Monday, June 20, 2005

Nintendo DS

Something interesting is happening in Japan.

While the Nintendo DS is still in the "What the hell?" category in the U.S., and the PSP has all the buzz, the DS is killing in Japan. DS units and games are outselling the Game Boy Advance SP almost 3-1 for the year. And that trend is actually accelerating--it was close to 4-1 last week for unit sales. Amazingly, of the top thirty-selling games last week in Japan, the DS had seven of those titles, while the Game Boy Advance had two. The PSP only had one.

So in Japan, the GBA looks like it's being abandoned by consumers, while the PSP is being ignored. In the U.S., the PSP is white-hot (in spite of a lack of software right now), while the DS is still a puzzling novelty.

The combination, I think, means big, big trouble for the Game Boy Advance as a gaming platform. What I find so interesting about this is that the Game Boy has always been a money-printing machine for Nintendo. Even though it was always years behind the technology curve, its combination of low price and a huge selection of games made it incredibly successful. Nintendo milked the original Game Boy for years before they even introduced a color screen! Now it seems like they've obsoleted the Game Boy in favor of the DS. Or, more correctly, consumers in Japan have obsoleted the GBA in favor of the DS.

Strategically, you can certainly argue that this is a sound move by Nintendo. The PSP is a quantum leap over the GBA in terms of hardware quality. Yes, I know it's more expensive, but eventually Sony will be selling that unit for $199, and it's going to be very hard to justify buying a GBA with that small, low-res screen. The DS, though, offers a gameplay mechanic that the PSP doesn't have. Yet Nintendo risks alienating a huge number of GBA owners, and there will certainly be a percentage of users who just don't like the DS interface.

It's a risky but interesting strategy.

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