We will always have a soft spot for the Wii U, but there's no denying that thing was a commercial dud. Available for over four years, Wii U sold just 13.56 million units, making it one of the biggest flops in Nintendo's history.
To say Nintendo Switch has turned things around is an understatement, and Nintendo's latest financial results just underlined this, revealing that 7.63m Switch units have now been sold and that Nintendo expects to sell 14m total by the end of the fiscal year.
14m isn't much for the lifetime of a console, but it's a fantastic amount to sell in a single year. The PlayStation 4, which is widely considered to be dominating this round of the illusive 'console war', sold 14.4m in its first year on the market. Xbox One managed around 10m.
Nobody really expected this, but in hindsight there are a multitude of reasons why Nintendo Switch looks set to outsell Wii U within a single year. Let's take a look.
1. Handheld and tabletop mode
Nintendo's latest financial report revealed something that will have come as no surprise to Nintendo Switch owners: people have really embraced the console's portability. Switch famously sits in a dock to pipe video to the TV, but still plays exactly the same when you take it out of the dock and roam around the house, to work, to school, etc.
According to Nintendo's figures, around 30% of players play in portable mode primarily, with less than 20% using the system primarily on the TV. The remaining chunk use both modes, meaning that over 80% of people have used the portable mode. Given that the Wii U struggled to get its ideas across to consumers, some of whom initially thought it was just an add-on for the original Wii, it seems fair to say Nintendo nailed this aspect of the Switch.
Another interesting aspect of Nintendo's financials is the note that Switch has most penetration among 20-35 year olds. That's the sort of age range of gamers who grew up with Nintendo consoles - either the NES, SNES or N64 - and probably feel a strong sense of nostalgia for Nintendo products. They are also a group of very active people, likely to be on the move constantly, and while previously they would have needed to look to portables like the 3DS for a Nintendo fix, the Switch may be offering a better hit.
Certainly speaking anecdotally, the older members of our team love the Switch because the portability allows it to fit beautifully around our lifestyles. Whether we have kids who hog the TV, work that requires travel, or small moments of the day that were previously unsuitable for proper console games, the Switch fits well into those gaps. Whereas PS4 and Xbox One just feel like more powerful versions of what we've always had, Nintendo Switch feels like a console truly designed for modern living.
2. Regular game releases
Of course, it's no use having a great console if there's nothing to play on it, but so far Nintendo has been as good as its word about keeping up a regular cadence of new releases. Launch brought us The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a huge game that easily consumed entire weeks of play, as well as 1-2 Switch for social play, and a number of other curios and fun titles.
By the time April rolled around, we were hooked on the Switch and even though Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a retread, we couldn't resist. Of course, given the Wii U's weak sales, a large number of Switch owners probably never played it in the first place. Either way, it's one of the best Mario Kart games Nintendo's ever made, and the perfect game for the Switch format.
June and July saw ARMS and Splatoon 2 hit the streets. ARMS proved very moreish for people who bought into its charms, while Splatoon 2 was a fantastic iteration on Nintendo's best new IP for some time. Both games have received regular infusions of new content since launch, too, and while they're not tentpole titles in the way Mario or Zelda would be, they were exactly the sort of things curious and engaged Switch owners were happy to try.
Then in August we had the hilarious crossover title Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a turn-based strategy game uniting Nintendo and Ubisoft's mascots. Again, Switch owners were happy to dabble, because nothing fits into day-to-day gaming life like the Switch, and the fact Ubisoft's development team hit this one out of the park certainly helped.
And then, in the last few days, we've welcomed Super Mario Odyssey into our lives. By all accounts Nintendo's latest Mario game is a masterpiece worthy of its new console, and sales have been explosive, with more than two million copies sold in just three days. That means a huge percentage of Switch owners are still actively using the console and buying new games, and we'd expect that sales figure to balloon by the holidays.
Speaking of which, Nintendo has some big Breath of the Wild DLC and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 out before the end of what has been a well-stocked first calendar year for the Switch. Between the form factor and the software line-up, Nintendo has delivered on its plan.
3. Tons of indie games
Nintendo has always been an odd home to indie titles. Whereas Sony and Microsoft often court fashionable titles and make things as simple as possible for them, Nintendo doesn't have the same reputation as an easy partner. Evidently that's changing with the Switch, because even in the early days we had a ton of great indie titles on Switch, from Snipperclips and Slime-san to the ubiquitous Shovel Knight and Cave Story. More recent releases like Golf Story have added to the feeling that Switch is an indie-friendly console and a good place to find and play indie games.
4. The promise of things to come
We didn't need that much more convincing, but looking further down the Nintendo Switch roadmap reveals plenty of reasons to color us interested. Nintendo has already shown footage of Kirby: Star Allies and a new Fire Emblem, and we also know that a new Metroid Prime game is in development.
There's also - whisper it - growing third-party support. Bethesda Softworks has emerged as an unlikely ally in the early days of Switch, producing a port of Skyrim that is likely to keep us warm during the winter months and even bringing Doom across before the end of the year. While some third parties have flattered to deceive (EA's port of FIFA 18 was a little disappointing, for instance, lacking some key Ultimate Team features), there always seem to be more lining up. Heck, even Rockstar has gotten involved, adding a Nintendo Switch version of L.A. Noire to its list of upcoming ports. If you had told us midway through the Wii U lifecycle that there would be a Rockstar game on Nintendo's next console within nine months, we would have made all sorts of faces.
We also still don't have Virtual Console, Nintendo's digital retro game release system. There have been a few retro releases on Switch, sure, including some rather good Neo Geo AES games, but we expect Nintendo's own titles to start filtering through sometime in the future. We've bought a bunch of these games multiple times in the past, of course, but as the demand for things like the NES and SNES Classic Editions shows, the appetite for classic Nintendo titles in new forms knows no end. We can certainly think of a bunch of N64, GameCube and, yes, Wii U games we'd love to play on Switch, and with any luck the Virtual Console will give us that chance.
5. Killer applications
Finally, it would feel remiss not to explicitly state something about Nintendo Switch.
Back in the day, console games media always used to talk about "killer applications", games that would sell consoles on their own. Think Mario, Halo or Grand Theft Auto. If you had these, your machine would fly off the shelves. If you didn't, the argument was a bit weaker. The logic seems to have shifted over the years - you could easily argue that PS4 had no killer apps when it launched, for instance - but it still remains true that some games are system sellers.
The Nintendo Switch clearly had a killer app from day one. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a watershed moment for Nintendo's famous RPG series, but it was also a stunning evolution of the open-world action genre, iterating on ideas and presenting new ones that fit series and concept like a glove. It remains one of the best games - if not the absolute best game - of 2017, and it was the reason we fell in love with the Switch.
And now the Switch seems to have two. Reviews of Super Mario Odyssey have been unanimously gushing. Nintendo seems to have done it again.
Whether it can keep up this fantastic momentum throughout 2018 remains to be seen, but if and when Switch surpasses Wii U's sales in the next few months, it will have been because every part of Nintendo pulled together in unison and played a blinder. Long may it continue.Load Comments