Nintendo’s 3DS sales are plummeting – the NX can’t come fast enough


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For the past few years, Nintendo’s revenue and profit has been anchored in its handheld division, not its home console. Wii U sales have never been stronger, and Nintendo hasn’t had the chance to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, the 3DS is running out of steam.

Nintendo has released a revised copy of its 2015-16 fiscal year, which ends March 31. The company reduced its sales estimates for the 3DS from 7.6 million units to 6.6 million, with software sales down about 17% as well. The company also expects a 34% drop in operating profit and a 51% drop in net profit for the year. There are some upward adjustments to sales estimates for Wii and Wii U games, but not enough to offset the decline in hardware sales.

An impossible elevator

3DS got off to a rocky start and sales were terrible until Nintendo responded with lower prices and attractive software bundles. These promotions gave the console a much needed sales boost, but they never matched sales figures for the Nintendo DS or Game Boy Advance.

VGChartz-DSales

Original image by VGChartz

This graph is from 2014, but it illustrates the problem. 3DS had a brief boom where it overtook DS sales (that’s Nintendo’s cost cutting in action), but it didn’t support the rate of sale. Globally, the Nintendo DS has sold 154.88 million units over its lifetime. The 3DS has sold 58.2 million units to date.

Today, 58.2 million units is a very solid number, but portable devices are generally cheaper than full-size game consoles, so they don’t make as much profit per sale to a business. 3DS sales have been on the decline for some time, despite a strong line-up of games and the release of titles like Super Smash Brothers.

Nintendo is set to demonstrate its next-gen NX console at E3, and interest in the platform is high. The hybrid tablet / console combination has intrigued users, despite some fears that a true hybrid could cannibalize the profitable portable business without offering enough benefits to make the decision worth it.

At the same time, however, it’s hard to see how Nintendo could continue to do what they’ve done in the past. The company has lost market share to gamers who prefer to play on an iPhone or Android device, and the strengths of its franchise are simply not strong enough to offset the onslaught of mobile gaming.

There’s always the possibility that Nintendo will build another handheld, but I suspect the NX is supposed to at least partially replace the 3DS. It’s getting harder and harder to launch dedicated gaming devices into this market, and the 3DS isn’t generating enough power to make a relaunch a sure thing. Sony has already killed any plans it had for a next-gen follow-up to the PlayStation Vita.

Nintendo still expects to make a profit for this fiscal year. But sales of the NX must skyrocket if Nintendo is to stay in the dark. We still don’t know when the next-gen hardware will hit store shelves; the first likely window would be Christmas 2016.


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