I wrote the other day about the lack of clarity in the way video game sales are often reported. In particular, I took issue with the recent confusion (or, at least, mis-communication) about the recent increase in Wii U sales following the release of the Wind Waker HD and the price drop in North America. While I encourage you to read that post to better understand why I’m publishing this one now, a quick recap is in order.
The Wii U Sales Surge
With the September NPD report came word from Nintendo that U.S. sales of the Wii U had “increased more than 200%” over August sales. This number was repeated by numerous outlets, including Gamespot, Game Informer, and Joystiq, among others. However, there clearly was, and is, confusion over what this actually means. Mathematically, a 200% increase means that sales tripled, as reported by numerous outlets, including GamesIndustry International and Destructoid. On the other hand, IGN reported that the numbers doubled, and thus increased “a full 100%.”
The reports of a large increase in sales were not unique to the United States. Reports out of the UK have said that Wii U sales there increased by a whopping 685% following the Wind Waker HD release. But after the confusion regarding American sales, I am not sure exactly what this means. So although it is impossible for me to get sales numbers that are absolutely definitive – different agencies come up with slightly different calculations – I wanted to get a better idea of what the sales figures actually looked like. With this goal in mind, I headed over to VGChartz to poke around and cobble together some numbers.
Untangling the Wii U Sales Numbers
After the abysmal sales of the Wii U throughout the spring and summer, Nintendo hoped that the system would begin its comeback in the August. The momentum was supposed to begin with Pikmin 3 early that month, and continue in September with Rayman Legends and Wonderful 101. While Pikmin 3 did contribute to a minor sales spike in Japan, what did Wii U sales look like elsewhere in August?
From August 4 through August 31st, the Wii U sold about 40,000 units in the US, about 6,000 in the UK, and about 112,000 globally.
These numbers were higher than they were in July, but still far from impressive for a system that is less than a year old. However, as much praise as Pikmin deserved and received, many suspected that it would take one of Nintendo’s heavy hitters to really spark the Wii U. And the first to come would be Zelda. Nintendo upped the ante with the announcement, in late August, of a special Wind Waker HD bundle of the Wii U as well as a $50 price drop. I suspected this announcement would have a dual effect: the announcement would build some excitement and the bundle would certainly sell when it dropped, but by announcing the price drop a month in advance, Nintendo essentially eliminated any incentive to purchase the Wii U until it happened. So, what did September look like?
From September 1st through September 28th, the Wii U sold more than 65,000 units in the US. The majority of these came after the Wind Waker bundle and price drop hit stores on September 20th. In the UK, where the bundle was not yet released, the Wii U only sold around 4,600 units. Global sales numbers were over 122,000.
Now, back in August, Pikmin created a small spike in sales the week it was released. Though Zelda was sure to create more noise than Pikmin, would this remake of a decade-old game increase sales for more than a week or two? The evidence says yes.
From September 29th through October 12th, only two weeks, the Wii U has sold about 60,000 units in the US, which is almost as much as the entire previous month. And in the UK, the Wind Waker bundle has released, and seems to have increased sales there as well: in the same two-week period, the Wii U sold more than 11,000 units. And globally, the sales numbers are around 140,000, already above the entire previous month.
To sum it up, monthly sales – the “months” being August 4-31 and September 1-28 – increased about 63% in the US, and it looks as though they will continue to increase this month. In the UK, it appears as though the Wind Waker is having a positive effect, as the two-week sales of the Wii U since the game dropped increased about 139% over the four-week period before that.
What Do These Numbers Mean?
Now, Nintendo fans will be quick to say that this is just the beginning of the Wii U’s comeback. “It’s just like the 3DS,” they may claim. As a fan of video games in general and of Nintendo in particular, I hope that is the case. But I would encourage you to temper the excitement just a bit. First off, the hard numbers, while much improved, are still not fantastic. The PS3 and Xbox 360 continue to sell at a faster pace. Furthermore, when the starting sales numbers are so low, percent increases can be misleading, as the percentages get very high very quickly.
That said, this is encouraging news for any Nintendo fan and the company itself. The Wii U’s sales have suffered for a number of reasons: poor advertising, struggles with third parties, a difficult place in the market. But I, like Nintendo itself, have firmly believed all along that the biggest hindrance was a lack of quality software. It is difficult to sell a system without a steady flow of good games, especially for Nintendo, whose hardware success is driven almost entirely by first party software. And this recent sales uptick seems to demonstrate this fact; put out quality games, and people will buy your system to play them. Even more impressive, this spike is on the back of a remake of a decade-old game. That fact should not be understated, and it really demonstrates the amazing power of Nintendo franchises, particularly the Legend of Zelda.
So, Has the Comeback Begun?
The answer to that depends on what success would mean to you. Will the Wii U ever sell as much as its predecessor, the original Wii? I would guess not. The Wii captured lightning in a bottle, and doing that twice in a row would truly be something spectacular. Is the Wii U going to “beat” the PS4 and Xbox One? Again, I’m not so sure. But does it need to do these things to be a success? I don’t think it does. The N64 and Gamecube did not sell nearly as much as the Wii, yet those systems are considered by many to be successes and are remembered fondly by many gamers. And regarding competition with Sony and Microsoft, I’m still not convinced Nintendo is really in that fight. While they have said they want to attract core gamers, it is clear that their approach to luring in customers is so far removed from what those two are doing that one-to-one comparisons seem inappropriate.
Overall, I think the Wii U will be strong this holiday and next year. The new systems will understandably garner much of the hype; after all, they are impressive machines. But soon, the Wii U will be one of the three “new” systems on shelves, and it will be a full $100 cheaper than the next one, which might just be enough to push some parents towards Nintendo’s console. And just remember, a decade-old Zelda remake has increased Wii U sales substantially, so I imagine that a 3D Mario, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart 8, and Super Smash Bros. will ensure that sales remain steady, if not mind-blowing. And the next Zelda announcement, along with some other likely ones (Metroid, perhaps?) will build some more excitement and anticipation among Nintendo fans who have not yet made the plunge. And maybe, just maybe, the appearance of Bayonetta 2, Monolithsoft’s X, and the onslaught of cool indie games will attract some “core” gamers.
At the very least, if you are a Nintendo fan, Wii U owner, or somebody considering purchasing one, I would feel confident that, unlike what some may say on Internet message boards, the Wii U is not the signal of Nintendo’s impending doom. The company is fine, the system is gaining some momentum as the game library slowly but steadily grows, and the company will surely not be giving up on it anytime soon. As most inside the industry have said, we’d all be wise not to doubt the big N.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments. You can find me on Twitter (Robs_Gameroom) or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).