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Early next-gen sales are meaningless, unless you’re Nintendo

Andy Vandervell


Wii U

Early sales figures make difficult reading for Nintendo

OPINION Now that the PS4 and Xbox One have lurched out of the factories and into homes in all the major markets, namely the US and Europe, initial sales figures are starting to tumble in. Notwithstanding that early estimates aren’t wholly reliable, Sony’s PS4 appears (note suitable bet hedging) to have taken the early lead. Sony claims 2.1 million PS4 sales worldwide, while the UK’s official tracking body Chart Track says the PS4 is the fastest selling console in UK history. The console it beat? The PSP! No, really.

Setting aside that totally unexpected fact, sources cited by GamesIndustry International suggest the PS4 shipped around 250,000 PS4s in its 48-hour launch window, compared to 170,000 in the same period of the Xbox One’s launch. Advantage Sony, then? Not really. We have no reliable means of comparison and the differences could just as easily be explained by better supply, as Sony’s claims of extra stock on launch day and up to Christmas suggest. Sony execs can give each other matey pats on the back if they like, but neither they nor their Microsoft counterparts will be under any illusions about the significance of these early numbers. They don’t really matter. Check back in a year.

Nintendo execs, on the other hand, have much to ponder. Astonishingly, these numbers suggest the PS4’s 48-hour sales surpass the Wii U’s total sales by in the region of 100,000. In other words, Sony sold 100,000 more PS4s in 48 hours than Nintendo has sold Wii U consoles in a whole year! That’s more ridiculous than the PSP holding the record for fastest selling games console. Madness.

The global picture isn’t quite so painful for Nintendo. If VG Chartz is to believed, Nintendo has sold 4.1 million Wii U consoles globally, which means Sony only managed to sell half as many PS4s in its launch window as Nintendo sold Wii Us in a year. Moreover, after a slow start the 3DS (in its various guises) has sold nearly 40 million worldwide, which is a pretty healthy number considering the increased competition from smartphones and tablets.

SEE ALSO: Best PS4 games

Nintendo is not doomed

I mention all of this because this isn’t another of those ‘Nintendo is teh d000med’ type articles – a company that sold 100 million Wii consoles (20 million more than the Xbox 360 or PS3) and 150 million Nintendo DS handhelds (150 million!) last generation and has posted one loss making year in its whole history isn’t in any real danger. But it takes a fairly obtuse observer to not accept the Wii U isn’t in great shape.

And while Nintendo continues to pump out great games like Super Mario 3D World, third-party developers and publishers seem even less interested in Nintendo’s console than ever before. Jason Rubin, Naughty Dog founder and former President of THQ, went so far to call Nintendo "irrelevant" as a hardware manufacturer (in reference to the Wii U) in a recent appearance on Gametrailers show Bonus Round.

(Sidenote: Before anyone makes the point, Rubin’s failure to rescue the already floundering THQ doesn’t make his comments any less accurate or his opinion less valid. THQ was already on life support when he arrived.)

It’s hard to fault tentative third-party devs, too. They struggled somewhat on the Wii despite its huge install base of owners, partly due to the transient nature of its ‘non-gamer’ audience and partly because Nintendo’s games hold such a tight grasp on Nintendo fans. Nintendo did its best to pitch the Wii U for 'core gamers' and encourage third-party developers, but the sales have put paid to such attempts.

The answer isn’t for Nintendo to ditch hardware and make games for PS4 and Xbox One – it’s a tired argument born of a flawed comparison to Sega, a company that was in far worse shape after the Dreamcast than Nintendo is now. But clearly something needs to be done. This could mean renewed investment in games, bigger marketing spend or (most likely) a hefty price cut. It could even mean cutting the Wii U’s life short and resetting with a new, more powerful, more third-party friendly console.

Personally I’d like to see the latter, though it’s the least practical of the three options. But Nintendo knows perfectly well that 2014 is a pivotal year in the life of the Wii U.

