Is Wii U doomed? A little context shows a brighter future

Nintendo has released its financial results for the fiscal year of 2013. In case you didn’t go to business school, that accounts for all the company’s commerce from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. There’s a lot of information to parse out, including the N being technically profitable thanks to a weakening Yen and 3DS sales outpacing DS sales from the same time period, but likely the biggest takeaway were the first six months of Wii U sales. Some are looking at the numbers and predicting catastrophe for the Wii U, and the death of Nintendo.

But while the results aren’t great, they're hardly apocalyptic when given some context.

Let's get the hard numbers out of the way: From its November 18 launch, Nintendo reports it has sold 3.45 million Wii U consoles worldwide. This was certainly short of its original prediction of 5.5 million units, or its reduced prediction of 4 million. For January through March Nintendo only sold 450,000 units, a shadow of the post-launch sales that the Wii had.

The Wii U can barely compare to its predecessor. From the Wii’s November 2006 launch to March 2007, the system moved 5.84 million units worldwide, though Nintendo often said that number would have been bigger if the company could have produced more systems. A year later, in March 2008, Nintendo put the total Wii sales at 24.5 million--an exceptional increase. Comparatively, Nintendo hopes that it can shift 9 million total Wii Us in the same timeframe. Hmm, that sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? We think it sounds sort of bad.

However, while Wii U might look like a flop when compared to a phenomenon like the Wii, it fares much better next to the first year sales of the 360 and PS3. Microsoft sold 3.2 million systems from November 2005 to March 2006, and by March 2007 it had sold roughly 8.5 million. The PlayStation 3 had pretty similar results:  3.61 from November 2006 to March 2007, and 12.85 million by March 2008. The Wii U sales numbers fall in the middle, hardly an outlier.

Additionally, the Wii U sales compare somewhat positively to Nintendo consoles other than the Wii. The GameCube had 3.8 and 9.55 million for its respective five months and 17 months numbers. Based on Nintendo’s prediction of 9 million Wii Us sold by next March, it sounds like the executives want to match the trajectory of the GameCube. Matching the sales of Nintendo least successful home console to date sounds like a pretty low bar, but perhaps Nintendo is just aiming low with numbers it can hopefully outdo, thus making next year’s results seem even stronger.

When placed next to all those other systems, the Wii U’s lower-than-predicted sales aren’t stellar, but the numbers are still roughly on pace with its competitors circa 2005-2008 and at least one previous Nintendo system. Its biggest enemy ironically seems to be the Wii, a remarkably successful system the Wii U (or most other home consoles) just can’t compare to. The Wii’s sales perhaps raised expectations unfairly for the Wii U, if not all future consoles.

Can Nintendo turn things around and at least hit GameCube-level sales? We think it has some hope as long as it can get the flow of games going again for the rest of the year. Outside of a handful of average ports and a couple intriguing but niche titles like Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, the past four months have been barren. Then again, the 360 and PS3 had pretty quiet beginnings as well, and only got going once marquee software like Gears of War and Ratchet & Clank arrived the following fall.

Several promising titles once planned for the launch window (Pikmin 3, Game & Wario, Wonderful 101) now all appear to finally be hitting in summer and early fall. Nintendo could then use these continually delayed games to keep a steady pace of releases into the fall with potential new entries in Super Mario, Zelda, and Mario Kart driving system sales into the holidays. Imagine how good that line-up could look compared to the potentially limited early titles on the 720 and PS4.

That plan’s success depends on Nintendo releasing titles more frequently than it normally does. We appreciate Nintendo’s commitment to quality, but if it wants to surpass 9 million consoles worldwide by March 31, 2014, the publisher needs to stop delaying so many titles. And if the Wii U can’t sell even with new entries from such major franchises and fails to match the GameCube goals for the second year in a row, then it might be time to predict the end of Nintendo, but we’re still a long way from that.




  • Grandaddy - October 31, 2013 2:05 p.m.

