Analysis: Can Nintendo turn Wii U sales around this Christmas

Sales of Nintendo’s Wii U have been well below even the bleakest of expectations.

The latest financial report from the platform holders says that, across Europe, Wii U has sold a lowly 10,000 consoles. And so it comes as no surprise that the likes of Morrisons and Asda have decided to cease stocking the machine.

The biggest flaw for Wii U has been in its software. Third-party support has been lacklustre, and has so far largely consisted of games that were previously available on rival formats months before Wii U was even released.

Meanwhile, the three main launch titles have failed to resonate with consumers. Nintendo Land was viewed as just another party game compilations, despite Nintendo’s efforts to establish it as the next Wii Sports.

ZombiU’s adult nature meant the game did not appeal to Nintendo’s traditional family audience. Also as a shooter, it was in direct competition with bigger brands on Xbox 360 and PS3, such as Halo and Call of Duty.

Finally, New Super Mario Bros U performed below its expectations. The first two New Super Mario Bros games on DS and Wii have sold a combined 56.5 million games around the world, a truly astonishing figure. However, the 3DS and Wii U versions together have sold just 8.5 million copies. The diminishing returns of this franchise suggests Nintendo may want to retire the series for the time being, especially as last year’s game was the fourth New Super Mario Bros game in the last six years.

In its first seven months on sale, Wii U has sold just 3.61m consoles and 14.44m games (an attach rate of four games to every console, which suggests Wii U has obtained a loyal following that’s willing to buy games). That hardware number is a hugely disappointing figure. But Nintendo believes it can turn things around this Christmas by releasing games based on its biggest IP and by increasing its marketing efforts.

We take a look at these games and analyse, based on historical data, whether Nintendo is right to feel it can improve Wii U’s performance.

Pikmin 3 – Out Now

The critically acclaimed Pikmin was created by Shigeru Miyamoto and is a cult favourite amongst Nintendo fans. However, the series is not a big seller, at least by Nintendo standards. The original Pikmin (including the Wii re-release) has sold 1.25m games around the world, while its sequel Pikmin 2 only fared slightly better.

Pikmin 3 has received plenty of critical acclaim, and its early performance in the charts has been decent. The game has also been marketed well and the series certainly has untapped potential. However, Nintendo should not been relying on this game to turn around the console’s sales.

Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze – Winter 2013

Historically, Donkey Kong Country is amongst Nintendo’s biggest selling franchises. The original 1994 SNES game was a big success for its time, with 9m games sold around the world.

The franchise never quite hit those heights again, although the 2010 revival – Donkey Kong Country Returns – did go on to sell 5m units in just over three months around the world. Hardly Wii Fit or Mario Kart Wii numbers, but impressive nonetheless.

Tropical Freeze is likely to form part of the conversation amongst consumers tempted to pick Wii U up, but it is unlikely to be a system seller in its own right.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD – October 2013

Listing a HD remake as a reason to buy a console may seem like a move of desperation. But Wind Waker has many things going for it.

For starters, despite being a critical darling and a cult Nintendo game, the original Wind Waker sold below what is expected of a Zelda game (4.6m units around the world). This was primarily due to the fact it was released on GameCube, which had a very low install base (just over 1m in the UK). Therefore there are many Zelda and Nintendo fans that have not played this game.

Wind Waker also looks dramatically different in HD, which may attract some of those 4.6m gamers that enjoyed the original.

Yet, as this is a remake and not a new Zelda game. It is unlikely Wind Waker HD will be a compelling reason on its own to buy a Wii U.

Super Mario 3D World – December 2013

This is Nintendo’s biggest Q4 game for Wii U, and for good reason. The 3DS original –Super Mario 3D Land – is the best selling 3DS game in the world. In the UK, it has sold over half a million copies and worldwide it has shifted 8.3m games.

Some critics have bemoaned the game’s lack of ambition, with fans calling for something more akin to Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy series. Yet, the Galaxy series (which consisted of two Wii games) has not quite had the commercial success to match its critical acclaim. Super Mario Galaxy 2 sold just under 7m units. Not a bad figure by any means, but below what was achieved by Super Mario 3D Land.

3D Land, with its fixed camera but three-dimensional gameplay, has managed to merge the gameplay styles of Galaxy with the New Super Mario Bros series, which is perhaps why it has had a broader appeal. It was also a critical success with a 90 Metacritic score.

