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

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Here's a theory

    Perhaps Nintendo realized that there's an utter dearth of proper launch titles for the device (no Mario to launch!), so they wanted to limit bad hype by only having people who truly wanted the system to go and buy it. The only two titles which may be any good are Rayman and Street Fighter, which means there are many potential audiences for the 3DS who could walk into a Best Buy, Walmart, etc. and think "wait where the hell is that Mario game?"

    The other thing is that this system is indeed a bit of a gamble. Nintendo doesn't know how the 3D will affect people over time, especially to children whose eyes are still developing. so the preference may be to limit the test pool to people who are capable of going out and buying the system after hearing that it's out.

    I think Nintendo may have been trying to play it safe more than anything. They'd rather have a tree drop in a forest rather than have the entire forest leveled.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    I did in fact see a few commercial spots a few days prior to the launch of the 3DS - though they were in the later hours of the evening 9-11pm EST. It's the same one that's currently airing (where the camera shows individuals playing the 3DS in a relatively sterile/white environment, with some animation work from Street Fighter and the like). I too expected a massive rush despite the console-like price tag, and was pretty much surprised when I walked into my local Best Buy at 1:30pm in the afternoon on launch day and saw a 3DS kiosk right inside the front doors manned by two employees..................and absolutely no customers showing interest. People entering the building just walked on by, and believe me when I say - there was no way you could miss the set-up. Since then, I've been back to that Best Buy store (Tuesday), and to a Target (Wednesday). Both had PLENTY of 3DS units in stock and very few titles sold. While I believe that Nintendo's marketing could have been better, and more focused towards the casual gamer or parent who otherwise would not have heard about it, I feel the steep price tag had a lot to do with the lack-luster CUSTOMER sales that seem to be taking place.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    To clear a few things up. People complain about the lack of a major nintendo title, Mario, zelda, ect... But nintendo has already stated that they did not release any of these at launch due to 3rd party companies refusing to compete against nintendos own games whic always sale very well. Also, I've see several commercials in the weeks leading up to the launch date and I wasn't even looking for them.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    Perhaps those of us in the south are just in the worng market, maybe the 3DS is being pushed more heavily in super-urban areas so they can show of their streetpass feature more. I had very similar experiences to the authors, I live in the second largest city in West Virginia, and I haven't seen one TV add, and my local Walmart only stocked ten units (five each blue and black). Maybe they're holding off on the big marketing push for the May time frame when all the web conectivity kicks in. It's all just a little weird though.
  • Bad luck

    Perhaps Nintendo has supply issues due to the recent earthquake and tsunami, and doesn't want to spend money to sell units it can't get.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    If you lived in the right cities, there was incredible marketing (Chicago, NY, etc.). They threw massive events with hands-on kiosks and whatnot. The problem with these is at 4-6 cities does not create a buzz for the massive country that is America.

    They seem to be relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth but that doesn't create buzz. Also, the $250 price tag, though well worth it for what the device can (and will eventually) do, is too high for the average consumer. They're used to seeing DS systems at around $150-180 tops.
    • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

      There are also hands on kiosks in West and central Canada (not in Northern or Eastern Canada) but those marketing events don't start until tomorrow.
      • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

        <a href="">online degrees</a>
        <a href="">high school diploma</a>
        <a href="">associates degree</a>
    • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

      That's true, hitting those specific cities doesn't create a buzz throughout America. However, a focused campaign in these economic times at these HUGE population centers seems smart. I can honestly say that there were lines at the 2 GameStops that are within 5 miles of my house on Sunday morning (which is in a very near suburb of Chicago). However, the GameStop I went to the next day to pick up Street Fighter stil had several systems. The employee I spoke to said they got 3 times the systems they got when the DSi launched and weren't worried about supplies at all.
      But comparing apples and oranges with Chicago and Charlotte. The population of Mecklenburg NC (the county Charotte is in) is a little under 900,000 people as of 2008 and Cook County IL (where Chicago is and is the majority of the county) was a little under 5 1/2 million at the same time. I think they could have hit there numbers.
      Also, one comment about the sales numbers Nintendo presented about the 3DS outselling all there other handhelds in the first day. That doesn't mean it didn't outsell the any of the home consoles. The only home console that had better first day sales than the DS was the Wii. If 3DS beat that, it means the only home console it didn't beat was the Wii.
      Of course, given the supply statements the GameStop employee gave me, they were most likely sales to retail numbers and not sell through numbers. My point though (which I rambled a lot getting to), is that I think these statements are misleading by Nintendo, but I also think it probably sold much better than you are thinking, at least in the larger markets.
  • Plenty of UK marketing

    There's been loads of marketing over here, a major TV campaign and lots of in-your-face roadside stuff.
    • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

      May be done this just for popularity.
      <a href="">SEO Company India</a>
  • There's a new hand held Nintendo device?

