Why the Numbers Aren’t All Doom and Gloom for Nintendo

Wii U sales: down, but not out. December was the console's best month yet.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Nintendo

The news you won’t read in most of the stories reshuffling a Reuters report that ominously claims Wii U sales have “flopped,” is that Wii U sales in December 2013, according to NPD, were the best they’ve ever been.

Or take the company’s weirdly dismissed 3DS: you know, Nintendo’s handheld-slash-console that, just last night, NPD reported “topped overall hardware sales for December 2013 and for 2013 as a whole.” Important sidebars — or in the 3DS’s case, headliner — lost in the admittedly disturbing din of Nintendo’s “third consecutive annual loss” bandwagon.

The other parcel of news you won’t read in these reports is that none of this is, in fact, news: Roughly speaking, we’ve known what Wii U sales have been for months, and we’ve therefore known that Nintendo was going to miss its Wii U sales projections by a country mile for a long, long time. The only entity that seemed blissfully unaware of this fact, like any good company towing its marketing line, was Nintendo.

But yes, as I’ve said before and repeatedly, Nintendo, to quote PBS’s adorable Peg + Cat, has a biiiiggg problem — a compounding problem driven by increasingly accurate public perception that the Wii U is not where you want to live if you’re after most of the things gamers are gaga for these days, from competitive game achievements and gamer scores to progressively sophisticated social networks (live broadcasts, easy-capture brag clips, etc.) to your third-party multi-platform tentpoles.

On the other hand, it’s far less the problem you’ll hear overpaid analysts blather on about like armchair CEOs, namely this recurring assumption that Nintendo could save its bacon and conquer the universe if it would only pull a Sega and sow its beloved intellectual property far and wide. I don’t subscribe to this simplistic, cash-in-your-chips mentality as the default fallback strategy. It’s pull-the-cord-on-a-doll substituting for serious analysis. You might as well call Microsoft moronic for hogging Master Chief, or Sony stupid for keeping its mitts on Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank and Nathan Drake.

If you assume the only road to success is the one paved with the most money possible (as opposed to a respectable or even sufficient amount of dough in the coffer), then sure, get Mario and Zelda on the App Store pronto and damn the torpedoes. But I don’t think Nintendo thinks like that, or at least I hope they don’t, because with so much else in video gaming, namely the perennial march of financially bloated, mechanically anodyne sequels and me-too genre coatriders, we’re seeing what a crude, shallow, bean-counting focus on the bottom line too often reaps, gameplay-wise. You can have your record-breaking sales figures and celebratory PR parties when those new platform launch numbers hit, but like treadmills, books by Stephen Hawking or even Nintendo’s original Wii during its latter days, that doesn’t mean people are actually using this stuff, or that you’re building platforms with intellectual property that’s creating longterm, engaged users and sustainable forward momentum.

Yes, Nintendo’s guilty of some of that itself nowadays, trotting out its iconic IP in sequels that till decidedly familiar turf. And it’s surely not enough in 2014 to say “Hey, we’re Nintendo, doing what we’ve always done, and we’ve never claimed otherwise,” though perhaps after the looming shareholder exodus levels off, that’ll be the company’s fallback prerogative: to accept and even celebrate third place, using 2014 as an opportunity to change the conversation and focus on the things that make its platforms uniquely Nintendo-ish. Nintendo does need to be profitable, but profitability was never analogous with first place.

In any event, it’s too soon to light memorial candles for the company’s flagship console (and the “Wii” brand in general), or to glean something as definitive as “flop” from the economic tea leaves, anymore than Microsoft’s abysmal original Xbox sales, right up to the end, heralded the demise of the Xbox platform. Nintendo has plenty of options left on the table, from dropping the Wii U’s price again to selling a significantly discounted version that unbundles the Wii U Gamepad. Just being Nintendo isn’t enough to make these problems go away (or for the Wii U to experience a 3DS-style comeback), but speaking about the company’s prospects in stark terms when it had the bestselling dedicated games console in 2014, is clearly putting the cart ahead of the console.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

22 comments
MikeGilmore
MikeGilmore

As a Wii U owner, I can tell you that the console provides a thoroughly enjoyable gaming experience on par with what the Wii provided.  However, the other consoles have switched to a pay-for-content online strategy where the users opt to pay a fee to access more online features, which currently provides a far more immersive experience and makes the free Wii U online/community experience lackluster and spartan by comparison.  Even though I don't like it, I think a monthly fee for online console content/communties/gaming is here to stay and has become an expected norm.


