Confusion on the Launch Pad

3DS critics have blamed a weak launch line-up for the system’s poor sales but is this really the case?

By Andy Hoover. Posted 05/17/2011 15:00 14 Comments     ShareThis

We are approaching the two month mark since 3DS was released in North America, so plenty of people have had the opportunity to try or purchase the systems for themselves. Of course, while most gamers are simply enjoying the system, the video game press is analyzing the system’s launch and throwing their two cents into the conversation.

Generally speaking, the press appears to have adopted a rather negative opinion of how 3DS has performed so far. Granted, many are impressed with the hardware itself, but most seem to be underwhelmed by the system’s library up to this point and see the system’s sales as a reason to predict doom for its future. More times than not, these numbers and opinions seem readily apparent to just about everybody, but I can’t help but thoroughly disagree.

First, let’s discuss 3DS’s line-up of games at launch. When a new system is released the buzz word that inevitably gets floated around its initial selection of games is “killer app”, the one game that will define the system and convince everybody to fork over the money for the system just to play that one game. Halo is probably the best example of a killer app; by itself it defined Microsoft’s original foray into console gaming and was pretty much the only game most early adopters were interested in for months after the launch. Wii was interesting in that it had a couple of killer apps; core gamers had Twilight Princess to drool over while the casual crowd was drawn in by Wii Sports in ridiculously huge numbers. We can keep going: GBA had Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, SNES had Super Mario World, N64 had Super Mario 64, Dreamcast had Soul Calibur, and Xbox 360 had Call of Duty 2. However, a system doesn’t need to have a killer app right at launch to succeed, nor does having one guarantee continued success.

Soul Calibur is one of the most acclaimed games of all time– a lot of good that did the Dreamcast.

For failing to have that one, must-own title, many have been critical of the 3DS launch but I am going to stick my head and make the claim that 3DS has one of the best launch line-ups ever. Is it the absolute best? No, that honor goes to GameCube with Luigi’s Mansion, Rogue Squadron II, Smash Bros. Melee, and Pikmin all being released in the first few weeks. What 3DS did well was offer a surprisingly large collection of solid games across a broad range of genres and interests. Super Street Fighter IV has received the most acclaim up to this point and is the first in a group of titles that will make 3DS very appealing for fans of fighters; its brothers in arms are the soon to be released Dead of Alive: Dimensions and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift.

The second most acclaimed title proved to be a bit of a surprise, as Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars kind of came out of left field as a challenging turn based strategy game with plenty of content– altogether a pretty choice for the “hardcore” crowd. Racing gamers who have picked up 3DS have a great option in the form of Ridge Racer 3D, another title that proved surprisingly impressive with plenty to do, fun gameplay, and some of the best use of 3D on the system. Nintendo has, of course, delivered a selection of games that cater to both casual and core audiences; Nintendogs + Cats delivers as promised while Pilotwings Resort falls in that inbetween area with simple core mechanics for the casual crowd but enough difficulty and collectibles to get the interest of more serious gamers. Steel Diver is admittedly a little too serious to appeal to the masses but its quirky controls and surprisingly puzzle-like levels definitely have a place for fans of more esoteric experiences. For fans of more straight up action there is Samurai Warriors, a hack and slash that uses 3D brilliantly but suffers simply from being in a series of games that the press loathes but I will always champion.

Not one of these games is a killer app– some have enough flaws to make them fall short of true greatness, while others simply belong to genres that really don’t have mass appeal. Regardless, every title mentioned above is at least going to be a solid choice for somebody and that at least should be enough to earn at least some measure of serious consideration. This isn’t to say there aren’t some very real problems. Several major genres are not represented at all, with first person shooters and RPGs being the most notable.

Ubisoft seems to have been a little too overeager to have as many titles available around launch as possible with some rushed ports (Rayman 3D and Splinter Cell) and unimpressive new entries in other series (Combat of Giants and Rabbids) to boot. And then there was the biggest problem for the core audience that probably went unnoticed by many casual gamers– the lack of the eShop at launch. Many were excited for the opportunity to transfer their DSiWare to the new handheld, check out the Game Boy Virtual Console, or get a glimpse of what the new 3DSWares would be like, only to learn that they would have wait a couple months.

For a game that received zero hype, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars has done quite well for itself.

Finally there are the sales figures, where Nintendo has actually fallen short of its estimates. The company had hoped to move more than four million units within the first few weeks, but managed to only sell 3.6 million in that timeframe while the system sat on store shelves, readily available. Some chalked this up to the major earthquake that hit Japan, others blamed the lack of a killer app and some even proclaimed that the system was doomed due to the rise of phone and tablet gaming as well as one or all of the above or maybe even Sony’s upcoming PSP successor.

