Wii U sales data – not as impressive as Nintendo’s press release would have you believe

13 mins read
Analysing Nintendo’s recent Press Release from a certain perspective makes it seem that there is something funny up with the reported sales figures. 

It has barely been over 40 days since Nintendo dropped their hot new home console, Wii U, on the market and the madness of the holiday rush has finally come to an end. As usual, gaming consoles went flying off store shelves from top retailers, with Wii U obviously being one of them.

However it was only a few days after its launch that we started hearing talk about Wii U consoles sitting on store shelves – something that’s not typical for a newly released home console – and sales data has been all but non-existent ever since. In fact, I myself saw around ten Premium Wii U units sitting on a shelf in Toys”R”Us (Twitter image) in my local area around noon on Black Friday and I live in the largest city on the Gulf Coast. This was a store that had been open since 8PM the previous evening and had lines wrapped around the building beforehand – shouldn’t these units have been sold minutes after the doors opened?

Since then, sales data has been scarce, only with Nintendo of America’s president, Reggie Fils-Aime, telling CNET that, “the Wii U topped the Wii with 400,000 units sold” after its first week on the market and a January 3rd article at GameSpot that offered a statement from a Sterne Agee analyst, which read: “Wii U availability at GameStop continues to be ‘abundant.’”
That is, until Nintendo’s recent excited Press Release on just this topic that can be found unedited through this jump (thanks to Gamasutra): Nintendo’s December 2012 Hardware Sales Press Release.


Let’s just state the obvious here: businessmen are salesman for their company and it is their job to sell their products. Before I start, I’m not in any way accusing Nintendo of making false statements, because what it has stated here is indeed true by law. What has happened it Nintendo has used creative plays on words to make something that’s not exactly great sound much better than it really is and by looking deeper within, we find that the news that sounds so exciting actually isn’t really all that exciting for the Wii U.    

“With more than 460,000 units sold in December, Wii U has now sold nearly 890,000 units in the United States after only 41 days on the market, according to the NPD Group. To date, Wii U hardware sales have generated more than $300 million in the U.S. alone; Wii hardware had generated just more than $270 million at the same point in its lifecycle.”

If we go back to the Wii’s 2006 release, it sold 600,000 units in its first week alone in the North America. Thereafter, it was in such high demand all throughout 2006 and 2007 that it wasn’t uncommon to find long lines at major retailers when shipments were being expected. There were evenreports that the widespread unavailability of the Wii was costing Nintendo upwards of a billion dollars in missed (not lost) revenue –Wii U revenue in the release doesn’t reflect this image at all, instead it only reflects (but doesn’t state) that the Wii U cost $50-$100 more than the Wii at launch – both consoles sold out in their first week. It’s also worth noting that Nintendo loses money on each Wii U console sold, where it made a profit on each Wii console sold at launch, so that revenue number is impressive only on paper.

As mentioned before, 41 days into Wii’s release, you could not find a Wii anywhere in North America, unless a store had just received an unexpected shipment within minutes of your arrival, or you stood in a long line awaiting an expected shipment at a retailer – the revenue comparison between Wii and Wii U is accurate by the numbers, but had the Wii had more availability, there is no doubt that it would have crushed Wii U’s current revenue data.

“While the Wii launch established new benchmarks in the United States, Wii U has surpassed its predecessor in perhaps the most important category: revenue generation,” said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of Sales & Marketing. “The demand for the Deluxe SKU, which was essentially sold out at retail this holiday, and the strong attach rate of New Super Mario Bros. U, shows that we have the value and the games to drive momentum in 2013. We look forward to offering great new experiences and bringing smiles to millions of new faces throughout the year.”

I just stated this, but the claim to “new benchmarks” is only by raw numbers. Nintendo has brought in more revenue by the higher cost of the Wii U. This does not account for the unavailability of the Wii during the same time period and it also does not look like it is accounting for the loss in profit that comes with each Wii U console sold. Again, raw data that is not fully taken into perspective can be made to look different than it is when creatively put into words. Another example of just this in this release is the use of the word ‘essentially’ when Moffitt stated: “The demand for the Deluxe SKU, which was essentially sold out at retail this holiday,” does not mean that it was actually “sold out” – does it? In fact, we know that it was not “sold out,” because I saw around ten Premium Bundles sitting on a store’s shelf with my own eyes.  

