When 3DS was released in February/March 2011, Nintendo had already undermined its relations with harcore gamers by years of casual policy. The 3DS line-up was thus the perfect occasion to make a new start and regain the gamers’ confidence.
Nintendo did fairly good at that time, because games like Street Fighter IV 3D, Zelda the Ocarina of Time 3D, Dead or Alive Dimensions or future releases like Resident Evil Revelations or Metal Gear Solid 3D were put at the forefront of the manufacturer’s communication. The launch was a big success and everyone seemed to be happy… But an unexpected problem appeared : money. Nintendo has grown heavily dependent on casual dollars and can’t afford to rely on a slowly progressive hardcore base. They had probably expected casual DS owners to jump on 3DS by simply saying the magical words “glasses-free 3D”. At 250€, that just didn’t happen.
During the summer 2011, the Kyoto-based firm had no choice but to take a U-turn. The first emergency measure was to drop the price, by 33% in the west and 40% in Japan. The second thing was to rush the development of mario games to make it on time for the holidays, when casual gamers do their Christmas shopping. Nintendo had resisted providing a mario game at launch so as not to hamper the sales of third party games (most of them bombed anyway, since Nintendo fanboys weren’t interested), but the alert bells were already ringing. From that moment, hardcore gaming ceased to exist on 3DS : the mario games crushed the competition on the system along with all hopes from the third parties. Games like Ace Combat Assault Legacy, Metal Gear Solid 3D or Shinobi went totally under the radar.
Earlier this year, Nintendo tried to save the day by funding advertising campaigns and securing air time for third party games such as Resident Evil Revelations, Tekken 3D or Heroes of Ruin, but you don’t buy the public’s interest. Nintendo likes to remind people that Revelations got stellar reviews and is unanimously appreciated by RE fans, but what they fail to remember is that it doesn’t even make it in the sales top 100 in the US. Similarly, Tekken 3D and Heroes of Ruin plummeted just after their (failed) launch : Tekken 3D currently manages 80K worldwide, Heroes of Ruin only 50K. On the other hand, Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 have been on top ever since they were put on shelves, selling respectively 6.27 millions and 5.79 millions, which represents 12 times what Revelations managed globally.
Things are totally different in Japan where despite a similar mario-monopoly, some hardcore games do perform well. Monster Hunter 3G is one of the few million sellers, Fire Emblem Awakening cruises towards 500K, Harvest Moon cracked 200K and RE Revelations finally gets decent sales.
What is Nintendo going to do now? You just have to turn on the TV : currently here in France, every TV ad for 3DS shows some retarded kid playing Mario 3D Land with his father. Gamers got the message : don’t expect any further effort. The line-up for the 2nd half of 2012 also speaks for itself : more mario (New Super Mario Bros 2, Paper Mario, Luigi’s Mansion), Disney games (Kingdom Hearts, Mickey Castle of Illusion), more casual stuff (Art Academy, Dr Kawashima’s brain training) and a new Castlevania to keep gamers happy. No new 3rd party project is planned for the west in the near (or the long) future whereas Japan gets tons of them. Nor the publishers neither Nintendo seem to care very much about localizing Senran Kagura, Beyond the Labyrinth, Project X Zone, Bravery Default or Monster Hunter. Even Fire Emblem was delayed to 2013. Nintendo never mentions it during presentations and generally sends tweets to keep fans posted on the extra-slow localization process. Some are losing patience.
The Fire Emblem case shows one thing : gamers are second-rate costumers to Nintendo. The manufacturer needs massive amounts of money to make up for the recent losses, and massive amounts means mass market. Innovative IPs and costly projects are not an option, since only sure-fire hits will secure the necessary income. Nintendo did try to reclaim the gamers’ faith, but it was clearly too much work for them.