The truth of the matter is that it is way too early to make any such claims. The original DS sold only marginally better in its first month yet it has managed to sell around 150 million units, and it too launched with a rather unimpressive selection of games and had the shadow of the technologically more impressive PSP approaching from just beyond the horizon. It really took a year for DS to gain major traction with the release of Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS. Thanks to these two titles, DS quickly became a must-have system and managed to draw in sales throughout the 2005 holidays just as well as the recently released Xbox 360.

While it is an unavoidable truth that 3DS has not yet lived up to the lofty standards Nintendo set for it, nobody should be blaming the launch line-up or predicting the system’s impending doom. Instead of launching with that one, system defining masterpiece, 3DS has been treated to a varied assortment of really good games. The course of video gaming history has programmed us to always be pumped up for that killer app but let’s be practical for a moment; which is really better? It’s always great to delve into a truly masterful game, but sometimes it is better to have a collection of enjoyable games that will provide many more hours and types of entertainment than a single game that is technically better than the rest.

Imagine if all you owned was an Xbox for the first year or so and all you had to play was Halo. it’s definitely a great game but it could only hold your interest for so long. 3DS owners have a strong selection of solid titles to play as we wait for Ocarina of Time 3D, Resident Evil: Mercenaries and Revelations, Kid Icarus, Metal Gear Solid, Tales of the Abyss, Star Fox 64, Kingdom Hearts, and the slew of titles that are bound to be announced at E3 next month. Sometimes when it comes to quantity versus quality, quantity wins out.

14 Responses to “Confusion on the Launch Pad”

  • 1370 points
    xeacons says...

    Quite true; the 3DS is far from doomed. While I am fairly disappointed with the line-up, it is good to remember launches are usually lackluster. The 3DS games seem to be meant for fans of each franchise. And yes, the sales only fell slightly short of project numbers in the 5 days of sales (3/27 – 4/01).

    However, there is disappointment in it’s performance: lack of the eShop! We’re not talking about one game being delayed; this is the heart and soul of the system! Everything we were promised: DSiWare, 3DSWare, VC, programs, Netflix, web browser, video, etc. This is why we bought it. This is what we’re still waiting on.

    Thumb up 1
  • 30 points
    CryojenX says...

    No offense, but if the e-shop is why you bought 3DS… Never mind. Call me crazy, but I bought it knowing the investment would pay dividends when the library catches up just as the DS did, with oodles of great games. Everyone seems to have the blinders on giving them tunnel vision, but I remember the first 6 or so months after the DS launched was practically excruciating.

    I’ve come to expect that as the rule rather than the exception at system launches. Sure sometimes there’s a surprise, but for the most part, it’s par for the course. Anyone who’s been playing games more than a generation or 2 should know this by now.

    Thumb up 1
    • 697 points
      Adam Sorice says...

      I agree that DS will eventually get good but in Europe, Nintendo didn’t actually give the 3DS an RRP. Instead it just floated the console on the market and let retailers decide how much to charge at launch. The result? The console was about $100 more in the UK than in the US.

      The upside? It’s gone down about ~$60 since launch because no one’s buying it. And I’m more than willing to wait round a bit longer, after all there’s nothing worth playing on it.

      Thumb up 0
      • 1370 points
        xeacons says...

        Well, let me put it this way: the UPDATE was the reason I bought it. All the things the DSi can do, that the 3DS can’t right now, plus all the things we were promised. I use my DSi as a PDA: organizer, notebook, scheduling calendar, etc. Even though I knew I had to wait on the eShop until MAY (MAY, they said, MAY), I originally thought I’d be able to transfer DSiWare over at launch. Also, I thought the camera (which has the calendar on the DSi) would have all the features I use and need. No dice. My only hope is the update on June 6. And I’m tired of waiting.

        Thumb up 0
  • 165 points
    Zeer0id says...

    I have to mostly agree. While I’m not quite so taken with the launch titles, I find this largely irrelevant. I didn’t even purchase a game for the platform. Some of them appeal to me, but not nearly enough to warrant a purchase at this time, so I was left to wait. Do I regret buying a 3DS? No, because I knew precisely what I was getting myself into. A second DS, with some AR games thrown in for a couple months, at least until Ocarina 3D arrives.

    One of the most frequent statements I’ve seen thrown around the web in the last couple months is that Nintendo launched the system too early. In fact, they should have waited a couple months until it was “ready”. This makes absolutely no sense to me, at least from a consumer standpoint. In fact, if anything, it may only hurt Nintendo in a fiscal sense, because of its poor buzz immediately after launch. To the mere consumer, this bears no fruit. No one is obligated to purchase a game at launch, or even purchase the system at launch. If they had waited, what do you gain? What do you lose? Nothing and… nothing. Except you do get the opportunity to buy the system before its potential is fully realized, and get to be that early adopter with the cool new gadget. Why should Nintendo have waited?