“Nintendo sold more than 2.65 million hardware units in the United States in the month of December. 2012 marked the 11th consecutive year that Nintendo has sold at least 8 million hardware units in the U.S. Other Nintendo sales milestones achieved in December 2012 and beyond that time frame,”

This is where things do get exciting though, because Nintendo did have a great holiday sales period. The 3DS continues selling extremely well with its lower price point, shifting a massive 1.2 million units in December and now reaching 7.7 million units sold worldwide, and the Wii sold 475,000 units in December, putting its total worldwide console sells up to a whopping 40.8 million. Even Nintendo’s DS continues to sell, moving 470,000 units within this same time period – bringing its worldwide sells up to 53 million units to date.
There’s no doubt that Nintendo is a brand that is well-trusted and loved, but analysing these numbers in the release backwards tells a tale much differently for the Wii U. During this time period, the eight year old DS sold 470,000 units, the six year old Wii sold 475,000 units, and the (nearly) two year old 3DS shifted a massive 1.2 million units. The brand new Wii U, Nintendo’s hottest piece of hardware, only shifted 460,000 units during this time same time period – even the Wii U’s 41 day total of 890,000 units doesn’t match the 1.2 million units that the 3DS moved in December alone. When put into this perspective, this release isn’t as cheery as it at first seems to be. If the Wii U was in extreme demand like the Wii was during this same time period, these numbers would likely be completely reasonable – it can only sell as many units as what Nintendo can get to consumers – but today, Wii U units are readily available and the demand is obviously nowhere near what it was with the Wii.

Looking Forward

So, what does all of this mean for Nintendo and the Wii U? It means that now is the time for Nintendo to find a way to drive demand for its console. The 3DS launched after the holiday sales season and it sold 500,000 units in its first month in North America, with 440,000 of those sold in its first week on the market. Of course, sales went right off a cliff thereafter and did not turn around until Nintendo drastically cut the console’s price tag before that year’s holiday shopping season. Wii U launched during the sales rush this past season and the numbers are not drastically different – take into account too that the demand for home consoles is greater than handheld consoles in America.
Just like the raw data does not lie, it also can depict a much larger picture. The Wii U is not off to a great start and we are now in the worst sales season of the year. The current line-up of upcoming Wii U games is good, but there’s nothing that looks to be an absolute “must have” system seller. Monster Hunter 4 might have been just the game for this, but it’s also going to be available on the 3DS (with cross console support) and there’s no doubt that it’ll be a big seller on Nintendo’s portable with its larger install base and cheaper entry point.
Here at Digitally Downloaded, we’re fans of Nintendo’s Wii U and see a ton of potential in the console’s future. While core Nintendo fans are already having a blast with the new console, it still needs to gain mainstream support, which our analysis of these numbers clearly show that it is struggling to do. The time for Nintendo to act is sooner rather than later, because the Wii U is truly a unique system with a ton of potential for millions of gamers all across the world to fall in love with.
What do you think Nintendo needs to do to increase demand for the Wii U? Why isn’t Wii U catching on with mainstream gamers? We want to know, so feel free to discuss your thoughts on the matter(s) in the comments section below. 

This is the bio under which all legacy DigitallyDownloaded.net articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

  • I'm just waiting for world-wide numbers. We know that the Wii U sold better than the Xbox 360 and PS3 at launch, and those launched in a much better economy than the Wii U has (here in the U.S. anyway). As for what Nintendo can do? Again, this is focused on North America/U.S. numbers, I would say a better marketing campaign would help. I did/do think the commercials were pretty bad, and did a terrible job at getting people excited about a "new" product.

    I already commented on another site yesterday, or day before:

    "I don't think it's "negative" really, to state they are spinning the numbers/report. They are just spinning the numbers to a "positive", hoping investors like what they hear/see.
    I own a Wii U (just hopped off of Black Ops 2 actually, about to play some Trine 2), and I don't think the numbers are that bad honestly…especially considering a few things:
    1) The Wii U costs more than the Wii did at launch.
    2) The state of the U.S. economy. Anybody believe the government's numbers on employment? Anybody know friends/family that have lost jobs and are in different jobs now, making less money than they were at the jobs they were making?

