Sometimes the truth is undeniable. It’s raining. It’s dark out. Nintendo just isn’t the powerhouse it used to be. These are simply facts that we know because they’re observed to be true. I can see rain pouring from the overcast sky so it must be raining. The sun is down and the moon is out so it is nightfall. And Nintendo revised their yearly sales forecast from a 55 billion yen profit to a 25 billion yen loss so, well, you get it.
As it’s been for the past decade or so, though, Nintendo is a much muddier story than that. Look at the 3DS. It was the top selling console for both December and all of 2013 last year with a projected finish for the fiscal calendar at 13.5 million units. It absolutely crushed the PlayStation Vita, which apparently sold somewhere south of 95,000 units in December. (Yikes!)
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s absolutely abysmal for Sony but great news for Nintendo. They’re stomping their direct handheld console competition (mobile phones and tablets, however, are another discussion entirely). The Vita sold that poorly even with Sony aggressive tie-in marketing and development features with the newly launched PlayStation 4.
The 3DS released in February of 2011. It sold 13.95 million in 2012, and Nintendo revised the 3DS’s projected sales down to 13.5 million from 18 million. If anything, the company’s new sales forecasts do nothing more than take the 3DS down from the “holy cow this is some hot flapjack shit going on” range to “well, this is still doing pretty good” territory.
Unfortunately, Nintendo doesn’t only deal in 3DS sales. There’s also the big, white, dual-screen home console elephant in the room: the Wii U, which even anecdotally isn’t selling very well. How many of your friends do you know own a Wii U? And how many of those play it regularly? Exactly.
In this set of revisions, Nintendo reduced their Wii U projects from 9 million units to 2.8 million. For comparison, the Wii is similarly projected to sell 1.2 million (another downgrade from 2 million). That’s a significant drop, and more importantly, makes it easy to contrast success with treading water.
The most telling figure is second year holiday sales. Every console takes a huge bump in the second year. Well, almost every console. Two notable exceptions are the Gamecube in 2002 when it went down 344,000 units (in the same year, the original Xbox went up 96,000) and the Dreamcast in 2000 when it went down 620,000 units.
Now the Wii U isn’t doing as terrible as those two historical train wrecks, but it is doing quite poorly. If you look at the November second year numbers, the Wii U dropped 210,000 units, which puts it in company with the Gamecube, Xbox, and Dreamcast, even though its second year holiday sales look to be about the same as its first year.
Henry Gilbert over at GamesRadar made a good point back in August. The Wii U mirrors the Gamecube in a number of significant ways: low console sales bolstered by handheld sales, handheld sales boosted by a Pokémon title, and a roster of impressive exclusives. But how is this not bad news? Well, think about the Gamecube now. For one, it gave us The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and many more amazing games.
And more importantly, it adds evidence to the pile of things that proves that the industry moves in waves. Nintendo used to be the big dog, but then Sony came along with the PS2. Then Microsoft’s Xbox. And then Nintendo struck back with the Wii. And now we have a new generation to discover how it will all shake out.
Someone will always be on the ropes. That’s just how business works. Leisure-based consumerism is largely a zero sum game where one company getting money is just as good as taking it away from another. They are constantly fighting for your money and someone is always losing, just as someone is always losing. This is obviously bad news for Nintendo as they are currently the ones falling behind, but it’s not bad news for their existence. At least not yet anyways. It does all hinge on Nintendo pulling its own weight.
But I mean, jeez, it’s not like they’re Ouya.