    Thumb up 0
    • 697 points
      Adam Sorice says...

      You make a valid argument but I think it’s good to remember the wider market reactions to figures like this. If the 3DS leads with a shaky start, especially on newer/less tested franchises, is that going to encourage developers to plough their resources into a new console? Or are they more likely to work on the technically inferior but completely widespread DS instead? It bares a thought.

      There’s also the issue of how long consumers are willing to shoulder the 3DS until it becomes “good”. Hardcore fans will always follow the system but fairweather players may just forget about their 3DS if they don’t see a strong line-up of games they want to play. We sometimes forget that we aren’t only the consumers anymore, Nintendo needs the Dads and the little kids and teenage girls to buy 3DS and those new markets need a stronger market presence to keep them enticed.

      Thumb up 0
      • 165 points
        Zeer0id says...

        While I agree with you, ultimately I feel the issue returns to what I mentioned previously. As core consumers with knowledge of the industry, we are not directly affected by this.

        I would say it’s important to keep a couple things in mind about negative buzz, especially of the sort surrounding a launch. First of all, buzz is a fickle thing, and we, as the core consumer, control its ebb and flow. The reason it’s poor right now is because of poor sales in the present, and this can easily change as more of us purchase the platform. That is exactly what would happen, presumably, when the games that Nintendo arguably should have “waited for” to be ready, before releasing the system. When that happens, mom and pop will take notice– especially when more games that appeal to them become available.

        And concerning developers, it’s mostly the same situation. No games currently in development will be canceled at this point, and any developers playing the wait-and-see game will be won over if and when the popularity increases.

        I won’t try to argue that this had no negative impact on Nintendo whatsoever, but I truly believe it’s our responsibility as the core consumers to, well, act like core consumers. If we begin to pay too much heed to the concerns of the casual market and Nintendo’s own finances, then they might stop paying us much heed in turn.

        Thumb up 0
  • 432 points
    dmgice says...

    I bought a 3DS because it matches my algorithm of

    Cost of Games I want > Price of System

    Each of the games is about $40.
    Price of the system is $250.
    So, I need about 6 games that I “really” want for the system.

    1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
    2. Dead or Alive: Dimensions
    3. Paper Mario
    4. Star Fox 64
    5. Cave Story 3D
    6. Bit Trip Saga
    7. Super Mario 3DS
    8. Animal Crossing
    9. Resident Evil: Mercenaries
    10. Mario Kart 3DS
    11. And more!

    It keeps going from there. Backwards Compatibility, the eShop, and Netflix are icing.

    Thumb up 0
    • 360 points
      M. Noah Ward says...

      So you don’t wait until the games are actually released before you make an investment based on this algorithm? What if a game is canceled or doesn’t come out for 2 or 3 years? Do you update for that?

      Thumb up 0
      • 432 points
        dmgice says...

        I usually justify a purchase at launch by how many games are announced at that time to come out that I want. Which is what the list on the 3DS is. Most of those are Nintendo brands, so it’s pretty slim that they would be canceled. That said, the 3DS does play almost all of the old DS/DSi games. So, to me it’s not a risk. If a game gets delayed, it’s better than canceled. As for a game that justified my purchase of an item and then got canceled? Honestly, I haven’t run into that yet on any of the systems I have purchased; because I do continually add games to my list up to when I buy it and after I buy it, I decide my game purchases by how many games are on my list that are in the stores that I haven’t bought yet. I do factor in rarity into purchases though. Which is why I own a Wonderswan Crystal and 1 game for it. (Final Fantasy in Japanese.) Most of the time, it just takes a few big franchises to get me to buy a system; because those always end up on my list.

        As for the 3DS currently? I’ve been adding games to my list and after E3, there will be a few dozen more games on that list. Remember the 8 I said from Sega? They’re now working on 20. So, the 80 list I had before may be too low now. Oh, well. But yeah, there was a demo of a Panzer Dragoon style game on the 3DS running around Sega’s offices this month. If that ends up as a retail project, I might add it to my list.

        The list is also tiered. There are Day One, Lean, and Bargain Tiers when it comes to these games. All the ones I listed above are Day One Tier for me. Lean Tier is Pilotwings and Super Street Fighter IV 3D. Which are “in case of a drought.” Bargain Tier is “snatch up for a good price” like Steel Diver, Dream Trigger, Rayman 3D, Ghost Recon, and so forth. If I find any 3DS game for a really good price, I may snatch it up as I do a lot of collecting. Currently playing older DS/DSi games on the 3DS in an effort to max out the activity log. I have less than 30 away from maxing it out and I still have several rows of titles to play on the system.

