Tomorrow morning Japan time, Nintendo is launching the successor to the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo 3DS. Getting a Nintendo DS on launch day back in 2004 was not a problem. The 3DS could prove more difficult. Crud.
Back in 2004, Nintendo was coming off the disastrous GameCube. Rumors swirled that the company was going to be bought up by Microsoft, and the house that Mario built had seen better days. There was buzz around the DS, but it was nowhere near the fervor that hit a few years later before the DS Lite was released (in early 2006, American DS units were re-imported to Japan in order to satisfy the demand). On launch day, I easily walked in to Yodobashi Camera in Osaka's Umeda in the early evening and left with a DS, no problem. Unthinkable with the DS Lite's launch!
But the DS was a success and so was the Wii. Japan is in love with Nintendo — or at least, people think Japan is in love with Nintendo.
This is entirely anecdotal, but my 7 year-old, who is old enough to play the 3DS in 3D under Nintendo's recommendation, is the only kid in his class of 35 kids who is getting a 3DS tomorrow. All the other kids either have a DS or want a DSi XL. According to my son, they think the big screen is "really cool". It seems that their parents do not want to buy them a 3DS, with the reason being that the kids might have a younger sibling and don't want fights or arguments over the 3D effects to break out. Also, Nintendo's warning about taking a break every fifteen minutes is a "hassle", seeming to scare off parents, too.
As I said, this is entirely anecdotal. It's one classroom in a nation of 120 million people. In a nation of 120 million, 400,000 Nintendo 3DS units, which is apparently the number at launch, are bound to go pretty quick. The portable will, no doubt, be a rousing success on launch. And, of course, there will be little kids lining up for this handheld, too.
Nintendo hardware usually launches in low numbers, making me wonder how one of the most successfully companies in the world cannot get factories in China to ramp up production for them so they ease launch day stress.
In hopes of easing the inevitable launch day panic, retailers offered pre-orders, which is something that they don't typically do. But in years past, that has meant insane crowds (take the PS3 or Wii launches, for example). That doesn't mean you can't get a 3DS on Saturday morning. You can. Thing is, you'll have to line up.
I have to work tonight, and I won't finish until the trains near my house stop running. Oh, and I already have a pre-order. But if you want a 3DS and you don't have a pre-order (and if you live in a big Japanese city) get in line now. Stop reading this. Seriously, stop and go line up. That's the only way you are assured you'll get a 3DS.
This evening, I phoned a handful of retailers and not one of them seemed to know how many units they will be getting — which is, most likely, utter baloney. They just don't want their supply numbers to get out. For example, the man at Sofmap I spoke to, who was a dick, said they hadn't decided anything. They might be opening at 11am, they might open early, who knows! Other retailers, like Bic Camera, were also undecided with what they'll be doing tomorrow morning.
What could make this launch far more difficult than it needs to be is the inevitable gray market sellers, hoping to make a quick buck. During the DS Lite launch, there were rough-looking dudes that were crawling the streets (literally crawling) and coming to you (well, me) asking if I knew where in Osaka's Den-Den Town that they could get a DS Lite. Maybe they were gamers, but overhearing them talking about Yahoo!Auctions lead me to believe otherwise.
Tomorrow is only a few hours away. If you're heading out, good luck and bring coffee. You'll need it.