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19 June


Nintendo ends 3DS production

As the Wii U flopped, strong sales of the handheld device limited the damage

Photo: pdvg

/NOVOSTIVL/Nintendo has quietly pulled the plug on production of the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld game system that will be remembered for underpinning earnings during the dark days of the Wii U.

"No growth as a business," an executive said early this month when asked about the future of the 3DS. Days later, in mid-September, a one-line notice added to the company's Japan and U.K. websites said that "manufacturing of the Nintendo 3DS family of systems has ended."

This came as no surprise to industry watchers. Nintendo had merged the development team for the DS series, launched in 2004, into the Nintendo Switch team in 2019. Labor costs have been rising amid expectations that game systems offer more and more, including communications and advanced graphics. The Japanese company once pursued a two-pronged strategy involving home video game consoles, such as the Wii family, and the DS series of dual-screen portables.

The 2017 debut of the Switch - which doubles as a home console and a handheld - led to the merger of the teams. The company even eliminated sales projections for the 3DS in its earnings forecast for the year ending March 2021.

The 3DS hit the Japanese market in February 2011 as the follow-up to the globally successful original DS line. Players could enjoy three-dimensional graphics without glasses at a time when 3D was big among movie studios and TV manufacturers.

The Wii U, the successor to the original Wii, came out in 2012. It became the company's worst-selling major system, with production ending in just four years on sales of 13.56 million units. Nintendo bled red ink on an operating basis from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2013.

The 3DS never reached a level that can be characterized as a big hit, as its lifetime sales came to less than 80 million units.

The 3DS tided Nintendo over until the Switch and helped the it swing back into the black in fiscal 2014. The company kept fans interested by releasing a record six models in the 3DS family in Japan, including the large-screen LL, or XL; the more affordable 2DS, which omitted the 3D graphics; and the New 3DS.

As with 3D TVs, gamers did not feel comfortable looking at the 3D images on a regular basis. The 3DS failed to spur sufficient sustained demand in the end.

Nintendo is committed to offering "unique, intuitive play for all," said one of President Shuntaro Furukawa's presentation slides at a Sept. 16 management policy virtual briefing where Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto also used the word "intuitive." They surely had in mind the success of the original Wii, which revolutionized gameplay by replacing a complex two-handed controller with a simple one-handed remote.

In contrast, "the 3DS was unable to offer unique, intuitive play," an industry observer said.

The company aims to churn out around 25 million Switches for this fiscal year. "And for Nintendo, being able to focus our software development resources on a single platform has the advantage of creating an environment that lets us create even more unique entertainment than past platforms," Furukawa said at the briefing, according to the Q&A summary. "These are a few reasons why we want to further extend the platform's life cycle."