Nintendo recently said that its portable 3DS still “has a long life ahead of it” and that it will “coexist well with the recently launched hybrid Switch in the market”. Last night’s announcement of a new 2DS XL redesign also suggests that Nintendo may not be done with supporting its aging portable platform, despite the Switch’s monumental market success thus far.
If recent history is any guide, though, the 3DS will only enjoy active support from Nintendo for a few more years before it’s completely phased out.
To see what the future of the 3DS might look like, we’ve delved into Nintendo’s annual financial reports to see how the hardware and software delivery for recent Nintendo portable devices has evolved after their successors hit the market. We also looked at the number of unique titles released for those systems before and after the release of a new Nintendo handheld (we focused on US releases to avoid issues with double counting of titles ported to multiple regions).
Using those numbers, we projected the percentage of sales and software releases that we could expect Nintendo to see over the rest of the 3DS’s life (by taking the midpoints of the GBA and DS’s lifecycle percentages after the successor). This projection has a lot of wiggle room, depending on whether the 3DS is more like the GBA (which had a modestly long tail after the DS was released) or more like the DS (which dropped to zero pretty quickly after the 3DS was released).
You can quickly visualize the results in the charts above. To sum up, the best days of the 3DS are probably behind us now that the Switch is here to grab the attention of consumers and businesses. Nintendo tends to only support two portable systems at once for a year or two. After that, the old hardware drops to a virtual rounding error in Nintendo’s numbers, while the new hardware continues to rise in sales.
The specifics vary a bit by generation. The Game Boy Advance was at or near the peak of its hardware and software sales when the Nintendo DS burst into its space. Meanwhile, the Nintendo DS had already seen its sales performance decline for a year or two by the time the 3DS hit the market. However, in both cases, the new system understandably seemed to accelerate the death of the old in the marketplace.
Can the 3DS go against the trend?
However, the 3DS is currently at a turning point. Despite fewer and fewer different games being released each year, sales of 3DS hardware and software have increased slightly over the past fiscal year (which ended in March). That’s odd for Nintendo systems, which tend to continue to decline steadily after a spike in sales performance (although sales of GBA hardware fell slightly from fiscal ’01 to ’02, before peaking in fiscal ’03).
The recent success of the 3DS could be a sign of a more sustained, ongoing interest in the system. Or it could be a snapshot, pokemon go-driven blip before the Switch quickly overwhelms the market. We would lean towards the latter, but we won’t know for sure until it happens.
Perhaps this generational change will be different. Perhaps consumers will view the Switch as a home console rather than a portable console and continue to see the 3DS as a necessary companion with its own unique features. Perhaps the lower price and hardware redesign will convince more people to massively invest in the outdated hardware of the 3DS for a few more years (remember, though, the Game Boy Micro and Nintendo DSi XL didn’t do much to reverse the decline). discontinuing their old hardware platforms).
Yet we doubt it. By this time next year, the Switch will most likely represent more business for Nintendo than the 3DS. In two years, the 3DS will be low-cost hardware sold primarily to extremely budget-conscious buyers. A year after that, the Switch will likely be the only current piece of hardware that Nintendo officially supports.
List image by Kyle Orlando