        Personally, I’m really liking the 3DS although I would prefer if I could have a game full screen without the aliasing filter. They could fix it with a firmware update. I usually play 1:1 on the 3DS screen though because I’m used to playing PS One games this way on the PSP.

        Thumb up 1
    • 219 points
      Smith Stuart says...

      Wow, dmgice, you’ve really got an elaborate method for purchasing products!

      Thumb up 0
  • 3 points
    thebodge says...

    Hey everyone, first post here!

    As I mentioned on another forum, I believe that Nintendo launched the 3DS when they did in order to build momentum running up to this year’s holiday buying rush. The 3DS is a “see-it-to-believe-it” type of tech, where the only way to promote it fully is for people to get some hands-on time with it. This type of marketing takes patience, building slowly, yet has the potential to get the hype, and the demand, up to insane levels, like with the Wii.

    And the Wii was a similar piece of tech, where we really needed to experience it first hand to get an idea just how innovative it was. But the 3DS has a distinct difference from the Wii in this area: The Wii can have up to four people playing it at the time, with others watching, while the 3DS can only have ONE person experiencing the “WOW!” factor at time. This one difference greatly limits the “see-it-to-believe-it” factor with the 3DS, especially since handhelds are often played solo and not in groups. And I wonder if this is why Starfox 3DS will not have online multiplayer, in order to promote people sitting around with their friends and playing against each other in living rooms, dorm rooms, cafes, lounges, cafeterias, anywhere where others will see the fun they are having and be inquisitive about what they are doing and what the excitement is all about? Sounds like marketing to me.

    Anyway, with the NGP launching 6-12 months from now, and having very easily understood assets (high res screen, tons of power, touch screen, apps, etc.), it makes perfect sense to me that Nintendo decided to launch the 3DS earlier than they would have preferred in order to get the “word-of-mouth” and “see-it-to-believe-it” marketing machine running, because the 3DS DOES NOT have easily understood assets (3D, StreetPass, Augmented
    Reality, etc.) and cannot be properly promoted via a tv/print ad or spec sheet. The 3DS is an outstanding machine, with outstanding features, and I bet Nintendo wanted to make sure that they had plenty of time to build the hype this year so that when the NGP and Christmas came around the games, and the “word-of-mouth” marketing, would do all the work to insure that the buzz was at a high level. 

    Thumb up 0
    • 1329 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      Hey, welcome to Nintendojo! We’re glad to have you! (:

      Dave Beaudoin over at 4colorrebellion made an interesting point about the 3DS here (http://www.4colorrebellion.com/archives/2011/05/11/new-technology-sucks-a-4cr-rant/) that I actually don’t see made very often at all, which is basically that people might be underwhelmed by the 3DS despite its outstanding technology. The fact is the three-dimensional capabilities of the 3DS are outmatched by the 3D of, say, feature films in theatres, if not in terms of technology then in simple terms of “this screen is bigger, therefore I am more amazed”. And you made a great point about the 3DS not being inherently multiplayer– though I think the decision with SF64 is more logistical than anything else.

      In any case, it’s true that the NGP is rolling out any second now (or any year now), so hopefully Nintendo gets its act together. That or people start releasing games for it. All we have this week is SpongeBob Squigglepants, and, uh … yeah.

      Thumb up 0
  • 3 points
    Martyd82 says...

    Hey, this is my first post too.

    I agree 100% with this article. And let’s also not forget that the PS1 and PS2 didn’t have any real “killer aps” at launch either (the PS1 really only had WipeOut and Rayman – the former being about as much of a “killer ap” as Street Fighter IV and the latter being a port of a Jaguar game), while the PS2 only had SSX and Tekken Tag Tournament (which, great though they were, could hardly be called “killer aps”). Yet, both are considered among the greatest gaming consoles of all time.

    The idea of the “killer ap” started I think, more or less, with the launch of the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64. But that was due partially to the N64’s launch line-up being so slim (the only other game it launched with was Pilotwings 64). So it basically needed a “killer ap” to justify the tiny selection of games available at launch. Halo, however, is probably the game that mistakingly led the press to believe a “killer ap” at launch was necessary for a system’s success. But remember that, at the time, Microsoft was a newcomer to the console game market. So the X-Box needed a killer ap to properly make a name for Microsoft’s new console game division. Nintendo, on the other hand, doesn’t really need such a thing as much, since they already have plenty of name recognition under their belts. See where I’m getting at here? Some systems NEED a killer ap at launch, due to bitter circumstances (such as a lack of name recognition or a pathetically small launch line-up). One like the 3DS, however, didn’t, since all things considered, it had a relatively carefree launch window.

    Thumb up 0

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