Nintendo 3DS Launches in Japan
A walking tour of Tokyo as Nintendo's latest handheld marvel hits the streets
If you're going to stage a product launch and you want lovely pictures and videos of enormous queues to be beamed around the world, there's nowhere better to do it than Japan. Here, what we think of as the ancient British pastime of orderly queuing has been elevated to an artform, with access to everything from particularly good noodles to newly-launched plastic toys being carefully controlled with the deft application of traffic cones, tensabarriers and enthusiastically shouting staff members.
In Tokyo, it's not hard to generate an enormous, snaking queue for a product launch, and that's exactly what happened at several retailers across Tokyo on Saturday morning as Nintendo's 3DS prepared to make an appearance. With queues being almost universally seen as proof of a successful launch, the massive lines outside retailers such as Akihabara's enormous Yodobashi Camera were exactly what Nintendo's PR would have wanted.
Just one caveat, however, spoils the picture a little - namely the fact that rather a lot of those lines weren't actually for the 3DS at all. Invisible to western followers of the games business, Saturday morning in Japan featured a rather different reason for the geek contingent to take to the streets, namely the launch of a set of collectible toys from Kamen Rider OOO, the latest iteration of the live-action monster-battling Kamen Rider franchise which has been a staple of Japanese television for 40 years.
At many retailers which carry both toys and electronics (a pretty common combination in Japan, where large electronics retailers generally have a well-stocked toy section), the lines for Kamen Rider OOO's £20 badges dwarfed those for Nintendo's £200 console. Indeed, a number of retailers I visited in a swift tour of likely districts on Tokyo's Yamanote loop train line had no 3DS lines at all by breakfast time - having quickly exhausted the handful of units available for customers without pre-orders, they had exhorted the fairly small number of waiting customers to fill out pre-order forms and go home.
This isn't in any way a suggestion that the 3DS didn't have a successful launch, however. Rather, it had an exceptionally well-managed launch - customers with pre-orders strolled into retailers at their leisure over the course of the day to pick up their consoles, avoiding the necessity for big queues on launch day. The 3DS did attract massive queues - but they occurred back in January when pre-orders opened, and hundreds turned out at key retailers to secure their launch day units.
At one large electronics store near Shinjuku Station, there wasn't even evidence that there had ever been a queue - no cones, no tensabarriers, just a few small signs stating that they had no 3DS units for customers without pre-orders. "Apart from our pre-orders, we got less than ten units," a chatty member of staff told me while I bought a camera charger from him, feeling slightly glad that there had been no queues to try to take photographs of with my resolutely flat battery. "Of course, there's no reason for customers with pre-orders to queue up - we had some people here waiting when we opened, but only because they wanted to get their consoles on the way to work."