    The Wii U made a point of gameplay over graphics and they release a system with only one tablet and expect other players to use a stick. When I can buy a 7 inch Android tablet (with added capabilities) for €50 euro one has to wonder what is Nintendo playing at. They need to allow the Wii U to support up to 4 tablets and make games available that supports them. I am yet to see anyone selling an extra Wii U tablet. Also what kind of system releases only adapted games ? In any case I am certain that Ninty will survive even if the WiiU should fail. Wake up Ninty and stop pouring money down the drain.
  • Nevar - April 27, 2013 10:33 p.m.

    while i enjoyed the article, i think that there are some things to consider: 1. The starting line-up for the gamecube was weak too. And it had these big rivals in ps2 and later the xbox (at the beginning xbox was way to expensive to be a factor) from the beginning. Which means that the wii u is in an advantageous situation as the first new gen console, but needs the sales now, because i can hardly imagine it being able to rival ps4 and xbox 3 in terms of hardware when these come out. Also if it doesnt sale, the publisher wont produce their titles for the wii u, a problem that the gamecube already had. 2. I am still not sure what that controller/screen is supposed to be used for. Which means that their information politics is severely lacking. All the advertising has shown me is either some use for party games or for playing on after somebody else needs the television. Which doesnt sound very tempting to me. For the wii remote i always could immediately imagine some amazing uses, although most of them never made it. 3. The cube had strong predecessors before, which made many core gamers buy the console, they trusted the company. You could argue that the wii was extremely popular in terms of sales, but it wasnt amongst core gamers, who are the deciding factor here. It is the other way round in the current situation, after few really hardcore ds-titles and even fewer wii-core-titles, that trust is heavily shaken. It will be hard to get that trust back.
  • 7-D - April 27, 2013 3:44 p.m.

    I'm refusing to buy any more Wii-Us until they release more games on it. It's cost me a lot of money to keep buying these things and i'm starting to look a little silly. Please pull your finger out Nintendo.
  • DirkSteele1 - April 27, 2013 3:23 a.m.

    WiiU = Dreamcast. Nintendo have alienated a huge part of the core market with the casual friendly Wii (most of whom are probably waiting for the PS4 or XBOX 720), casual gaming Grandmothers who bought the Wii to amuse the grandchildren will not understand why they need to upgrade to an HD system, other casuals don't realise it is a new system thanks to Nintendo's insistance on "clever" names (looking at you 3DS) and the repeated overhaul of systems / issuance of other perpherials, and very poor marketing (Nintendo get the message out there this is a new exciting system!), and already there have been announcements of major franchises not making to the WiiU which is a lot like EA not supporting the Dreamcast. Only time will tell if this is the case, but the first 4 months of the year have been awful for new releases and at the end of the day, great software is what sells hardware. The N64 sold because of Mario 64, the Xbox because of Halo. Nintendo needs the killer app and fast.
  • sephex - April 27, 2013 7 a.m.

    I agree with that.
  • C.King - April 27, 2013 10:04 p.m.

    i just noticed that with the exception of hand held games i bought my systems for the sake of playing smash bros... while of course i have a bigger collection of titles than just that , smash bros has been my prime motivator when i came to home consoles, but they announced they'd be a new one for 3ds so idk if i'll ever get a wii u, i'd love a wii sports game whose worth isn't based on the included controller or accessory, those games are fun it'd be great if they made one with the depth worth of a full priced retail release. the wii u seems great for party games with the exclusive role on the pad but it doesn't seem worth it if you'll be alone a good amount of the time, same goes for the kinect. ya know the wii had a great ad campaign with the whole "wii would like to play" to go along with their revolution at the time. the wii u... i hardly see any ads for it and none of em stick. last thing i can think of, i don't think nintendo fans are real graphic snobs and that seems to be the distinct difference between the wii and wii u, HD status and even then i don't think anyone's minds are blown from it. the resurrection of earthbound would be a great way to get the thing going even if you haven't played the game (like me) the name your pretty familiar with same as with fire emblem till recently give us a chance to check out a great series a remake or new Mother to pique curiosity then blow the socks of gamers of this generation with a blast from the past. they need something that can only be done on the wii u
  • MrSprinklez - April 25, 2013 2:17 p.m.

    When you compare Wii U's sales to the Xbox 360 and PS3, it really doesn't seem like a catastrophe. To me, it just seems like Nintendo is falling back in line with what is normal with the gaming industry. They had a spectacular hit with the Wii, but people just aren't as blown away as they were with the novelty of motion control. I predict that the Wii U will be successful, but it won't be the mega-hit the original Wii was.
  • TheDudeFromNowhere - April 25, 2013 2:15 p.m.

