Nintendo 3DS a stronger starter than record-holding Nintendo DS was

There's been a lot of talk about the death of dedicated handheld gaming devices (some of it from me). In fact just last week some numbers from Flurry Analytics were adding more credibility to the idea that smartphones are replacing handheld gaming devices. Flurry says that in 2009 iOS and Android gaming accounted for 19% of the $2.7 billion spent ($513 million) on mobile gaming in the US. It projects that for 2011, the figure will be 58% of $3.3 billion ($1.91 billion). That's quite a jump!

Grim news for Nintendo, who saw its percentage of that revenue drop from 70% to 36% in Flurry's graph. And I've talked here about how poorly Nintendo's new handheld, the 3DS, is doing. Nintendo had to slash the price from $250 at launch in March to $170 in August just to try to get units moving off the shelf.

So yeah, the 3DS is a train wreck, right?

Well maybe not. According to a press release issued by Nintendo, the 3DS is on track to sell more units than the original Nintendo DS did in its launch year. The DS went on to be the best-selling game console in the history of the hobby.

In the 12 month period from November 2004 to October 2005, the DS sold 2.37 million units. The 3DS, after 8 months on the market, just passed 1.65 million. That means that if average monthly sales stay flat, the 3DS will end up with 2.475 million sales in its first year. In October, Nintendo says, over 250,000 3DS units were sold (that's above pace).

Of course there are a few other factors to consider. On the one hand, gaming as a hobby is a lot bigger now that it was in 2004, so we should expect that the 3DS would do better than the DS.

On the other hand, that 1.65 million was achieved without a holiday buying cycle, which we're just headed into. And yesterday Nintendo launched it's secret weapon: Super Mario 3D Land. Early reviews are quite positive (here's one from Joystiq) and the general buzz on social media is that here, finally, is a reason to buy a 3DS. Super Mario 3D Land will be followed up by Mario Cart 7 (another fan favorite franchise) in early December.

So do these numbers change anything? Perhaps not. The 3DS beating the DS is good spin, but counting all its various iterations the DS platform has sold something like 150 million units in its 7 year history. When the 3DS starts selling 20 million units a year Nintendo will have a true cause to celebrate. This press release is a reminder that hardware can come back from a slow start; Nintendo thinks (hopes?) that the 3DS will follow the same trajectory that the DS did. Flurry's numbers seem to indicate that this isn't all that likely.

Thoughts? Is it time to buy a 3DS? Will the platform ever gain the kind of traction that the DS and the Wii did? Please leave a comment!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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