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In the age of the Switch, the Nintendo 3DS refuses to die


The little system that could (continue selling despite age and competition).

Kyle Orland

About a year ago, we took a look at some historical sales data and publicly speculated that sales for the Nintendo 3DS would quickly drop after the Nintendo Switch launch. But while Switch sales continue at a blistering pace, someone forgot to tell the people to stop buying Nintendo’s older portable.

Industry tracking firm NPD reported yesterday that 3DS sales in the United States are healthier than ever by some measures. In 2018, the system had its best January since 2014 in terms of dollar sales and since 2013 in terms of unit sales. This despite the fact that there were no major releases for the system in the month (though big games like Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon and Fire Emblem Warriors did come out just a few months ago).

It’s hard to identify a trend in one surprisingly successful month, of course. But looking at 3DS sales more broadly shows the system continuing to find an audience in Switch’s shadow. In the nine months following the Switch’s late March 2017 launch, Nintendo shipped 5.86 million 3DSes worldwide. That’s down just nine percent from the 6.42 million in sales over the same nine-month period in 2016, before the Switch was available. And it’s down only a hair from 5.89 million shipments during the same period in 2015 when the 3DS was much newer.

If you focus on North America, 3DS shipments were actually up about 18 percent year-on-year for the 2017 calendar year, selling 2.91 million units. That’s an increase over both 2015 and 2016 for the continent, a reversal that’s pretty much unheard of at this point in a portable console’s life.

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Until you can see a screen like this on the Switch, the 3DS will probably have an audience.
Enlarge / Until you can see a screen like this on the Switch, the 3DS will probably have an audience.

Yes, the actual raw sales numbers for the 3DS remain much lower than those enjoyed by the likes of the Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and 3DS in their (mostly smartphone-free) days. Still, the 3DS is showing remarkable market consistency for a portable that is approaching its seventh birthday and is facing strong internal competition from the much more powerful Switch.

These are the kinds of continuing sales that might (might) convince Nintendo to put some development resources toward 3DS games that aren’t Detective Pikachu, the only major upcoming release publicly announced for the system.

The 3DS has a few advantages that could be convincing customers to continue picking it over (or in addition to) the Switch. Price is a big one: new 3DS systems run from $80 for a low-end 2DS to about $200 for a New 3DS XL, both well below the $300 Switch asking price. Those advantages extend to game price and selection, especially when you consider the library of thousands of low-priced DS games that also work on the 3DS line.

And while Nintendo has promised that a “core” Pokemon RPG for the Switch is coming at some point, the 3DS is currently the only place to play the latest games in the ultra-popular series. As long as that remains true, there will probably be some truth to Nintendo’s stated position that the Switch won’t replace the 3DS.

In the age of the Switch, the Nintendo 3DS refuses to die

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