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Why are Nintendo 3DS systems so hard to find right now?

Holiday shopping is almost over, and there’s nary a 3DS to be found

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Even with the Nintendo Switch on its way, there are plenty of reasons to pick up a Nintendo 3DS this holiday season. Trouble is, many shoppers are having a rough time finding the handheld at retailers, with severely limited stock reported nationwide.

Browsing through the websites of big-name stores like Amazon, Target, Best Buy and GameStop shoppers will notice that they have one thing in common: They have zero Nintendo 3DS units available.

This has been the case since at least after Black Friday, when members of Polygon went looking for Nintendo 3DS systems to make up for the quick sellout of Nintendo’s limited-edition, $99 holiday handheld deal. While it was no surprise that the $99 special New Nintendo 3DS systems sold out fast, it was perplexing that none of the other models of Nintendo 3DS were available.

As the holiday shopping period nears its end, the Nintendo 3DS continues to be impossible to find. This applies not just online, but in stores as well. Take a look at what one Polygon staffer found when checking out the Nintendo 3DS section at a local Wal-Mart:

Other anecdotal reports have cropped up on Twitter:

We’re located in a big city — the biggest in the country, in fact — yet each of the aforementioned retailers’ websites suggests that there’s not a single Nintendo 3DS to be found within a 250-mile radius. Customers are used to Nintendo hardware being scarce, but the Nintendo 3DS is no nostalgic stocking stuffer one-off like the NES Classic Edition. The handheld is Nintendo’s one remaining big-deal system, with recent games like Pokémon Sun and Moon meant to bolster the company’s sales quarter with high holiday sales.

(For what it’s worth, the Wii U is similarly hard to find, although Nintendo confirmed that production on the disappointing console is set to end before its next home system, the Switch, arrives in March.)

One could point to Nintendo’s recent embrace of the mobile market as cause for a dearth in dedicated game consoles on shelves. But, as former company president Satoru Iwata said in 2015, the point of games like Pokémon Go and Super Mario Run isn’t just to supplement Nintendo’s console output. Nintendo’s mobile library is designed to attract newcomers to its pricier titles and systems.

"We will deploy our game business on smart devices not because we think that the dedicated game system business will wane,” he said last May, “but because doing so will encourage a greater number of people to associate with Nintendo IP, to become familiar with the charms of video games and, eventually, to explore more premium experiences on our dedicated game systems. To realize this, we need to create a bridge between the two platforms."

Nintendo’s had success to that end with Pokémon, as Pokémon Go’s wild download numbers translated into Pokémon Sun and Moon’s record-setting sales. Nintendo also only had a small stake in Pokémon Go’s financial picture, while it had more to gain from the higher-priced, proprietary format Pokémon games.

December’s Super Mario Maker for 3DS is the closest console companion to Super Mario Run, which Nintendo launched on iOS at a controversial $9.99 price point last week. Still, the company’s philosophy is that its mobile games should create enthusiasm for its more expensive offerings on console. Without any of those consoles available to buy, Nintendo could be missing out on converting mobile users to its “premium experiences.”

Even Nintendo’s holiday gift guide relegates consoles to a footnote. A recent email sent out about the company’s suggest holiday gifts failed to mention a single system, while the accompanying website redirects customers to individual retailers which, obviously, don’t have any Nintendo 3DS hardware in stock.

Nintendo's stock of 3DS hardware — or lack thereof — may be due to the company's conservative projections in 2016. Nintendo forecasted sales of 5 million units of 3DS hardware earlier in the year, but boosted its forecast to 6 million in a revised projection three months later. That may not have been enough, but the company may have erred on the side of caution, considering it lowered projections in its previous fiscal year from 7.6 million down to 6.6 million.

The 3DS moved 2.71 million units last quarter, as Nintendo reported in late October. We won’t have full data on sales comprising fall 2016 until early next year, but they could reflect limited hardware stock’s sizable impact on Nintendo 3DS units sold.

If shoppers can’t find a Nintendo 3DS by, say, tomorrow (the date that many retailers cut off guaranteed holiday delivery), that could leave a lot of budding or returning Nintendo fans out of luck for the holidays. We’ve contacted all respective parties, including Nintendo and several retailers, for information on what’s up with the stock shortages and when hopeful shoppers can look forward to more.