Though the PSP was commercially successful, Nintendo was able to weather the storm and beat it in the long run. They kept their hold of the handheld market through the stiffest competition they ever faced. Read on to find out how they did it!
When the PSP entered the handheld space, many gamers thought that Nintendo was in some trouble. Sony was creating a handheld console that ran better graphics than Nintendo’s and included a catalog that was more in-line with what traditional gamers wanted.
How, then, did the Nintendo DS go on to become Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time? It wasn’t by mistake, and it didn’t matter that the specs on the PSP were better than those of the DS. Nintendo was able to keep their grasp on the handheld market during this time by doing what they always had: changing the way things are done.
Doing Things Differently
Nintendo is no stranger to changing the way they do things. They aren’t scared of making something that gamers have never seen before, and they did just that with the DS. The Game Boy was working for them, so why would they change the model now? Sony was just getting into the mix, so it was more important than ever that they kept users engaged with their products.
Nintendo has been regularly changing their console formula for decades. They’ve been doing it ever since they won the handheld space from competitors in the first place. All you have to do is look at their last two consoles to know that they don’t care about changing how gamers play their games. In the cases of the GameCube and Wii, this tendency worked against them. For the Switch and the DS, it was exactly what they needed.
The DS – which stands for “Dual Screen,” provides users with two LCD screens. It worked a bit like an early smartphone mixed with an older generation of phone. The graphics weren’t the best on the market, but Nintendo handhelds never aimed for the best graphics. They made their name by giving gamers what they want most: engaging, fun, games.
Why Did It Win?
The PSP had a lost going for it, and many gamers assumed Sony would dominate once they entered the handheld market. The PSP succeeded – there’s no debating that – but it didn’t come close to Nintendo’s already established handheld market.
Consumers are fickle. Just because Nintendo was on top of the market for over a decade doesn’t mean it would stay that way. So, what made Nintendo come out on top when they went head-to-head against Sony?
In the past, Nintendo has been shackled by its need to create the best console for gaming. Sometimes they seem to push the boundary of innovation too far, making non-gamers uninterested in their consoles. The GameCube is an example of this – a successful gaming machine that failed to live up to Nintendo’s high standards.
When the DS and the PSP both hit shelves in 2004, accessibility was the name of the game once again. Gamers, on the whole, knew what they wanted and understood what both Nintendo and Sony were offering. It was the non-gaming market that the companies needed to attract, and Nintendo was able to come out on top here.
Despite the PSP’s sleek look, it was relatively difficult for non-gamers to get behind. There was more traditional gaming skill involved with the PSP, as opposed to the simpler DS. The community was already familiar with the stylist, and tapping a screen with one was already second nature.
So, when it came time for a non-gamer to decide what handheld console they wanted, the choice was clear. Despite the fact that it looked a bit like a toy, the Nintendo DS was far more accessible to the general public than the PSP. The PSP enjoyed commercial success in its own right, but there is no contest when it comes to which console made more money.
Part of Nintendo’s success they pulled directly from Sony’s own playbook: backward compatibility. Playing older games on the current generation of console played a role in making the PlayStation 2 the best-selling console of all time. It’s no wonder, then, why the DS comes in a close second.
In the original versions of the DS, you could play your old Game Boy Advance games. They eventually removed this feature after a few years, but it was long enough for the handheld market to decide their winner. Backwards compatibility breeds brand loyalty. If you had an original PS, you would likely buy the PS2 so you could play your old games. The same mentality worked when it came to Nintendo’s handheld consoles.
Why would you buy a new machine if you have to scrap all of your old games? Nintendo has made their reputation on the backs of fantastic games, and they didn’t make you leave them in the dust when their new console came out.
The Handheld Experience
One of the reasons people loved the PSP was because it felt like you were playing a portable PlayStation. Sure, the games were dumbed-down a bit, but it was similar to the experience you’d get while playing a home console.
This factor was part of the reason the DS outsold the PSP. You could play your Nintendo DS games on your couch, then have a completely different experience while playing another console that stayed at your house. For the PSP, there was no reason for it if you already had a PS2 or PS3. You weren’t getting a different experience, and you might as well just play your home console when you’re not on the road.
The ability to create a unique experience is why so many gamers gravitated toward the DS. It gave them a reason to buy the handheld console, even if they did 100% of their gaming from the comfort of their home.
Consoles are constantly trying to catch the non-gaming market. Part of the reason the Xbox and PlayStation 2 outshined the GameCube was in their ability to play DVDs. The newest trend is 4k, which seeks to attract tech enthusiasts that might not have a vested interest in gaming. For handheld consoles, this innovation came in the form of brain training.
Nintendo’s brain training might be the element that made the biggest difference when it came to sales. The DS was already more accessible to non-gamers, and brain training allowed them to take it one step further with the general public.
Brain training fueled purchases from consumers that would otherwise never think of picking up a handheld console. Parents and grandparents were buying their own Nintendo DS consoles to use the brain training feature. If they bought an additional game it was as an added benefit, but they bought the console to help hone their mental abilities more than anything.
Another way Nintendo stayed ahead of Sony during the handheld battle was in their redesigns. Both companies released different versions of their handheld consoles around the same time, but Nintendo kept their edge by making similar adjustments as Sony but doing it better.
The Nintendo DS Lite, while primarily a cosmetic upgrade to the original DS, released a year before the slimmer, upgraded PSP-2000. Users who hadn’t picked up the first iterations of these clunky machines gravitated toward the Lite. Additionally, the DS already had features that the PSP had to add on their first redesign.
When it came time for a second redesign, Nintendo had already established themselves as the alpha in the handheld space. The DSi released during a time when phones were trending in the direction of having bigger screens, and Nintendo followed the trend. The DSi got rid of backward compatible with Game Boy Advance games, but it had been years since the GBA was a relevant console so this didn’t matter much.
The final release in the DS collection was the Nintendo DS XL. Phones were still getting bigger – prioritizing large screens over the ability to comfortably fit in your pocket. As the name suggests, the DSi XL went this route as well. This console was almost twice as heavy as previous models, and far larger.
Although it was a handheld console, the DSi XL was more of something gamers would play on their couch than waiting in a doctor’s office. The stylist was far bigger, and chances are it wouldn’t comfortably fit in your pocket. Still, gamers had made their choice, and the upgraded PSPs stood no chance when it came to overall sales.
The DS Wins
Although the PSP carved a spot for itself on the list of the best-selling consoles, it was the Nintendo DS that ultimately won out. Although they soon moved onto the 3DS, people continue to play the games of that generation through a Nintendo DS emulator.
There was clearly room for both of these handheld consoles on the market, but only one could emerge as the clear winner. Through proper marketing, creating a new experience, and the ability to attract non-gamers, the DS won yet another battle for the handheld market. With the release of the 3DS and the Switch, it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down anytime soon.