    Considering the state of the economy and the higher price, I would say selling nearly a million is pretty good, but not great IF they had the consoles to sell. I saw Wii U units sitting on Target shelves the weekend before Christmas. A Wal-Mart on launch day had the Basic set sitting on the shelf…on launch day, about 4 hours after they had opened.

    Then again, when you look at the 3DS market and the "support" that console has, apparently selling lots of units doesn't really matter to most developers. That being said, I still think NoA's marketing in the U.S. was/is horrendous for the Wii U. Do we know European or Japanese numbers for December yet?"

  • the wii u is garbage so its not doing too well. im waiting for worse results as i dont want garbage products to do well as to pollute the marketplace with more garbage

  • I can assure you that the Wii U is not garbage, regardless on how it's performing in the market place.

    This really isn't the place for fanboy wars – we respect all consoles (and all kinds of gamers) here, so I'd appreciate it if you respected that in the future, thanks!

  • I think you're right regarding the economy being a factor this time around. It's a tough time for anyone trying to sell new luxury goods to the market.

    With regards to developer support – well, look at your own comment above. It's a tough economy and that makes it difficult to take financial risks with development of games. You've got two consoles actively on the market with 50 million + install bases worldwide, so of course that is where you're going to commit the bulk of your development dollars. In the handheld market, you've got two devices on the market with 100 million + install bases, and those devices can run games cross-compatible. It would be very difficult to justify to the business stakeholders spending more development cash on 3DS (let alone Vita) development when the iPad and iPhone are a thing.

    As the economy starts to swing around again you'll see developers and publishers taking more risks with smaller platforms again. Until then… well, Nintendo *has* to support its own platforms, and for most Nintendo fans, that's going to be enough.

  • The other big picture I thought you could have gotten into here is how, as PS3 and 360 are rallying in sales of their consoles, outselling the Wii U in terms of units sold, that the gaming business is still suffering a decline. I actually read about how Sony and Microsoft may be overselling the case for their install bases, when software sales are at a fraction of that number in comparison.

  • Sony and Microsoft tend to "oversell" the case for install bases because they tend to quote units shipped, rather than retail sales. There's a difference, because if a product is shipped to a retailer, but then sits on the shelf for a month, it's a unit shipped, but not a retail sale.

    Game sales per console (Attach rate) is a very important metric, I agree. I believe Sony and Microsoft have fairly healthy attach rates, but I have a vague impression that I read a month or so ago that the Wii U's attach rate was fairly poor by industry standards. If anyone can clarify numbers that would be appreciated.

    Thanks for the input!

  • Since you can't comment anymore on the n4g:

    To MattS and Chris:

    Thanks! 🙂 I try to be neutral and nonsubjective to my comments. I always try to speak as a software developer and someone who used to want to work in the game industry. Unfortunately some people disagree/ bubble me and other people down without any reasons…

    I agree with both you. Wii U could be a sold out by now if it was lunch at a different period. I believe in the long run, it will be a win for Nintendo. People who bough just a Wii and may want to upgrade in the future may go after WiiU. Until then, these core people will just wait. Plus all these "doom articles" and developers saying that WiiU doesn't have enough power, the lack of memory, may scared people.

    Most people judge WiiU will fail due to lack power, but that is wrong. Personally I believe WiiU has the power needed. I am working with in some "beginners" parallel programming projects at the moment, using CUDA (basically GPGPU computing) and I have to say a GPGPU is really powerful when utilised correctly. I doubt however developers will use it.
    Developers are becoming lazy and the increase costs in making games, means less changes they will re-write code to work natively with consoles. It is no wonder that rumours for both 360 and PS3 show them to have a similar CPU and GPU, with a few minor differences. Developers are familiar with x64 architecture and will go after that. The "Cell fiasco" as I like to call it, showed that devs need time until they will actually begin to using a new architecture efficiently.
    WiiU won't gain 3rd party devs support within the next 1-2 years until they are sure it established a user base to justify extra costs and afterall the Wii was a success from 1st/2nd party studios, same will happen with WiiU in the loooong run.