Additionally, the user experience for things like connecting to the internet, messaging friends, or changing the display resolution is clunky and unintuitive on the Wii U.


But far more ominously, my well-cared-for GamePad is experiencing sudden technical problems.  In my investigating, I've discovered that this is likely a hardware defect and many users are beginning to complain about this problem.  Nintendo is currently happily charging people from $80-150 for repairs - almost the full value of the now-discounted console.  I believe a spate of complaints on this issue is around the corner and given Nintendo's current response (or lack-thereof), it could result in an early death of the console.  If a recall is issued, whatever remains of their slim profits (if any) would be quickly diminished.

NathanielWarren
NathanielWarren

There are currently more Wii U in homes than either PS4 or Xbox1 – that's not being reported. And there are probably much more in stock too.

undead1972
undead1972

question if ninty never made the wiiu what would we be talking about mmm microsoft canning xboxone due to poor sales compared to ps4 & leaving the console market, sony's main business (playstation is only a part of sony) is having its rear handed to them on a plate by lg, samsung, panasonic & bankruptcy imminent which could see the end of ps4 in the next 2 years, third party devs claiming next gen is not profitable due to high production costs & are looking towards mobile gaming instead mmmm the possibility's, the truth is ninty just didn't make the sales & money they wanted just like sony with the ps3 & microsoft with the 360 & thats it. superb post time tech 

undead1972
undead1972

this is whats gonna happen like sony with the ps3 ninty are gonna run wiiu at a loss & make money back with software for a least another 4 years alot more if things pick up & unlike sony are in a much better financial state to do it & unlike sony have a mega selling handheld to even things out, whats not gonna happen is for the same reason sony didn't do it to ps3 when it looked dead n buried is ninty canning the wiiu like sega with the saturn this move would destroy the ninty brand & they know it also with 100 bil in savings n bonds ninty are a very long way from going bankrupt in fact they could run wiiu at a loss for the next 30 so years if they wanted so all you fanboys rubbing your hand in anticipation for ninty going multi platform are in for a big shock its not gonna happen not this gen anyway 

Nintendojitsu
Nintendojitsu

We are definitely in a "end of times" type situation for videogames if Nintendo is facing struggles. If a company can go from what the Wii was to what Wii U is now; then no one is safe.

JohnDalkowitz
JohnDalkowitz

Excellent article.  Nintendo will get back on its feet. Kids still love Mario- it's just that many of them are either playing it on a 3ds or still on a Wii.  While I'm certain that the XBone, PS4 will pass the Wii U in total sales soon, it's not out of the question that the Wii U makes a comeback.  It's library is pretty good now, but will be much better when Hyrule Warrior, Donkey Kong, Smash, Bayonetta and Mario Kart come out.

zalmonedom
zalmonedom

The reason it isn't doom and gloom even partially is because anyone who thinks for five minutes knows that it's ultimately pointless to say that. People said it with the N64. Didn't happen. With the Gamecube. Didn't happen. DS and Wii. Didn't happen and they pretty much slaughtered their competition on top of it. With the 3DS. Didn't happen and it's the highest-selling system worldwide week after week. It's about time people stop trying to act like life is some soap opera. Nintendo is here to stay. It's about time people reconcile with that because that's how the real world is.

c.r.mcgregor209
c.r.mcgregor209

They aren't doomed yet because they have two aces in the hole--Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Those two games generate a lot of press and hype. If those two games don't boost system sales than I think they are definitely doomed.

IntangibleGuy
IntangibleGuy

Nintendo has plenty of options but not oodles of money.  That fact sets it apart from MS which can afford to loose money on its console adventure forever. It doesn't hurt.

Nintendo however is destined to shrink and finally collapse simply because XBox and PS will eventually be the two major platforms tethered to the TV while smartphones and tablets will provide consumers with mobile entertainment. 


