expanded market the DS and Wii had enjoyed just didn't see any reason to pick one up. There are a stack of brilliant reasons to own a 3DS, but Nintendo just didn't seem interested in letting anyone know about them. And as it continued, things got even worse. We got 3DS ads intermingled with an ongoing campaign for the DSi. We got as many, if not more, ads focusing on Layton, Dragon Quest and Art Academy (itself confusingly marketed as a cool new DS innovation), so is it any wonder that so many people are clueless to the fact that the 3DS is anything genuinely new and exciting at all?

It seems that Nintendo has finally wised up to this failing, five months later. A new ad campaign started this week in the UK, doing exactly what Nintendo should have done from day one. It uses enthusiastic voice-over from geek-messiah Simon Pegg. It focuses on games, more games, and nothing but games. It has non-stop gameplay footage. It emphasises the horsepower and graphics. It even makes a point of highlighting the analogue nub. There are no sterile environments and no vacuously-smiling faces. In short, it's a proper Nintendo advert straight out of the early 2000s. It's pretty much perfect. So if Nintendo knows exactly who this machine's strengths appeal to, and exactly how to communicate those strengths, why did it waste so much time until this point?

The Zelda fallacy

Nintendo put too much weight on Ocarina of Time 3D. Yes, OoT has one of the most glittering reputations in the business. Yes, this new version is the definitive version of one of the most loved games of all time, at least amongst Nintendo fans. But expecting the promise of its release to be enough to keep the core audience best suited to the 3DS happily waiting through several months of confused, casual marketing and a sparse release schedule was just too much.

Had Ocarina 3D been the centrepiece of a long-running, core-focused marketing campaign, it would have worked perfectly. If Nintendo had set up a whole string of the Pegg-voiced ads to run from launch, intermingling the current hardware overview spot with specific ads focusing on the best current and upcoming games, it would have been a winner. If the ongoing campaign had built up to a week-long media-spam focusing on an ebullient Shaun of the Dead geeking out over Zelda, the first few months of the 3DS' life could have been very different.

But as with many things relating to the 3DS, Nintendo borked the opportunity, and as its own financial report admits, Zelda ended up just being one of the better-selling games of a line-up with few genuine big-hitters. If you're launching a new machine there are a few things you need to do. You need to decide who your machine is for. You need to work out the best way to appeal to their mind-set and culture, and work out which features are going to be most appealing to them. You need to establish a brand, identity, personality and philosophy around your system that resonates with that audience. And you need to maintain it with consistency, focus and a constant string of rewarding experiences.

So far with the 3DS, Nintendo has implied an intention to do all of that, but executed it in such a half-arsed, muddled fashion that it now finds itself looking upon a blown-off foot-stump and a smoking bazooka and wondering what the hell happened. Let's hope this week's marketing shift and price drop is the start of a major period of wising up. The 3DS could be brilliant. On a hardware level, the 3DS is brilliant. The last thing I want to see is it drowned in the choppy waters of a messy launch.

July 28, 2011

Topics

Nintendo

64 comments

  • The_Tingler - July 31, 2011 12:12 p.m.

    I agree with all this, except - GamesRadar, please stop dismissing Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. It's fantastic, a brilliant Advance Wars/X-Com-style strategy game, and the best title on 3DS. And it's not a port, which makes it even more impressive.
  • RedOutlive10 - July 29, 2011 9:17 p.m.

    The deal is: when the highest selling game of a platform is a remake of a decade old game, there is something wrong with it.
  • Timothy_Lemon - July 29, 2011 8:18 p.m.

    i don't think the GAME offer where you could buy a console on release and then trade it in within a couple weeks and only lose a tenner has helped matters. the whole thing comes across like "buy one of these but you won't really like it so bring it back."
  • Hobogonigal - July 29, 2011 1:16 p.m.

    Yay! Some-one else thinks that the original Gameboy was actually a brick in disguise. It was one awesome brick as well.
  • AuthorityFigure - July 29, 2011 11:37 a.m.

    The article doesn't really explain why the launch day/night itself (made very clear beforehand in terms of software) was such a success. There was excitement about 3D, but the gamers themselves discovered AFTER the purchase that it doesn't really mean a lot - this is not a broken promise of Nintendo's. I'm just glad I haven't paid $400+ to play Clinton-era software in occasional 3D.
  • philipshaw - July 29, 2011 11:34 a.m.

    Spot on Dave but I think it's more to do that people don't want handhelds anymore because they have all got smartphones
  • nai1210 - July 29, 2011 9:20 a.m.

