The Nintendo 3DS launched back in early 2011 and right off the bat, the console struggled. With a lack of quality software at launch, and a hefty price point, the console simply wasn’t moving off store shelves. It wasn’t until later in the year, after the price of the handheld significantly dropped, that the console started to sell. Compound that with the release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, and the console was right on its way.
Ever since later 2011, the console has been solid, with a wide range of quality titles. In 2012, the 3DS saw excellent first-party support in the form of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and New Super Mario Bros. 2. In late 2012, the console returned to profitability and sales continued to roar. Towards the end of the year, Japan saw the release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which has become a blockbuster hit, selling over 3million units in Japan alone, and causing a notable bump in sales within Japan.
We’re just over halfway through 2013 and there has now been over 32million hardware sales of the Nintendo 3DS. Of that, nearly 12million is in Japan, nearly 10million in North America, and nearly 9million in Europe. While not by a big margin, Japan is the largest market for the Nintendo 3DS at the moment, with over 36% of all Nintendo 3DS consoles in that region.
When we look back at the handhelds predecessor, the Nintendo DS, that system sold nearly 155million units, but only 33million of those were in Japan. That is just over 21% of all DS’s sold. So as we can see, the Nintendo 3DS has a significantly higher market share in Japan than the Nintendo DS did. Why is that and what can Nintendo do to change this?
Content is King. The age old saying rings true even today and this is Nintendo’s answer to pushing sales of the 3DS in North America. This year Nintendo is releasing brand new titles from both the Legend of Zelda and Pokemon series’. Sure back in 2011, the Nintendo 3DS got a Legend of Zelda title in the form of a remake of Ocarina of Time, but the system has yet to see a brand new Zelda game. This is about to change in the form of the Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
A Link Between Worlds is a sequel to the highly acclaimed A Link to the Past from back on the Super Nintendo. Despite its origins in Japan, the Legend of Zelda over the years has become a significantly more ‘Western’ franchise. Just analyzing the sales figures you’ll find that fans in Japan simply aren’t into Zelda nearly as much as they once were. The original Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time all sold more than 1 million copies in Japan alone. In the last 15 years since Ocarina of Time, no title has reached that milestone, and the most recent iteration, Skyward Sword, sold less than half a million in Japan.
On the flipside, Zelda games as a whole have not dipped nearly as much in sales. Twilight Princess is the second highest selling Zelda title, and Phantom Hourglass is the fourth. Yet both of these are relatively new Zelda titles, having both been released in the past 7 years. The Zelda series has become a much more western franchise, with sales up in both Europe and North America. Thus when A Link Between Worlds ships later in November, we’re sure to see a bit of push in new hardware sales.
The same is not completely true for the Pokemon series, but it doesn’t really matter. In Japan, the series still sells just as well, and in the case of Black and White, as well as Black and White 2, the games sell better in Japan than they do in North America. Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate the fact that Pokemon is a huge seller in North America. To many gamers, a Nintendo handheld console is not complete until a Pokemon title has been released.
With Pokemon X and Y set to release this year, we’ll certainly see a huge surge of Pokemon players picking up the new console. While many Pokemon fans in Japan may already have the console, in the west, these titles are exactly what fans have been waiting for before upgrading to their newest handheld.
The 3DS has done very well in Japan for the last two years, but with the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, as well as Pokemon X and Y, this is the year that North America and Europe gets its spotlight. This is the year the Nintendo 3DS goes west.