There is simply no ample room for Nintendo to live in.

Stealth____
Stealth____

Nintendo generally knows what its doing. 3DS is the top system in the world regardless of forecasts, they had the biggest games of the year.


I believe in Nintendo

Ricky_NGmr
Ricky_NGmr

@mattpeckham sincerely this is a great structured article; as soon it makes the recall to everybody about what NPD stated for Nintendo's Holiday season clearly is understandable how much credibility sir you deserve!! TWO THUMBS UP!! That's the kind of analyst we should be trying to find and reads...

The all "Nintendo is doomed" movie many groups are trying to make a reality is just absurd , at least in the very way on how it is presented! Clearly Nintendo have to take an immediate actions, as Mr. Satoru Iwata accepted he "misread the market signs" and has stated publicly they have to change their "business structure" held at Nintendo. BUT, the Wii U did have its best month ever. And is been increasing its sales "month over month" since the 'games parade' starts to come (Pikmin 3, WWHD, SM3DW, + the bundles) Of course is not the kind of numbers Nintendo expected, but they KNEW will be getting a better track on the U : "the Wii U shows an increasing sales momentum but we did not reach what we had forecasted by a large margin" - Iwata. Even the 3DS, "Top selling hardware of the 2013" didn't came up with the forcasted number, although no one in the gaming industry will says is being a failure!

For 2014 they got planned to release DKTF, MK8, TecmoKoei-Nintendo's Hyrule Warriors, Platinum's Bayonetta2, Yarn Yoshi?, SSB U/3DS. The latter many says it is an error to bring it on the 3DS since the WiiU is the one needing it. But dont forget both version aren't the same as Mr Sakurai has been saying "2 completely different great experience upon the same mechanics of the gameplays the fans adore". And Hyrule Warrior is being by now accepted as a good 'Spin off' for Zelda fan. And Iwata did mention " is not the CORE Zelda is being develop by Nintendo", which safely we can expected should arrive by 2015 with other like "X" which has been expected to get news soon about it.

The years have come which Nintendo have to prove themselve what they are all over again to show off to the media.... is not something they aren't able to do. They do have way to compete, change, and coexist. Remember what Playstation CEO said: "We need Nintendo to do well, they know the industry better than any, We need them if want the industry to succeed!"-Yoshuda, IGN interview.

ChrisBradshaw
ChrisBradshaw

I honestly think the statements were just looking ahead, after the 3DS has run it's course. I look at this from a handheld standpoint really this news. When Mario Kart 8 comes out for the machine, then we can take a serious look at the Wii U's potential performance. It's still too early to judge without that install base. 

Also consider what the landscape is going to be on the competitors system. Not much. So, my eye is still on Nintendo this year for a potential turnaround.

taanebarlow
taanebarlow

Excellent article.


Nice to see someone being objective about Nintendo's situation. I agree with everything you said, except the gamepad comment. The gamepad is what makes the Wii U different from the competition, but more importantly it is actually required by some games to play them. So that just will not work. It seems that the only thing that can save the Wii U are the games. There are a lot of good games coming out this year and also games they haven't announced yet! Patience from all, then possibly a price cut if it doesn't kill the company. I think Nintendo know what they are doing. Just give them time


Just my view on things


Cheers!


Taane from New Zealand

Kaihaku
Kaihaku

In my opinion… The problem isn’t the Wii U, it’s Nintendo. I don’t have a problem with the hardware, even if it is weaker than it’s eighth generation competitors. What I do have a problem with are Nintendo’s policies. I like that Nintendo is eccentric, even stubborn, but it’s going too far in trying to march to it’s own drum.

There’s no reason…no excuse…for not at least making an attempt to field a robust online infrastructure. Miiverse is great, I like it a lot more than the achievement systems on other consoles, but it’s a side feature to online multiplayer…which, aside from Dr. Luigi and Wii Sports Club, Nintendo hasn’t shown any inclination to support. It’s 2014. Online multiplayer is a core function of a gaming console.

