Free advice: How Nintendo can boost 3DS sales (Sony, you can listen too)

Nintendo’s price drop for its 3DS – $169.99 from $249.99 – is the day’s biggest gaming news, and probably something gamers and business journalists will be talking about and debating for the next few days, if not weeks.

The early consensus, which I tend to agree with, is that consumers are unwilling to shell out $250 for a portable game console when they can play games on their smartphones. If a customer is already paying for an iPhone or Android device that can play 99-cent games, why pay more money for another device that plays $40 games?

The only reason, for many people, would be that those $40 games are 40 times more valuable to players than what is available on a smartphone. That is not always going to be the case, and even though I like the 3DS, I think it will be Nintendo’s last handheld.

And I predict the same thing for Sony’s next handheld, the PlayStation Vita. By all accounts, the Vita looks like it will be a terrific piece of technology with a competitive library of games, but I won’t be surprised if Sony finds themselves having to lower the Vita’s price after launch in order to make up for slower-than-expected sales.

Although the 3DS and Vita look to be leaps-and-bounds beyond their
respective predecessors, they lack one crucial function: the ability to
make a phone call. The devices, in my opinion, have great potential as
niche products for customers who want top-tier handheld games, but won’t
live up to the sales figures of past handheld devices.

With that in mind, here are three ideas for Nintendo and Sony that may
make their (possibly) final handhelds as successful as possible.

1. Only sell great games.

The need to make great games is obvious, but 3DS and Vita customers won’t stand for mediocrity. If a player can get an OK time-waster for 99 cents, they deserve excellence whenever they pay anything close to $40. Whatever shovel is used to put “shovelware” on the market should be instead used to bury sub-par games somewhere in the desert.

2. Make the most of your back catalog.

Nintendo announced today that early 3DS adopters will be able to download 20 games, 10 from the NES and an equal number from the Gameboy Advance catalogs, free of any additional charge if they owned a 3DS before the price drop goes into effect. The gaming community has interpreted this move as less of a sales pitch as a make-up for customers who bought the game at full price.

Nintendo announced the NES games will be later sold to the general public, although for some reason the company has no plans to sell the Gameboy Advance games to the masses. I think it would be a mistake for Nintendo to keep those games off the marketplace.

Compared with movies, one of the problems with gaming is that older titles can be inaccessible to players who lack outdated machines or avoid emulators, either because those players may consider emulators to be piracy or may be unaware of them. Nintendo and Sony have rich back catalogs with a lot of potential. Did you miss Super Mario Bros. 3 or Metal Gear Solid? No worries if you can download them for a few dollars.

Corollary: I would also advise Nintendo, Sony and other gaming companies to prepare Apple and Android ports of their classics after this generation of handhelds runs its course. They basically have licenses to print money.

3. Only sell great games.

This can’t be emphasized enough. Quality over quantity. If the Apple and Android stores is filled with hundreds of games that many people won’t have time to check out, Nintendo and Sony will fare much better with a handful of must-play games. If Apple and Android games are the economy cars of the gaming world, Nintendo and Sony need to think like Cadillac or Porsche.