We’ve all seen the headlines. “Retailers Discount Wii U console.” “Wii U Monthly Sales Are Unimpressive.” “Nintendo Should Stop Making Consoles.”
We’ve seen that last headline for years. But apparently it’s time to school the Wii U haters once again. This time, unlike Professor Wirtanen, Mr. Valentine will make it rain cold hard facts.
Let’s compare the month by month sales figures for the launch window of both the Wii U and Xbox 360. Both consoles enjoyed a nice, comfy holiday release in November, with their launch window ending in March of the following calendar year. Using NPD sales figures, we can calculate that the Wii U has sold a total of 1 million Wii U units (total of 1,020,000) here in America. For the Xbox 360’s comparable time frame, it’s estimated that Microsoft sold a total of 998,000 units. That’s a difference of 22,000 units in the Wii U’s favor.
The Wii U’s “dismal” launch is outperforming the Xbox 360’s launch in America. This is the 360’s homeland; Microsoft has an absurd stranglehold on the American marketplace. If we were to take into account some worldwide figures, including Japan, where Nintendo and Sony are king and Microsoft is a mere peasant, then this only improves the Wii U’s stance.
Now, there’s a key month missing in all of this information: March, which isn’t over yet, so the final numbers can’t be tallied. But why exactly is March so important? Well, this is usually the time frame during which the delayed launch games finally come out. For the 360, this was the month we saw the releases of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. While they may not be the killer apps for Microsoft, they were still reasons to buy the system. Here in 2013, Nintendo once had an ace up their sleeve in terms of Rayman Legends, but that’s been delayed. We’ve already talked about how it still stings, but it’s not the end of the world.
But we can do better than to merely compare sales figures, because it’s software that sells consoles. Is the Wii U lacking in high-quality games? Sure, but it won’t be forever. The fact that its lineup isn’t currently mind-blowing doesn’t mean doom and gloom for Nintendo.
Let’s take a look at the launch lineups of the Wii U and its closest counterparts from the previous console generation: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Like the Wii U, the 360 was first out of the gate, featuring what seemed to be some strong support on paper with games like Perfect Dark Zero, Project Gotham Racing 3, Kameo: Elements of Power, and Dead or Alive 4. These, of course, would be the appetizers before the entrée that was Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
But not everything turns out the way it should. While DOA4 was successful, Microsoft's first-party lineup was above average at best. It goes to show how the system was longing for some staying power in terms of games when we were looking forward to titles such as The Outfit. Of course, it was the year-long head start of the Xbox 360 that helped it sustain its post-launch dry spell. Sure, Oblivion was fantastic, but it didn't meet the lofty expectations that came from all the press hype and the shadow of its predecessor, Morrowind. And then there's the fact that Oblivion wasn't exclusive to the console; it was also available for PC.
The Xbox 360 didn't get its first true killer app until 2006, one year after launch, with Gears of War. While we enjoyed sleepers such as Condemned: Criminal Origins and Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, as well as the breakout power of Call of Duty 2, Gears of War was a real system seller. Condemned and King Kong lacked staying power and Call of Duty 2 was also available on PC. In fact, this is arguably a problem Microsoft dealt with until the Gears of War launch; their best candidates for a system seller were available elsewhere.
We can apply some of these same principles when it comes to the Wii U. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge head over heels better than its original counterparts on Xbox 360 and PS3, but the enhanced version will be making its way to the Microsoft and Sony platforms in the near future. ZombiU is a highly satisfying survival horror game, but it lacks the staying power, à la Condemned or King Kong. New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land are above-average first-party titles, but not killer apps.
Those killer apps are coming sooner rather than later though. But even if this weren’t true, Sony has proven with the PlayStation 3 that you can dig yourself out of a deep hole. The PS3 didn't receive its killer app until June of 2008, almost two full years after the system launch, with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. No, I'm not forgetting about Uncharted: Drake's Deception; it just didn't astound critics the way Gears of War and MGS4 did.
What does all this mean for Nintendo? Their sales figures aren’t sexy on paper, but they’re more than comparable. The games aren’t there, but they’re on the way. They may be in a hole now, but it’s a hole that’s been dug out of many, many times. The original Xbox was carried by Halo: Combat Evolved. The 3DS took a quick price cut and is now on fire. The PlayStation 3 suffered through a disappointing first eighteen months before finally righting the ship.
And consider this: We’ve all peeked into our crystal balls before and predicted the end of the world for Nintendo. We said the GameCube was a failure and would be their last system. We said the Wii was a complete waste of time. We were wrong in both cases, and we’re just as wrong now. We just have to be patient. In the meantime, there are plenty of enjoyable titles on the eShop for Wii U owners to try out, with many more on the way.
Date: March 28, 2013