Nintendo recently released information about the first half of its current fiscal year, and Gamasutra’s Matt Matthews has an interesting breakdown of the numbers. The Nintendo 3DS handheld is doing well and its userbase is growing steadily. However, the system might never reach Nintendo DS levels of popularity because the casual gamers that bought the DS once upon a time have seemingly moved to the mobile market, and have no interest in the 3DS.
Matthews outlines the success of the Nintendo 3DS in his detailed breakdown, and points out how the release of the 3DS XL has introduced the system to an even wider audience. Nintendo’s most recent numbers state that the 3DS, including the 3DS XL, has shipped over 22 million units worldwide. That’s not bad at all (especially considering the PlayStation Vita has been out for eight months, but has shipped a comparatively paltry 800,000 units), but as of September 2012, all the iterations of the Nintendo DS combined have sold over 152 million units.
Matthews doesn’t believe that the 3DS’s numbers will ever catch up to the DS’s legacy, and the rise of the mobile market is part of the reason. The men and women that bought user-friendly DS games like Nintendogs and Brain Age to pass the hours on long commutes have since installed cheaper, more accessible alternatives into their iPhones, like Doodle Jump, Where’s My Water, and Angry Birds.
That said, Nintendo’s core market still remains intact. ‘[T]he big picture here is that the rise of the mobile gaming market ‘¦ is largely the emigration of consumers who stopped in briefly to play Nintendo’s hardware but had no long-term interest in that kind of platform,’ Matthews writes. ‘Nintendo’s core market is still intact, and they are still growing their market. The explosive growth of gaming on mobile platforms could mostly be additive to the overall market, without threatening Nintendo.’
All good points. Nintendo has always survived on the strength of its franchises: there are still a huge number of people out there who want Mario, Pokemon, Metroid and Zelda. But the main difference between this current generation and previous generations of handhelds is that for the first time ever, Nintendo’s portable systems have a serious competitor. Sure, people may be using their smartphones to play smaller, quicker games that don’t have the depth of 3DS adventures, but that’s still a market that once belonged to Nintendo.
That said, the portable game scene is hardly a racetrack that will end with one winner and one loser. iOS, Android, and the Nintendo 3DS will continue to serve different niches.