Prior to the early 2011 release of the Nintendo 3DS, I predicted that I thought it would sell well, but, thanks to a variety of factors, wouldn’t sell anywhere near to the heights reached by its record-setting predecessor, the DS. The main factor of course in not being able to reach those heights of its predecessor was simple, and that was the rise of tablets, and in particular, smartphones, products that were mostly non-existent during the DS’s prime years.
According to Nintendo of Japan’s own data, as of December 31, 2015, the Nintendo DS series, now discontinued of course, had sold over 154.01 million units. From that same data, the 3DS series, which is in its inevitable declining years (and the sales trends clearly indicate that), has sold 57.9 million units.
For comparison, the Game Boy series (includes Game Boy Color) sold 118.69 million units, and the Game Boy Advance series sold 81.51 million units. So yes, the 3DS is definitely a success, but, when all is said and done, it’s going to be the worst selling Nintendo handheld series ever. That can be attributed mostly to the changing competitive climate. And again, those previous platforms never had to compete with anything like tablets or smartphones.
Interestingly, if you predict what the 3DS series will ultimately sell once Nintendo finally pulls the plug, say some time in 2017 or even 2018 (a nice 6+ year run), its roughly 70 million units sold won’t even reach the sales of Sony’s PSP series, which hit roughly 85 million units when all was said and done. That of course was seen as a relative failure against the DS, falling short by roughly 70 million units (or a whole 3DS series), but it was nevertheless Nintendo’s only significant challenge to its 25+ year gaming handheld dominance before the rise of tablets and smartphones started to chip away from a completely different angle.
Sony’s Vita won’t even sell half as many 3DS’s when all is said and done, maybe at best just a quarter as many. The Vita series is presently around 13 million unit sold, and it will definitely settle well under 20 by the time it’s discontinued, and will probably even struggle to hit 15 million units sold. It’s a shame too, because like the 3DS, the Vita is also a really fantastic system, but, like with the sales ceiling hit by the 3DS, none of that matters when your competition includes a powerful touchscreen device that most men, women, and children have easy access to and that gets replaced regularly (on average, at least every two years) with something newer and “better.”
Naturally, the inevitable decline of 3DS sales and the never-there sales of the Wii U (which will be lucky to outsell the Vita when it’s eventually discontinued, likely some time in 2017) make the NX’s role in changing Nintendo’s momentum particularly critical. That’s also why it’s important to note even classically stubborn Nintendo’s forays into others areas, like Amiibos and mobile. That trend will only accelerate if the NX platform doesn’t properly resonate. As always, it’s going to be fascinating to keep an eye on it all.