  • Thank you for dropping by with your extra input – much appreciated!

    It's always good to hear from people with hands on experience developing with these kinds of systems – much easier to understand what you're on about than some of the armchair experts out there 😉

    I agree that it will be quite a long time before there's AAA-grade third party support for the Wii U. The simple reality is that developers and publishers can't justify a major project unless there is a reasonable guarantee that it will sell enough to be profitable. With the cost of AAA-games these days, over 50 per cent of current Wii U owners would need to buy a major Wii U project to turn a profit for the developers. That hit rate doesn't even happen with Nintendo's own games, so of course they're not going to greenlight it. Yet.

  • Haha thanks.

    To be honest I am using GPGPU computing for a pharmaceutical company's data collection and mining software. I always wanted to work in the Game Industry, but the industry is in a bad shape. Plus not enough UK studios with open jobs…

    Yes. As I wrote in my N4G last comment: I hope and I believe in the long run WiiU will sell. I want it to sell as the industry is going worse year by year. Publishers such as THQ, Sierra, etc are closing/ closed down and studios can't bear the costs of developing a game without a major publisher at their backs. We don't need another developer/publisher such as Nintendo failing. It will be bad for us, the consumer.

    Good thing projects such as Steam's Greenlight, Microsoft XNA (it is a joy to program in XNA) help idies, small studio developers lunch games, but still they barely make enough money -expect some cases (call me Minecraft ;)) to be consider a hit, thus more idies developers are going after mobile games for iOS or trying to develop for multiple consoles/PC/Mac. These developers however won't even bother to work on rewriting their code for GPGPU, thus even less support from such studios. Recently I notice more and more people actually buy indies and prefer to rent/ pirate AAA titles… but due to the price of AAA, still publishers make more profit…

  • The attach rate at Game Stop stores for Wii U was said to be low (not sure it was confirmed by GameStop, but instead by an analyst), but as some have stated (and probably rightly so), GameStop didn't have Wii U game deals like Toys R' US, Target, Best Buy, and a few other sites (NewEgg for sure) did in the U.S. for early game deals and pre-orders on Wii U games during the holidays.

  • Hi Athonline,

    Seconding Matt's earlier statement – thanks for stopping by!

    I'll reply to both of your comments in one to keep things simple, but firstly, we very much so think alike. I do think that Wii U will be a success, but I think 2013 is going to be a very critical year for the console. As you've stated, mainstream support from both core/casual gamers will be needed for third parties to invest triple-A budgets into Wii U games. The console has to have a large install base to garner big games, or the risk is simply too great to outweigh the risk taken, especially in this day and age.

    Also, there is so many people getting their hands' wet in the gaming industry now too. Mobile gaming is literally exploding, even if it is deeply flawed. But upstarts like Ouya and Nvidia are also gaining support. Even if they don't catch onto the mainstream, they're still taking focus (and sales) away from the Big Three.

    Now the question of the day is – what does Nintendo do to turn things around for the Wii U?

    It's cool that you know how the Wii U works internally. I recently penned a piece here that breaks down the basic parts/functions of the Wii U to help people gain a better understanding of it, as well as to show that the system holds numerous ways to maximise power:

    Thanks again for stopping by and for your insightful comments. I hope we'll continue to see you around these parts of the Internet. 🙂

  • In reply to both of you guys – New Super Mario Bros. U has shifted 580,000 until, which is a 65% attach rate in the US. That's pretty dang good, when you consider the 3DS has shifted 7.7 million units worldwide and it has a 65% attachment rate with Super Mario 3D Land.

    Nintendo has stated that it only takes one retail Wii U game sold to make the console profitable, so this news is indeed good for Wii U.

  • I do think there are a lot of variables that are keeping the Wii U sales down (as well as Vitas), but that's just a pure fact of being in a business, of any kind. The reason I see these number as negative, isn't anything to do with the Wii U itself, it's that the console is now dipping into the worst shopping season of the year. With the economy worsening (especially with taxes now rising across all classes in the US) the potential for significant Wii U sales increases from now until the 2013 holiday rush are slight. This could potentially lead to a big drop off from third parties with big budget titles and those are the games that can bring in console sales.

