30 years since its first product’s arrival in North America, I still struggle to understand the Nintendo phenomenon. I have owned three of their consoles myself, mostly as simple curiosities, not out of any genuine loyalty to the platforms. Despite what must be acknowledged by even the most hardcore Nintendo fan over the past four years as several missteps, Nintendo still appears to hold a talon-like grip on a slice of the zeitgeist in the gaming community. And I continue to not get it.
This old yarn came back to the fore of my mind in the wake of this past week’s news that the Nintendo 3DS had sold over 15 million units in the United States. With that crowning achievement, Nintendo is well on its way to a third hat-trick in having a console that is the undisputed most-sold champion in its given category. That’s awesome. I own a 3DS XL myself. But what does it matter?
For me, the 3DS is one of several gaming systems that I own, and it does not drive my overall gaming experience over the course of a calendar year nearly as much as the other systems that I game on. It is just a thing that I own, not a thing with an environment that I live in and breath. I have to suspect that there are a lot of other gamers in North America that are the same. I perceive that there are a lot of gamers that own a 3DS or a WiiU as an also-ran, ancillary system that is part of a larger gaming framework, but those systems do not drive that person’s gaming experience to a great extent. And I also bet that a lot of those gamers are playing predominantly legacy games that launched on older Nintendo systems, or have less than 6 or 7 newer games. It is a system that supports a gaming yen with a very small footprint. That is my hypothesis, anyway.
I theorize that, for a lot of gamers, Nintendo is a lot like HTC is in the tech space. Lots of people are interested to see what they are going to do, but they observe it, say “isn’t that cute” and move on. The gaming industry is full of metrics: system units sold, attach rate (one of my favorites), units of titles sold in the first 30 days, and so forth. What I really want to see is a metric that represents the average percentage of a gamer’s total gaming time that is spent on their Nintendo console. I feel like that would be the most representative of Nintendo’s actual relevance. Units sold is one thing, but I have a strong belief that those units see comparatively little game time in contrast to the other systems that a person owns. The relatively low cost of Nintendo’s hardware makes it more plausible for a person to afford a primary gaming system and have the Nintendo as a secondary or tertiary. So a lot of them get bought. But how much do those units actually get used?
So, no, I do not hate Nintendo. Again, I own a 3DS XL and I love it. And I’ve owned a DS and a Wii. But those devices occupied a specific place in the hierarchy of my gaming devices, and they have always been fairly low on the totem pole. My main thrust here is that I always seek to ask questions that put media headlines in perspective and ask if the numbers and themes that are being reported match up with the vectors that are important, at least to me, and hopefully to at least a few others. And, yeah, please voice your agreement or disagreement in the comments below, because I asked this question because I am struggling to put my finger on an answer and invite the thoughts of others much more sage and wise than I. Thanks and take care.