    I enjoy playing games when I have time. I don't have the money or time to rush out and by the latest and greatest...whatever. I keep my ear open for what is new so I know when the previous model will drop in price. My kids, however, are always bugging me for the latest game or system they've seen or heard about.

    This is the first I've even heard of the 3DS.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    There was extensive marketing in Chicago. We had people standing outside the train stations with the units all dressed in white jumpsuits. Plus they set up a huge kiosk at one of the train stations smack dab in front of the escalators. Problem with that was if you don't take that train line, you never would have seen it. I also saw no tv commercials and although I have a Wii and a DS, I believe I only received 2 emails about the release. I believe it was a marketing fail which may explain why so many units are still available.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    NOA's boasting of their sales figures also has some additional spin. Look at it this way:
    1) How much marketing build-up and anticipation did any other Nintendo handheld receive? Let's take a look:
    Game Boy: Sure it was a success, but I have never heard a single instance of anybody who bought one on release day, let alone camped out back in 1989 for one.
    Game Boy Color: Playing the same games with better color? People weren't exactly floored by the 1998 graphical updates of Tetris and Link's Awakening- two games that had already been out for several years in monochrome format.
    Virtual Boy: Mario's Tennis as a pack-in game? STILL monochrome? Playing for 15 minutes makes your eyes burn? Yeeeah... no.
    Game Boy Advance: Again, look at the launch game of Super Mario Advance... a re-hashed version of a game that'd been out for over 10 years (not to mention was already redone on SNES). I did see someone in my high school who had one the day after launch, though, and it was my quickest-adopted Nintendo handheld when I bought one a couple months later.
    DS: Not very much buzz. Launch game? Surprise, it's another rehash of a game that'd been out for almost 10 years at that point; Super Mario 64. Aside from that, there weren't very many quality titles on the system for the better part of a year.
    The 3DS absolutely had the most pre-release hype of any Nintendo handheld, but will the system live up to its predecessors? Given the amount of N64-era rehash on their release calendar, I'd say yes! From what history has taught me, it's that people love buying the same games over and over again.
  • Plenty of marketing north of the border...

    I've seen plenty of ads for it, mostly on channels which aim more at the YOUNGER audience...

    Maybe it's aimed at places they know will sell like hotcakes, who knows.
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    I, also live in the South, and here in AL I saw several commercials on TV over the last few weeks. As was stated above, usually in the >8pm time frame.

    I'm not a gamer, so I haven't been looking for it specifically, nor can I speak to the retail response locally. That said, I have seen a fair amount of buzz online from the ad servers, and at the Cnet/ZDnet sites. I don't frequent gamer websites, so as a generally uninformed tech pro, I still saw a fair amount of advertising. It's been nothing comparable to times past, but it's been there.

    I agree that the price is probably a contributing factor to the lack of obvious traffic.
  • You call yourself a gamer yet you went to Wal-Mart ...

    ... early in the morning on a Sunday to make sure you got your 3DS?

    My eleven-year-old RESERVED his 3DS at GameStop weeks ago so he would be sure to have one. He also reserved his 3DS games and the Guide. He was doing a trade-up and had evertyhing paid-for when he arrived at our GameStop

    He didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn. In fact, he went to Game Stop after we dragged him to church and back and the line at Game Stop was out the door!

    No matter. Since he had the forethought to reserve his 3DS, it wouldn't have mattered when he got there.

    Nintendo may be crazy but they are crazy like a fox, and so is GameStop for having a reservation policy and a trade-in policy to support after-market sales of gently-used machines.

    Certainly, Nintendo creates artifical shortages in order to keep the feeding frenzy going - but they also support their loyal customers as well as their retailers by encourgaing product reservations.

    Could they market better? Perhaps - but my little gamer knew about the 3DS a year ago and he was ready for it.
    M Wagner
  • Internet sales

    I agree in that there's a good chance they are simply lying about sales to get the rest of the public's interest up ("Wow... best hand-held by Nintendo yet... I should get one!!!") but I think most of those sales may have been through online preorders or other online sale where the device is simply shipped to the consumer. I know that some stores, at least GameStop, will ship preorders early so they're on your doorstep on launch day. No lines (not that it mattered in this case), no leaving the house. And more and more stores are doing it.

    Also, I would expect this one NOT to be the best seller, because Nintendo has released quite a few DS iterations recently, just tacking on a new feature as if consoles are rolling release. Bigger screen, camera, 3D, whatever. Maybe some people are happy with the DSiXL2^9J Bundle edition they just bought a month ago...
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    Here in Germany we see a pretty good TV Ad Campaign for the 3ds. So I really wondered about what you write in your post for the US. Here is an example And there are much more that put "normal" people in the amazing experience of the 3ds in their marketing story kinda way...
  • RE: Nintendo 3DS: Record-breaking sales or marketing fail?

    "I was number 17 of the first 20 people to show up and actually get one when they opened."

    Wow, you're my hero.
    Scarface Claw