    My worries aren't against Nintendo, but actually for Nintendo. I can easily see Wii U truly struggling and their current marketing makes it look like they don't even know what they want the 'face' of Wii U to be. It's obvious that people don't understand what Wii U truly is and the price tag is simple too high for the understanding not to be 100% clear. Of course, I'm speaking about consumers who don't follow daily gaming news.

    I want Wii U to succeed. I want Nintendo to get on the ball and get this thing selling now. That's why this article exist.

  • None of that surprises me. I would expect NintendoLand's attach rate would, if anything, be even better because it was a pack-in with the premium Wii U.

    But you just need to look at MiiVerse to realise that aside from NSMBU and NintendoLand, the attach rate for games is substantially under that. Zombi U had healthy support, but no other game really has. COD, even, would have been one of the highest attach rate games on the other consoles in 2012. It wouldn't be even close to that on Wii U.

    The worry there is those numbers will scare off third parties in the future. It tends to reinforce the belief that the only games that can sell in AAA-numbers is Nintendo's own ones.

    Then again it is early days, and far too early to make definitive calls on the Wii U's future software support!

  • The developer support was more toward the 3DS selling well now, but having very limited support. (I don't own that or a Vita, but I just don't hear a lot about either of them with games much anymore…maybe I miss them?) I mean, is this what will happen when Microsoft and Sony release their next systems? I doubt it, but I do understand deciding where to go and that most likely is based on financial incentives, but I would also think the market numbers would be a big factor as well.

    Another example of a console install base that didn't seem to matter, was the Wii. Huge install base, very few quality console exclusives from third parties it seems.

    As for the iPad and iPhone, while that market is huge, I don't see many games breaking out with huge numbers in that market either. It does seem to be a place to get a few thousand (under 100,000K usually) downloads, and a small stream of income from trickle sales, but even developers (ones I know in our area, and ones from interviews) find that market very interesting/odd.

  • "The worry there is those numbers will scare off third parties in the future. It tends to reinforce the belief that the only games that can sell in AAA-numbers is Nintendo's own ones."

    Which is why I was glad to see NoJ and NoE do Wii U bundles with third party software at launch. Not NoA though, NOOOOOO. I wouldn't doubt seeing the next Microsoft console launching bundled with the COD title, which makes 100% sense to me on that front with their Xbox Live subscription charges…dangling a big carrot to get subscribers early.

    Chris I.

    On the "Nintendo has stated that it only takes one retail Wii U game sold to make the console profitable, so this news is indeed good for Wii U.", I think Reggie waffled on that in a later interview, and wouldn't specify exactly how many.

  • I have to say Chris, I currently am reading some of your articles ent and indeed we think much alike!

    Agree, the big three will have trouble attracting core audience, but then again if the invest to much into them they may loose mainstream/hardcore gamers.

    I read your article about WiiU breakdown. Will comment over there. Good read however! 🙂

    Yep you will! 🙂

  • I'm glad you're enjoying. We're striving to be something different here at Digitally Downloaded. We enjoy sparking conversations that aren't triggered by a bias and our work (even it seems controversial at first sometimes) is there to inform and hopefully change the gaming industry for the better.

    I do agree with you that they definitely don't need to push too hard to grab the casual, which is all I've seen from commercial wise lately. I do, however, think they need to grasp the mainstream gamers more so. They did a great thing ensuring that Black Ops II would be on the Wii U very quickly and they've got to make sure that major upcoming titles from third parties (e.g. BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, etc.) are also available on the Wii U.

    Wii U's architecture is so similar to that of Microsoft's Xbox 360 – I don't see why third parties wouldn't want to port their games to Wii U. The last I've seen is that the system has (likely) pushed over the 2 million threshold worldwide – that's a small install base, but if you're game is good enough, you'll likely get a 60+ percent attachment rate.

    It's going to start selling, that's something that I fully believe. I think it will need a price cut (or hard drive upgrade) beforehand to really get the ball rolling, but it is going to sell well.

  • I can't see any third party game getting a 60 per cent attach rate. That is a unbelievably massive percentage – almost no game achieves that (even the likes of Skyward Sword on the Wii doesn't come close).