CrianCaro
CrianCaro

The only problem that Wii U has right now is lack of games. A lot of us are still waiting for any news at all on this brand new Zelda title and the Pokemon battle sim hinted at months ago. Until there are some fresh, good looking games out (Mario 3D looks rather fun, but I'm hardly going to buy a $300+ console for one game) Wii U sales are going to suck. Gamers aren't going to make the same mistake that a lot of us made with the Wii (also the duel screen thing seems a little too gimmicky for me, but meh...also I agree that Nintendo really should consider making screen capture a possibility without have to shell out more money for someone to mod our systems...)

At this rate, the games I'm actually looking forward to are going to be coming out with the next gen console. It's like Twilight Princess all over again, but I digress.

And once that new Zelda (Nintendo, I'm begging you, give us some news on that please) and SSB hits the shelves--assuming people don't just buy the 3ds version of it-- sales will probably jump.

In the meantime, I'll continue to use the crap out of my 3ds.

JohnKreese
JohnKreese

Oh, how wrong you are, sir. What you clearly do not understand is that the video game consoles I prefer, specifically the offerings of the Microsoft Corporation and Sony Group, are objectively superior to that offered by those dunder-headed miscreants at Nintendo Co., Ltd. Please understand that I am not a biased observer; I enjoyed GoldenEye when I was three years old, and I once even indulged in a round of Wii Sports after my standards were lowered and my wits dulled by grain spirits. It is this untinted lens that allows me to see that company's future, and I tell you now: it is a dark one indeed.

Finally, I noticed that you failed to mention the sexual orientation or ethnic background of those who choose to waste their precious lives away in a Nintendo-induced stupor. How can this be? Along with gender, there is no better indication of the value of another person's opinion than those two variables. 


In summation, WEE WEE U SUX PS4 & XBONE RULZ!!!!!a11!!!!

Regards,

Peytogan Cripe, age 15

JohnDalkowitz
JohnDalkowitz

@IntangibleGuy I'd say that $10 billion in cash and bonds is a decent chunk of change.....There's a good chance that Sony, which doesn't have the cash reserves that Nintendo has and MSFT, which as mentioned might jettison its console division, might not be around and Nintendo will be the last man standing in the Console Wars.  It can sustain a $300m annual loss for 30 years.


zalmonedom
zalmonedom

@IntangibleGuy except there's been talk of MS axing their console division. Why? Because they haven't made one cent off it. Ten years and it's proven to be one gigantic black hole. And it looks like a TON of people are getting sick of it being that.

spelen
spelen

@JohnKreese you really tried I mean you really really tried lolol but you failed haha "I prefer" and "objectively superior"  don't go hand in hand just saying......that  you prefer ps4 and x bone isn't a sin in fact objectively they are a better console performance and  feature  but game wise your really talking apples and oranges part that peeves me the mot when you  started dabaling into "sexual orientation or ethnic background"  WUT??? that sounds very fanboyish and almost racists or sexist are u saying mostly girls play on Nintendo consoles.... are u saying only blacks play on wiiu or Asians regardless, how they are indications of the value of someone' opinions .....you say your "not a biased observer" I don't feel like explaining myself but "WEE WEE U SUX PS4 & XBONE RULZ!!!!!a11!!!!" nicly does that for me.




TimothyBrown
TimothyBrown

@JohnKreese OMG! You are so maturez...you're trying to hard-now go play your bro shooter like a good troll..

ChrisBradshaw
ChrisBradshaw

@JohnKreese The very fact that you mentioned that you were 3 years old when you played Golden Eye disqualifies you from the jump regarding a serious gaming discussion.

taanebarlow
taanebarlow

@ChrisBradshaw@JohnKreese - I totally agree Chris, lacking a bit of maturity there Peytogan or John?. I have owned NES, SEGA master system 2, PS1, PS2, Xbox 360 and now a Wii U. I think the Wii U is up there if not better than those consoles. The Gamepad is very underrated. I think Nintendo caters to people out there that have family's like myself now, something that Sony and Microsoft seem to not care about any more. I don't like the direction those company's are going in.


By the way I don't know where your sexual orientation or background comment was going, or how it effects your ability to play video games.


Good day sir!