Wow, that shoe dropped so fast it left a dent and tread marks on our collective foreheads.
One of the most basic economic truths is this: When you have a product that people aren't buying, you slash the price to give them a reason to reconsider. Ideally, this is the sort of strategy you bust out late in a product's life cycle, after accruing piles of cash from the hordes of early adopters.
It's not typically the sort of thing you do a mere five months after launch. Well, unless you're Nintendo, that is, and your latest piece of hardware, the Nintendo 3DS, is selling with gamers about as well as John Boehner's debt-ceiling restructure plans are selling with his fellow Republicans. Today, Big N announced that as of Aug. 12, the price of the 3DS will drop from $249.99 to 169.99. For those a little slow on the math uptake, that's a jaw-dropping 33% cut in MSRP.
It's also highly unusual. Nintendo and Microsoft waited several years before slashing the price of the Wii and the Xbox 360 -- in no small part because their products were solid and their sales streams remained steady. Sony, meanwhile, stubbornly resisted dropping the price of the PlayStation 3 for more than three years, despite the fact that the console's steep cost was one of the biggest reasons the 360 kept treating it like the rest of major league baseball is treating the Seattle Mariners this season.
Quite simply, Nintendo needed to face some hard reality. As Kotaku's Stephen Totilo so gracefully documented earlier this week, not only is there a serious dearth of current 3DS offerings, but most of the major publishers aren't even touting any major 3DS releases for the remainder of the year.
There's no question that Nintendo itself has a beefy lineup of first-party 3DS games due to hit before the shoppers begin bum-rushing the big-box doors on Black Friday -- Mario Kart, Super Mario Land and Kid Icarus, just to name three. But eight months is a long time to make us wait for them, especially when Nintendo promised that many of them would be available at or near the 3DS launch.
The 3DS's sudden price plummet can be read several ways, depending on whether you're predisposed to view Nintendo as savvy, laden with hubris, or a spicy combo of both:
- It's Nintendo's admission that they completely botched the launch and toddler phase of its shiny new handheld. Last month's release of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D was a nice boost to the system library, but it was like downing a case of Mountain Dew three hours after the chemistry final -- too little, too late, with the added bonus of a major crash of buyer's remorse.
- It's Nintendo's clever pre-emptive strike to try to undercut the launch of Sony's PlayStation Vita. More than a few folks, including yours truly, were surprised that Sony had found a way to make the unfortunately named Vita, a handheld with enough intriguing features to choke a horse, retail at $249, the same price as the 3DS. Unless Sony suddenly decides to commit complete financial suicide, the Vita will launch at $80 more than a 3DS that suddenly has some worthwhile titles to lure consumers. (Of course, it's entirely possible that both of them will be outflanked and outsold again by Apple.)
And those starry-eyed gamers who shelled out their $250 back in February, mistakenly thinking they were part of a major gaming revolution with unforgettable and legendary games? Well, provided they register as "Nintendo ambassadors" by Aug. 11, Nintendo's offering the chance to download a free set of unforgettable and legendary games... from the Nintendo Entertainment System section of Virtual Console.
Appropriate, I suppose, since the NES era was one of those periods of history when Nintendo actually seemed to know what it was doing.