    And if you consider an attach rate of, say, 10 per cent (which would be 5 million for a 50 million console, for instance, and that is also a rarity), a global instal base of 2 million yeilds 200,000 copies. Not terrible numbers for a cheap port, but hard to justify much more than that.

  • Yeah, I did see that too. From breakdowns that I'd previously saw though, I don't think their loss per system is too great. Aside from the Wii U's GPGPU, the internal components are all quite cheap to mass produce.

    But I do absolutely agree with you about the third party bundles for the Wii U! The Zombie U bundle looked absolutely awesome and I think it would've been a much more attractive to the "mainstream" gamers that I've been talking about, than the standard Wii U bundles. Heck, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified bundles for PS Vita hiked up its sales over the holidays and that game is pathetic!

  • Oh man – the 3DS XL is awesome! Resident Evil: Revelations, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and Super Mario 3D Land alone are worth the system's cost. But with Etrian Odyssey 4 and Fire Emblem: Awakening on the horizon – it's definitely the handheld console to own!

    Here's an idea of how well it's possible to sell games in the mobile gaming industry: Rovio (developer of Angry Birds, Amazing Alex and Bad Piggies) now has 260 million "active" players. Over the holiday shopping season, they shifted 8 million units of their games. There's a reason why they continue to do so well – they're constantly updating their games with massive improvements/new stuff. Even the original Angry Birds that I paid $0.99 for long ago – it still is getting new stuff!

    Smart developers are making a lot of money on the mobile gaming front. Rovio isn't just a brilliant "mobile developer," they're one of the best game developers in the world. There're are a lot of high-end mobile developers that are doing very well nowadays too, but like you've stated, it's an interesting/odd market and it's got a lot of growing up to do.

    Mobile games shifting onto gaming devices is something that need to become mainstream. PS Mobile is a great start, but it needs a full shift IMO.

  • I was thinking more along the lines of a major triple-A third party titles with a massive budget as a system exclusive. But, like you said, even with only a 2 million install base, that number is probably really high, sadly.

  • Ah yes, the marketing spin. When I saw that Nintendo was comparing total revenue this time I couldn't help but think it was kind of cute. Like they are trying so hard to be loved. (Nintendo is certainly not alone here)

    This Scott Moffit guy though hasn't really connected with me yet. I mean Iwata, Reggie, of course Miyamoto heck even the shadow patriarch Yamauchi all project a certain type of charisma. I enjoy watching or reading what they have to say (Reggie pushes it sometimes though). With Moffit I feel like NOA is trying too hard to establish him as some kind of personality. "It" just doesn't work if you try to manufacture it.

    Anyways, that doesn't have anything to do with your article. Here are a couple points that I think were mis-typed however:

    "The 3DS continues selling extremely well with its lower price point, shifting a massive 1.2 million units in December and now reaching 7.7 million units sold worldwide, and the Wii sold 475,000 units in December, putting its total worldwide console sells up to a whopping 40.8 million."

    I think those are strictly U.S. numbers and not worldwide?

    "Monster Hunter 4 might have been just the game for this, but it’s also going to be available on the 3DS"

    This should be Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate?

    Thanks for the article, Chris. Puts a light on a point that deserves some attention i.e. take press releases with a grain of salt.

  • DS and Wii absolute sales ultimately failed to shake the perception that Nintendo platforms cater to core Nintendo consumers and the mass market.
    As a gamer who would love to see publishers (especially western companies) take more chances on a cool platform like the 3DS with their talented teams it makes me want to shake my fist at my computer monitor.
    Taking an objective step back however, I have to conclude that the data all the big publishers are privy to must form a compelling argument for not taking the risk. These big companies are generally super risk averse after all, and that is not going to change any time soon…plus they have the added burden of meeting shareholder expectations i.e. break-even as well as somewhat-profitable titles by and large are not going to cut it with them.
    The good news for 3Ds owners is that the system is bustin' gangs over in Japan and looks well on its way to establishing itself as the overall handheld core platform of choice worldwide. Which means the audience seems to be there for a) plenty of content from Japanese developers (thank all the Gawds for companies like Atlus and Xseed in this case) and b) indies and smaller teams who prefer to target a concentrated base of core gamers.

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