Nintendo's shocking profit battered its shares as much as 20 per cent, underscoring deep challenges for an iconic brand struggling to win back users flocking to other gadgets.
The plunge wiped off $5-billion from Nintendo's market value after the company said profits would fall to their lowest in 27 years as it braced for losses from its latest 3D gadget.
Brokers cut the company's forecasts, a day after it swung to a quarterly loss and slashed prices of its 3D-capable handheld games device by about a third.
With sales of its DS and Wii fading, Nintendo was relying on the new 3D model to revive profits and fend off renewed competition from motion-gaming peripherals of Sony Corp and Microsoft . Many casual gamers are also flocking to devices such as Apple's blockbuster iPhone and iPad.
"They are standing on the edge," said Yuuki Sakurai, CEO and president of Fukoku Capital Management in Tokyo. "When I ride on the trains I see people using their smartphones to play games and people don't want to overlap their spending on other devices," he said.
The Kyoto-based company must consider providing games to these new platforms rather than focusing on new hardware, Sakurai said.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata took a 50 per cent pay cut, and other executives took 20-30 per cent cuts to take responsibility for the poor performance.
The company also reduced sales forecasts for its Wii home games console and the previous generation DS handheld device.
"We needed to do something extremely daring to change the situation, so we decided on the price-cut," said Iwata, a former game designer, who launched the Wii and expanded the gaming population, toppling Sony from the industry's top spot.
Nintendo's shares fell as much 20 per cent on Friday to 11,100 yen, its lowest intraday level since May 2004. They ended down 12.2 per cent on the day, for a drop this year of nearly 50 per cent.
Speaking to reporters in Osaka on Thursday, Iwata acknowledged sales of the much-anticipated 3DS had lost momentum shortly after the launch earlier this year.
"However, by cutting the price before you get economies of scale, of course you make losses on the hardware," he said.
Nintendo sold only 710,000 units of the 3DS in April-June, compared with 3.6 million in the month following its launch, and a tiny fraction of the 16 million unit target for the year to March 2012.
The Wii sold only 1.56 million units, half the figure in the same period last year. The device took the industry by storm five years ago by replacing button clicking with motion control, attracting a new wave of gamers that expanded the market.
Nintendo cut its annual operating profit forecast after market hours on Thursday to 35 billion yen from an initial forecast of 175 billion yen. The new estimate is far short of the previous consensus of 154.9 billion yen based on 24 analysts' forecasts ahead of the results.
JP Morgan cut its rating on the company behind the Super Mario franchise to "underweight" from "overweight", saying the current situation was worse than feared and the outlook uncertain.
"The timing of the 3DS hardware price cut is surprising, given the major in-house software releases... We believe the 3DS will be a heavy weight on earnings over the medium term. The lack of a share buyback announcement is also disappointing," analyst Hiroshi Kamide said in a report.
Nintendo has been criticized for being too centred on hardware as the market increasingly shifts to a battleground over software, with games played over Internet networks linking millions of players.
"The software wasn't terribly compelling," said Ricardo Torres, editor-in-chief of gamespot.com. "There wasn't enough to do with it," he said.
Japanese electronic companies have been hit by weak consumer spending in North America and Europe.
U.S. consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the country's economic activity, is expected to have decelerated sharply in the second quarter of 2011 to the weakest level since the end of the 2007-09 recession two years ago.