Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

Summary:The 3DS is Nintendo's latest magical feat of gaming, but has shoddy marketing harmed sales or has it actually helped them?

 

The Nintendo 3DS. You know what it is... right? If not, I would typically be inclined to ask if you have been living under a rock, but not this time. You see, exciting news has come out of Nintendo today regarding U.S. sales figures of its exciting new hand-held, but I'm a bit skeptical of said sales figures. According to an article posted yesterday by Time Techland, Nintendo stated the following:

"U.S. day-one sales numbers for Nintendo 3DS were the highest of any Nintendo hand-held system in our history."

Just to be clear, the keyword there is "hand-held." In other words, the 3DS' U.S. day-one sales numbers haven't been noted as besting the Wii or any other previous Nintendo console (NES, SNES, N64 et al). The curious thing about that statement to me is the COMPLETE lack of marketing I have seen for the 3DS. Not a single commercial, radio ad, targeted ad, or otherwise have I seen outside of proactively visiting game sites as a gamer, thus seeing gaming-related ads.

Additionally, to say I was champing away at the bit to get my hands on a 3DS is an understatement. Yes, I was one of those people hitting up a Walmart at 12:00 AM early Sunday morning with hopes of getting my hands on one. After all, when the Wii launched, I got my butt up and made it to Toys 'R Us by ~4:30 AM to make sure I secured one. I was number 17 of the first 20 people to show up and actually get one when they opened. Anyway, I didn't want to get up that early to wait for my 3DS at select stores that didn't open until late Sunday morning, so to Walmart I went. Guess how many people were there waiting... no, seriously. Take a guess. None. NONE!

My roommate and I were the ONLYtwo people there to pick one up. I couldn't believe it. Then again, he told me he had a feeling it would be like that since he was of the belief that no one knew about this thing due to how little advertisement existed prior to launch day. Boy, was he right. To make matters even more unbelievable to me, I awoke later Sunday morning (after getting home around 1:00 AM and playing my 3DS for an hour or two) -- about one hour before Game Stop opened at 11:00 AM. I had two more games I wanted to buy which weren't at Walmart, so I found myself at Game Stop about 3 minutes after they opened. Guess how many people were in there just tearing at each others' throats to get their hands on a 3DS!? None. Again. What?

Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo 3DS

Now, let me clarify that I live in a fairly sizable city: Charlotte, NC. It's not like I'm in Winchestertonfieldville, Iowa or somewhere like that. So, with the amazingly UNDERWHELMING turnout of what I surely thought would be enough masses to sell out most of the city of its Nintendo 3DS systems, I was left thinking to myself what a massive marketing failure Nintendo had exuded with this system's release.

And now, we have this statement from them saying their first-day sales are through the roof, outselling all previous hand-helds prior! How can there be such a disconnect between the excitement I've seen from others online and Nintendo's statement, and the little-to-no marketing and absolutely NO interest I saw from people locally? Something just doesn't quite add up to me here.

Here's my theory: Nintendo is doing what so many companies do to make figures sound amazing: Report on sales figures as sold to stores, not sales figures as sold to customers -- even if they're taking pre-orders into consideration with their statement. Yes, I think that only the gaming community has been as excited about the 3DS as I have been and guess which entities pick up on that excitement? Stores that carry and sell game-related merchandise. I've no doubt in my mind that Nintendo must have sold an amazing amount of 3DS units to Game Stops, Best Buys, Walmarts, and all kinds of similar stores around this country. But actual customers? I'm going to have to see some real numbers before I believe what Nintendo seems to want us to believe.

Where that's concerned, NDP should be releasing such numbers very soon. Now, prior to Nintendo's statement today, I figured perhaps Nintendo had decided to go exclusively interactive with their marketing. More and more, many businesses are dropping traditional marketing avenues altogether and replacing those endeavors with online marketing strategies via SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). But then I recall how little I've seen of the 3DS *anywhere* outside of game sites! I just can't believe Nintendo let this one lie dormant like they did. Perhaps they thought enough excitement would be generated via word-of-mouth? Anyway, as a hand-held gamer, I'm very pleased with my 3DS despite its couple of shortcomings.

Likewise, I'm very pleased with Nintendo's statement about sales here in the U.S. but I'm just not buying it at the moment (no pun intended). Now, at this point, all I can do is reach out to you and ask if you recall seeing any 3DS advertisements prior to launch day (this past Sunday) anywhere other than gaming-related sites. And for those of you who went out and bought one, did you have any trouble getting your hands on one? Likewise, did you see any excitement happening at all about the device prior to launch day? Outside of my roommate and myself, I don't know anyone -- online or otherwise -- who has said word-one about the 3DS. What's up with that, Nintendo?

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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