Next, read 10 reasons not to buy an Xbox One or PS4 before Christmas


December 3, 2013, 7:43 pm

Clearly they need to spend a dime on marketing. It's frustrating being a Nintendo fan and encountering so many people who don't even know what a Wii U is.


December 3, 2013, 7:44 pm

Both the PS4 and the Xbox One aren't releasing in Japan until 2014.


December 3, 2013, 8:20 pm

I think the relevant comparison is the total number of PS3s and Xbox 360s sold to the number of Wiis sold. I believe if 75 million Xbox 360s were not sold then Sony would have sold 150 million PS3s. The hardcore gaming market was split whereas Nintendo owned the casual market. So no, the Wii was not more successful than the PS3/Xbox 360.

Nathan Verbois

December 4, 2013, 5:17 am

Cutting the life short of the console would actually hurt Nintendo more than help. Despite what everyone is saying now, Nintendo's best option is to simply stay the course and build the install base through great games, which is what they're doing. While the press is on overkill for both the new consoles and Nintendo's woes, the public (other than die hard early adopters like myself) more than likely have no clue Nintendo is doing poorly in the next-gen race, probably because until recently, many of them thought the Wii U was an accessory for the Wii. As soon as Nintendo finishes beating that misconception (which it hasn't), so long as they keep the games rolling, they will do fine.


December 4, 2013, 9:49 am

You're probably right. It certainly wouldn't please anyone who has bought a Wii U. I think the difficulty for me is Nintendo tried to repeat the trick with the Wii U, but the Gamepad is far less instantly accessible than the Wii-remote was. That felt instantly intuitive and natural in a way the Gamepad just isn't.

I'd sooner see Nintendo match Sony for power and double down on the Wii remote, perhaps adding more innovative options later down the line.

As an aside, I can't help feel if Nintendo had Kinesct on the Wii U it would have come up with something far more interesting than Microsoft has so far.


December 4, 2013, 9:51 am

That's a good point. I'm sure not all the Wiis went to casual gamers, but clearly hardcore gamers favoured the other two. I'm living proof. I sold my Wii to get an Xbox 360.


December 4, 2013, 2:14 pm

Gamers don't want to invest in a production which is inferior technically speaking. The Wii was the first time someone didn't release as high a powered console as they could. It initially looked like it was working, but gradually the Wii was consigned as a party trick. Gamers paying for a game wanted the best looking version of it, and no one can blame them for that. Nintendo didn't pay attention to that and released the Wii U which is slightly(?) more powerful than the 360 & ps3 which was never going to be enough to get a lot of people to part with their money to see graphics they already could get on their console.

I still believe that if Nintendo had pushed out the boat a bit and gave people a console more powerful than the 360 & ps3, sales would've been far better. It's easy to sell a console when showing how much nicer the games look than the competitors.

Admittedly the law of deminishing returns is starting to hit consoles, where what can be displayed is close enough to the real thing that further improvements are less noticeable. In this scenario, a less powerful console may succeed. Perhaps the Wii was a concept a few generations ahead of its time.


December 4, 2013, 2:51 pm

Exactly. This is what people often miss about the fall of Sega. It wasn't the Dreamcast that killed Sega, it was prematurely cutting support for the 32X and Saturn that burned Sega's customer base. By the time the Dreamcast came along, many of them weren't willing to risk investing in Sega hardware. Which is a shame since the Dreamcast actually had a fantastic array of software.

If Nintendo abandons the Wii U it will burn it's most loyal fans which is exactly what it shouldn't do. Honestly, I think that it's best tactic is the one that it used to revive the 3DS - lots of high quality exclusives combined with a significant price drop.

Granted, for broader appeal beyond just Nintendo fans I think that the Wii U also needs that "Wii Sports" piece of software that shows off the unique gameplay offered by the Wii U hardware - I really don't get why one of the following isn't on the radar screen; an FPS/RTS hybrid that actually works (soldier directs allies and calls in air strikes in real time using a tablet) or a solid asynchronous co-op game where one player is playing a traditionally adventure game while the other is playing a puzzle/strategy game in a support role (imagine Assassin's Creed or Metal Gear Solid, only the guide directing you around and doing all the hacking is actually a second player).