    @Azralph13,i'm an adult who has the xperia play phone even with reall game buttons the quality of the android games don't even compare to titles made for handheld consoles by the likes of capcom,sony,nintendo,square,platinum games,naughty dog,konami etc...granted the i phone has better software support than android phones but the controls are useless in my opinion,it's a shame that sony's game division dosn't seem to care about the sony ericsson xperia play cause the controls are quite nice,so i think a lot of adults will be interested in the vita even if they no doubt will feel self conciuos about gettin it out on the commute to work
  • nai1210 - July 29, 2011 9:09 a.m.

    My 3DS is gathering dust already,the E-Shop games are overpriced and nothing decent has been released since pilotwings/SFIV at launch and i grudge paying 40 quid for a handheld game i did pick up ocarina of time a game which i have finnished 3 times in the past and the master quest once on gamecube and i have barely touched it as a result and the nintendo video service thing here in the UK is a joke so far,such a promising little machine as well,i have never owned a handheld that wasn't a nintendo handheld but the new playstation vita may just change that unless nintendo get there shit together if they don't it won't just be the gamers jumping ship it will the 3rd party developers aswell,and that will be game over for the 3ds
  • Azralph13 - July 29, 2011 8:52 a.m.

    PSP Vita is gonna do exactly the same as 3DS, sell a couple of units, but fail to perform in the long run as long as they are above £150. These handhelds are for kids...thats who they sell most units too, plain and simple. Any grown ups will have an Iphone or just play a proper games machine. Anyone here want to pay £250 for a kids gadget!?
  • Thequestion 121 - July 29, 2011 6:15 a.m.

    I hope that Nintendo can do better with the 3DS soon.
  • Ariel - July 29, 2011 4:25 a.m.

    What if.... and just indulge me for a second here: What if, the 3DS continues not to sell, as WELL as the PS3 not selling? And thus, the giant heads of gaming, Nintendo and Sony, slowly tilt their heads to the left and see..... Apple. (then theme music plays and sony and nintendo team up to save handheld gaming)
  • Yeager1122 - July 29, 2011 3:34 a.m.

    Im hopeful the 3ds will pull off a better future for itself.
  • UsernameLoser - July 29, 2011 3:20 a.m.

    Nintendo is Japanese, don't blame them for not knowing what America wants! RASCISTS!!!!!!
  • snothammer - July 28, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    I agree that the name is a major issue leading to poor sales. It sounds like another DS, even though it isn't really. I hope Nintendo realizes this mistake and wises up for the Wii U, or else it will have the same fate. Wii. Wii U? What's the difference? I know what the difference is, but most won't. And sales will be equally lackluster.
  • Thanadros - July 28, 2011 10:58 p.m.

    I have a 360, PS3, PSP, and 2 PCs, I had a DS for a while but sold it. I consider myself to be a hardcore gamer, I always thought the 3DS was just a 3d DSi.. Are you telling me it is a more powerful system? Maybe I just ignored it from the start, but if someone that is seriously interested in games like myself, doesn't know more about the 3DS then "its 3D", then your in trouble.
  • ruskii - July 28, 2011 10:58 p.m.

    Blow-off-foot-stump and smoking bazooka... nice imagery! Nintendo done goof'd.
  • BazyLastard - July 28, 2011 10:28 p.m.

    You're completely complicating something that's simple. The reason it's failing is: 1. 3D entertainment isn't as big as those trying to sell it want it to be. 2. More importantly, price. Price. Price. Price. Handheld gaming from Nintendo has always been a cheaper, portable alternative to console gaming. You take away the cheaper part, and you now see what you get.
  • WTeen8 - July 28, 2011 10:24 p.m.

    I think that once the games revealed at this year's E3 come out, things will get better. I think there will be a sales increase around the holiday season when Mario Kart, Kid Icarus, Starfox 64 3D Super Fiber Gloss Webcam Edition (nothing against Star Fox, the game looks awesome), Super Mario, and Luigi's Mansion come out. Also $200 for a handheld no matter what it is (Looking at you too Sony) is a bit steep. So this drop is a good thing. More affordable = More Sales. Nintendo Fanboy out.
  • Tranquilbez34 - July 28, 2011 9:29 p.m.

    It's like the PS3 Launch It'll get better by March next Year don't forget we have Mario Kart 3DS, Star Fox 64 3DS and Kid Icarus in November
  • Mboy1100 - July 28, 2011 9:17 p.m.

    I'm just holding on to all my money until Wii U comes out. A couple months after it comes out so I can see if it was a flop or not.

Showing 1-20 of 64 comments

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