Project Cafe: What Nintendo Can Learn From 3DS' "Slow Start"

This morning, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata went on record, admitting that the company’s 3DS sold below expectations. He was fairly candid, revealing the difficulty in getting consumers to appreciate glasses free 3D, and that many users have yet to spend time with the different features, including StreetPass Mii Plaza.

Before jumping to conclusions, we suggest taking his words with a proverbial grain of salt. Last we checked, selling 3.6 million units of anything in less than a month was a big deal; Nintendo hoped to sell four million 3DS systems by the end of the fiscal year.

Keep in mind this is the same corporation that went on to sell 80 million plus Wii consoles and over 100 million DS handhelds. Nintendo saying the 3DS underperformed is like the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant saying he fell short of scoring 100 points in a single game when the guy dropped 81 on the Toronto Raptors in 2006. Clearly, the big fish have different barometers for success.

That said, Nintendo would be wise to use the 3DS as a case study, learning from its mistakes before shipping the new console, codename Project Cafe, in 2012.

On that note, we created a short list of things Mario and Co. should consider.

Never launch a system without a franchise character

We dig puppies, but Mario? We heart that guy.

You have to admit that the 3DS launch was based on some bold assumptions from Nintendo. Case in point, releasing the handheld without a Mario game, or at the very least, one starring his less popular brother, Luigi. The company struck gold withNintendogs on DS, and probably thought a 3DS sequel would set the retail world ablaze. It didn’t. Turns out, the best selling 3DS game in Japan is Professor Layton and Mask of Miracle.

Although we think quite highly of Nintendogs + Cats (and Pilotwings Resort, for that matter), franchises like Mario and Pokemon sell hardware. We refuse to believe that the publisher would have sold 3.6 million had it also released the next chapter in the Super Mario Bros. series. It would have reported sales in excess of 4.2 million, easily.

For Project Cafe, the message should be clear: Give us Mario.

Take price, and the economy, into consideration

Compared to other handhelds, 3DS is too expensive.

A lot of families just don’t have $250 lying underneath a mattress, or even in the bank, for that matter. With this harsh reality in mind, Nintendo can price Project Cafe between $200-$350, but it’ll need to make the system worthwhile to both hardcore and casual consumers; the latter group propelled the Wii into first place. This goes back to having a killer launch game (Mario again) to lure folks into the store.

Project Cafe needs to change everything

3D is cool, but motion gaming had a much bigger impact.

Glasses free 3D is impressive, but also risky, since a significant portion of the world’s population either can’t see the effect or become sick viewing it. It’s just not the same as the DS touch screen, which went on to significantly change the way people play video games; we also saw this with the Wii’s motion controller. Project Cafe needs a similar hook, a feature that makes the console desirable. Being able to stream content to a controller could be the answer.

Create a balanced and plentiful release calendar

Ocarina of Time 3D should have launched alongside 3DS, not in June.

It’s one thing to launch a system with 16 games, as Nintendo did with 3DS. On the flip side, the majority of third party titles fell below expectations, and hardcore players have a tendency to look beyond launch day. Don’t tell us about March 27. What comes out May 10?

If you keep a close eye on upcoming games, you already know the answer: a whole lot of nothing. We have high hopes forDream Trigger 3D and Dead or Alive Dimensions, but neither one of those titles scream system seller. What’s worse, we’ll have to wait until June for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.

Bottom line, companies cannot operate like its 1999. Consumers want choice and lots of it. Just look at the iPhone and iPad, both of which receive new games on a weekly basis. We know the App Store is much different than the retail space, but there’s no question times have changed. Project Cafe cannot have a 13 game launch day and then a handful of new games over the course of three months.

Online enabled day one

The 3DS debuted March 27, and we still can’t access the web.

This topic is up for debate, but we think Nintendo’s inability to launch the virtual eShop alongside 3DS hurt the system’s appeal. This goes back to our previous point about changing tactics. These days, consumers expect some sort of online connectivity with each new gadget. You can’t unveil new hardware and not have such an important component inactive. Project Cafe will need to connect to the Internet from the beginning.

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