On July 10th, Level 5 released Yo-kai Watch 2 for the Nintendo 3DS, and the game sold over 1.3 million copies in its first week, making it one of the quickest million-sellers on the system. Needless to say, that’s a big deal and another feather in the 3DS’ cap. There’s just one problem—despite having one the most popular new franchises on the block, 3DS hardware sales this year are still tracking below 2013 in Japan.
From January 2013 – July 2013, the Nintendo 3DS sold 2.13 million units. It was aided by the release of games such as the original Yo-kai Watch, Dragon Quest VII, Tomodachi Life, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Shin Megami Tensei IV and a variety of other software.
From January 2014 – July 2014, however, the 3DS has only sold 1.24 million units. Like the first half of 2013, it has seen a variety of games released for it these past few months, including Yo-kai Watch 2, Dragon Quest Monsters 2, Kirby Triple Deluxe, Story of Seasons, Persona Q and more.
And that’s really the problem here—that, while the 3DS continues to see a rich line-up of software in Japan, the console’s sales aren’t really holding up as well as Nintendo would like for them to. During the week of Yo-kai Watch 2’s release, the 3DS sold 62,000 units. The week after that, it dropped back down to 37,000 units—not terrible, but certainly not as much as one might have hoped for.
So, what do you do when you’ve already got some of the best, most popular games on your device and hardware sales won’t increase? I’m not quite certain, frankly. There’s always the possibility of finding a new, untapped market to tap into, but naturally, this is far easier said than done, and at this point, it has become quite obvious that most “traditional games” aren’t up to the task. And again, this isn’t a matter of selling software—it’s a matter of selling more consoles, which is far harder.
Nintendo announced this week that it has sold 820,000 Nintendo 3DS consoles worldwide between April and June 2014, down from sales of 1.4 million during the same period in 2013. The company has also said that it plans to sell 12 million Nintendo 3DS consoles between March 2014 and April 2015, so it should be interesting to see if they can manage that figure.
Nintendo also noted in their earnings report that they expect “robust profits” from the Nintendo 3DS in the months to come, owing to the release of games like Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. There’s no doubt that these games will sell well. However, to just what extent those games will affect 3DS hardware sales remains to be seen—especially in Japan, where the system’s sales are so far below last year’s and the industry in general looks quite unhealthy.
Games to keep an eye on in Japan during the latter part of the year include: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Super Smash Bros. and Final Fantasy Explorers (which is scheduled for “Winter”). That’s a pretty good line-up, but we’ll have to wait until this Fall to see if it’s good enough.
That having been said, one move that is a distinct possibility in Japan is the release of the Nintendo 2DS, which hasn’t been made available in that region yet.
If the 2DS can be made available at an attractive price, it should theoretically help the system’s sales to some extent, by making it more accessible to consumers that tend to spend conservatively. Unfortunately, we’re seven months into 2014 already, so even if the 2DS were to be released in the near future, it would have its work cut out for it.
The other possibility, of course, is the introduction of a new Nintendo 3DS model. A “3DS Lite” or “3DSi” that is perhaps marketed to an audience Nintendo feel they haven’t yet captured. Marketing can play a big part in selling the same kind of device to different demographics. For instance, the Nintendo DSi XL was aimed largely at a senior audience, while the 3DS XL skews younger, despite the similarities in their design.
Either way, it’s time to make something happen. Nintendo 3DS software sales—both first and third-party—are doing great, but Nintendo is as much a hardware company as it is a software one.