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.
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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.