December 4, 2013, 2:53 pm

I absolutely agree with the last point. While I don't want Nintendo to abandon hardware manufacturing, I would love to see what they could do with Kinect style motion controls.


December 4, 2013, 3:00 pm

The same thing happened with the 3DS. A lot of people were confused about the 3DS but when they saw Luigi's Mansion, Animal Crossing, Pokemon, etc they wanted to play those games and then discovered that the 3DS wasn't just another DS variant but actually a new piece of hardware.

So really, I think that Nintendo needs to stop trying to educate people on what the Wii U is and instead needs to focus on convincing people that they want to play Wii U games. People will figure out that it's a new system on their own once they're given a reason to do so.


December 4, 2013, 3:07 pm

I think that there's a risk that Japan will opt out on the next...actually, now it's the current generation of consoles. Namco already publicly stated that they would continue to publish Tales games on the PS3 and wouldn't be moving on to the PS4 until it had enough of a market share to justify that move. So this may be an acknowledgement that next...okay, current generation console sales will be dismal in Japan.


December 4, 2013, 8:10 pm

Ps2 sold to the casual as well cuz of the dvd player ..

Donalyn Dovale-Brown

December 6, 2013, 9:04 pm

So your definition of success is selling only to hardcore gamers? Pretty sure a sale is a sale regardless of how you think it was divided up..


December 7, 2013, 9:29 am

Interestingly, the Wii U currently outsells PS4 in the US. The PS4 sales dropped 86% after the launch week, whereas the Wii U sales increased 288%. 3DS will almost certainly be the hands down winner of this season. It sold 1.2 million consoles globally in a single week, several years after the launch!!. Source VGZ Charts.

The Wii U is doing very well in the US an Japan, but horribly in Europe.


December 7, 2013, 1:08 pm

Ps4 sales went down, because there are no ps4s in stock to sale


December 7, 2013, 8:05 pm

I still think the answer to Nintendo's financial woes doesn't lie w/ gaming per se, but it's actual character licenses. If they could strike a deal w/ Disney similar to Marvel & Star Wars, it would be beneficial to the company and fans alike. The games would stay the same but we would finally have the potential for good video game movies, imagine a pixar helmed Mario movie, or a traditionally animated Zelda trilogy, Donkey Kong animated series, Kirby shorts, the potential is limitless, it would introduce these franchises to a new generation and inspire the kind of retro video game nostalgia that we saw hints of after Wreck It Ralph's release, which would in turn spur the company to be able to create new and bigger games w/ these franchises with the influx of cash. Video game movies are on the cusp of being done right, w/ announcements of Fassbender in a legitimate Assassins Creed series, and guys like David O Russell and Seth Rogen interested in created movies based on Naughty Dog's work, it's only a matter of time before it happens, and Nintendo should be the company to kick the doors in. It's a no brainer really if Disney's coffers are still busting at the seams, which let's face it, of course they are.


December 30, 2013, 8:20 pm

to be honest Nintendo needs to concentrate on putting out more great games and just advertise. the thing i see with this is a load of people thinking the zenith of computer games is the FPS. i am not saying they are bad but i would not put them on a pedestal as hard core gaming.

like most entertainment cute and serale sell very well just look at the 30s and the 40s the height of the musical. to say its been childish is idiotic, manly as one even the FPS are game. also CoD multi player is manly young children playing it.

i don't think Nintendo is in much trouble there sales are good. and the turn around and try and say oh the are doing bad as they did not reach a target is stupid. most companies will try and say a high goal, this is how they motivate their workers to sell or produce. very few times the sales numbers are reached or surpassed, that's is not the point of the goal it is more something to strive for. also there are no major losses and they are doing well with the 3DS as well

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