    Games. Where are the games?
  • spikeyxx - April 25, 2013 10:23 a.m.

    A year from mow the Wii U will look as dated as the 32x did against the Saturn and Playstation. Unless Nintendo release some exceptional 1st party games, and a lot of them at that, this console is going to be another gamecube for them.
  • Heavenshitman - April 26, 2013 6:39 p.m.

    Ur argument could also have been applied to Wii. It outsold happily. If u haven't seen, check out the splinter Cell Blacklist trailer. It demonstrates WiiU can do what even PS4 and 360 may never do (depending how they turn out, don't give me the Vita argument, I doubt it will mimick gamepad at all)
  • Fuzunga - April 24, 2013 11:19 p.m.

    When I bought my 360, the only games I had were Geometry Wars and Oblivion. And that's all I needed for months.
  • death4us - April 24, 2013 9:11 p.m.

    Nintendo blew its chance with the Wii U by not having it completely overpower the ps3 and xbox360 as a next gen console should've done. Comparing the sales of it to the ps3 and the 360 isn't so good because the ps3 and 360 were overpriced when they first came out. It is like Nintendo was hoping the 360 and ps3 lasted another 5 years and was competing with them instead of being the first one truly with a next gen system.
  • Cyberninja - April 25, 2013 3:47 a.m.

    The thing is the most powerful system never does the best in a gen starting when sony got involved they won the first two gens and then wii won, all of those were the least power console, plus the other two consoles will launch at hire price points so thats not good for them. Also factor in the fact that wiiu has full backwards compatibility as well as a non reliance on internet and you will see they are fine. Overpowering with hardware is a stupid idea, just look at Vita vs 3DS, Vita clearly has much better specs but name 5 games coming out for it in the U.S. later this year that isn't a port or going to be on something else. compared to the 3DS and the small army of games its getting.
  • clownferret - April 25, 2013 4:48 a.m.

    what in the same way Nintendo blew it's chance by the wii not overpowering ps3 and 360? I think the wii and 3DS's utter dominace proved that graphics are not system sellers as much as some people think they are. I think a LOT of Sony and Microsoft fans are in for a shock when PS4 and 720 don't shift anywhere near the numbers they are expecting.
  • Heavenshitman - April 26, 2013 6:46 p.m.

    As I replied to a previous post, Wii was at the same processor performance disadvantage against its primary competitors (PS3/360), Wii still won. Again, check out the Splinter Cell Blacklist WiiU trailer if u haven't (and again, PSVita will not pull the same tricks)
  • BackwaterRifle - April 24, 2013 7:24 p.m.

    It all rides on there IP's. If Pikmin 3 is a smash hit (experience wise, not necessarily sales), and they can put out a new Zelda or something of the like, they can easily hit GC levels.
  • talleyXIV - April 25, 2013 5:45 p.m.

    Pikmin 3 won't sell a ton of consoles but it will make owners extremely happy. Now when games like Super Smash Bros. U and Mario Kart --- are made, the console is going to sell like hotcakes. And a Zelda would be nice too. It is way too early to start pressing the panic button, Nintendo isn't in some kind of meltdown right now. The 3DS had an awful start, GOD awful in terms of everything. Games, sales, and reviews but a year later you have Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land out and the console is rocking the competition. People need to calm down and let it pan out.
  • BackwaterRifle - April 27, 2013 9 p.m.

    gc levels isn't that hard to obtain, thats the point I was making.
  • shawksta - April 24, 2013 6:52 p.m.

    Great article Henry There's been way too much backlash on the Wii U despite being early and just the beginning. I still remember how websites backlashed the 3DS back in 2011
  • Cyberninja - April 24, 2013 6:02 p.m.

    Honestly 3DS had a slow start and now its my favorite Handheld, Nintendo knows what they are doing in the long run, since they don't load alot of expensive stuff in to their system and hope people will buy on specs alone(a.k.a The Vita). So I am confident in my purchase of a WiiU like I don't even plan on getting a PS4 until its first major price drop in 2015-16. Honestly I am more worried about The PS4 because if streaming doesn't work they are screwed especially since they won't have people buying for Backwards Compatability which would is always well received.

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