Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Console Post (with 3DS on the side)

Let's do a quick NPD run-through before we talk about the Nintendo 3DS.

August numbers:
360: 356,700
Wii: 244,300
PS3: 226,000

So after the big price cut to $299 last September, the 360 has outsold the PS3 in the U.S. every month this year. Total gap? Over 650,000 units. Ironically, the gap between the 360 and the PS3 is actually going to be larger this year in the U.S. than it was in 2009.

Don't be surprised if Sony actually sells fewer units in the last four months of this year than they did in 2009, either. The easy, pre-price cut compares are over now, and August (the last in the "easy" category) sales were only up 16% compared to last year. That groove the PS3 was supposed to hit at the $299 price point? Not happening--their final U.S. sales for the year will wind up about 10% higher than last year.

The effect of the Move? Negligible, I believe.

Kinect will be in the same (negligible) category, but Microsoft has actually done quite well this year, and unlike Sony, they seem to have momentum heading into the holiday season, with August sales up 65% over last year.

Nintendo? They looked relatively awful last year, then sold 3.8 million units in December, so who knows? There are an unlimited number of possible future scenarios, and they're all right and all wrong.

Okay, let's move on to the 3DS, even though we don't usually talk about handhelds.

Today, Nintendo announced the launch date in Japan, which is February 26. The price? The equivalent of $300 U.S. dollars.

I was expecting $199, so that's a miss. My miss, I mean.

Will that $100 stop people from buying the handheld? It will certainly stop some people.

Probably more important than price, though, is the degree of user satisfaction with the experience. Sony had more than a pricing problem with the PS3 (and $599 is worlds apart from $299)-- they had a user experience problem. Seriously, the PS3 menus were (and are) probably the worst I've ever seen for a consumer electronics device. I felt like I was playing Hacker half the time I was moving around between them.

Plus, the PS3 was relatively large and ran as hot as a toaster oven. And once the fans kicked in (after about five minutes), it was loud, too.

It also delivered nothing new except Blu-Ray support. It wasn't more powerful than the 360 and didn't do anything unique. So there was a $200 price delta for not much extra besides a Blu-Ray player.

The 3DS, on the other hand, does something totally unique: it provides a 3-D experience without the need for glasses. I think many people are entirely underestimating the coolness of a "diorama" effect where you can peer into your world.

If the user experience is good enough, the price won't be much of an obstacle, at least for the first few months. However, and this is a big however, I don't believe this unit can survive at $299 for an extended length of time. Six months, yes. Eighteen months, no.

Here's one other angle. It will be very interesting to see if any developers complain about the $299 price point. The software lineup, at this point, looks tremendously strong. If no one jumps ship, there's going to be outstanding content available. The PS3 (there's that name again) lost developers as soon as they announced the price, and much-touted exclusives like Lair underperformed so badly in regards to the expectations that had been created that they were utter failures.

That's not what the 3DS line-up feels like. It looks both deep and wide.

Look, there's no question that I personally want the 3DS to be great. 3-D in my hand with no glasses? Who wouldn't want that to be great? There's no question though, that Nintendo could still screw this up.

Let's just hope they don't.

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