By Brian Gaar
AUSTIN, TEXAS: What’s the hottest selling gaming console these days?
It’s not the Nintendo Wii, Sony’s PlayStation 3 or Microsoft’s Xbox 360. And it certainly isn’t Nintendo’s latest-generation console, the Wii U, which has been suffering from a paltry library and terrible sales.
It’s actually the Nintendo 3DS, the handheld system that stumbled out of the gate in 2011, but has regained its footing with a price drop and an impressive offering of games.
In the quarter ending June 30, about 1.4 million handhelds were sold worldwide, for a total of more than 32 million. And the 3DS has outsold all other gaming hardware in the U.S. for the past three months.
“The 3DS continues to be a powerhouse,” wrote Mike Futter on the gaming website Game Informer.
So why is a handheld on top? For one, the 3DS is relatively latest-generation, compared to the current dusty crop of consoles. And two, it has benefited from an increasingly strong lineup of titles such as Animal Crossing: New Leaf. More heavy hitters such as Pokemon X & Y are on the way.
In all, sales of the 3DS are up 14 percent year over year, largely because of such games, wrote Eric Johnson for the tech website All Things D.
“That increase is an anomaly amid overall continued decline in gaming hardware, software and accessories, as gamers await the ‘next-gen’ rollout this holiday season,” he wrote.
The 3DS is tracking to sell about 15 million units a year, said Michael Pachter, a research analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.
“That is good, just not as good as the DS sold,” he said, referring to the system’s legendary predecessor, which has sold more than 153 million systems worldwide.
But those days might be over, especially with the advent of gaming on smartphones, which Pachter acknowledges has permanently eaten into the handheld console market.
“The more casual end of the market has been lured away,” he said.
Still, the 3DS has engineered a big comeback from 2011, when Nintendo was forced to cut its price from $249 to $169 because of flagging sales.
At the time, Nintendo officials seemed panicked that developers might abandon the system. And there was rampant speculation in the media that gamers might abandon handheld consoles permanently in favor of their smartphones.
Then Nintendo released a slew of quality titles — which, after all, is the No. 1 reason to buy a gaming system. But the company also encouraged users to carry their system, with features that allow users to automatically exchange data with others in proximity.