Super Mario 3D World is by far Nintendo’s most important Wii U game this Christmas, and if it lives up to its original, should persuade many consumers to pick up the console.

Wii Fit U and Wii Party U – Q4 2013

Nintendo is also trying to broaden its audience this Christmas with two more casual-orientated titles. Wii Party U is the sequel to the 8m-selling Wii Party. But the real potential seller is Wii Fit U. The first two Wii Fit games have sold a combined 43.5m games worldwide (Wii Fit: 22.67m, Wii Fit Plus: 20.88m), so hopes are understandably high for this new game.

However, it’s not clear if that Wii Fit audience still exists. Mainstream gamers that this franchise appealed too are not as brand loyal as core fans, and the fitness genre has been in significant decline since Wii Fit first hit the headlines back in 2008.

Both Wii Fit U and Wii Party U may be successful over the festive period, but it is unlikely they will have quite the same impact on Wii U as they did on Wii.

Sonic and third-party

Out of the few third party titles coming to Wii U this Christmas, it is the more family friendly products that will likely perform best. Disney Infinity, Just Dance 2014 and Skylanders should do ok, but it is the Sonic franchise that holds the most potential.

Wii U is getting two exclusive Sonic games this Christmas – Sonic: Lost World and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The Sonic series isn’t as strong as it once was, but the character is still a gaming icon, and the existence of these two games should help sell a few Wii U consoles during Q4.

Better Marketing

A better marketing campaign is going to be crucial if Nintendo wants to turn Wii U around. Nintendo had tried previously to position Wii U as a core gaming device. But that is unlikely to work this Christmas faced with big competition from Sony and Microsoft.

Nintendo must be aggressive in its marketing messages, promoting all of its big franchises, whilst also advertising Wii U as a proper alternative to PS4 and Xbox One. A more affordable, family friendly alternative with new Mario, Sonic, Zelda and Donkey Kong games to play.

The marketing campaign must also do a better job of explaining what Wii U is and why it is different to Wii, as well.

The noises coming out of Nintendo Japan, plus MCV’s brief conversations with the Nintendo UK team, suggests we won’t be disappointed in this area.

Should Wii U have a price cut?

Getting the price right on console hardware can prove crucial when trying to reach the mass-market. But price discounting is not effective without decent software to back it up.

When Nintendo heavily cut the 3DS in price back in 2011, just six months after launch, sales did pick up. However, it wasn’t until the release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 that sales improved drastically.

Meanwhile, when Asda cut the price of Wii U by 100 three weeks ago, this resulted in just 250 extra console sales compared with the week previously. Amazon followed suit the following week, which caused a further 667 console sales. This shows that the price cut did have an impact, but we’re hardly talking big increases here.

"When Asda cut the price of Wii U by 100,

it only resulted in an extra 250 sales."

There’s no use in cutting the Wii U price until Nintendo fixes the software problem. Price cuts early in a console lifespan can also impact consumer confidence in a product, while frustrating those gamers that did buy the machine in the first place.

Also, Iwata must be focused on returning Nintendo to long-term profitability, and cutting the hardware price so early will have a detrimental impact on the company’s bottom line.

The solution this Christmas may be to adopt the bundling method that worked well on 3DS. Bundling the Wii U with the likes of Zelda, Donkey Kong or Mario will offer consumer’s value, without damaging the console’s RRP.


Can Wii U turn itself around this Christmas? It’s not going to be easy. The software line-up for Q4 is decent, with Super Mario 3D World the biggest blockbuster. But it would have been better if Nintendo had another game to support it, such as Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Brothers. Both game that are slated for 2014.

The news that Asda and Morrisons have dropped Wii U support is also worrying. There are a lot of products for games retailers to stock this Christmas – from Skylanders toys to Xbox One consoles. This may mean more retailers will drop Wii U in favour of better performing products.

"Nintendo could use PS4 and Xbox One

excitement to its advantage."

Then there’s the launch of noisy rivals in PS4 and Xbox One.

However, these consoles should also generate excitement and attention towards the games sector as a whole, something Nintendo should try and capitalise on. And if Nintendo can keep retailers on-board (and based on MCV’s conversations with retail, there is still goodwill towards the company), improve its marketing and run some clever bundle campaigns, then there’s every chance Wii U’s sales will improve significantly over the festive period.

Whether Nintendo can maintain momentum beyond that period is another matter entirely.

Market data courtesy of Nintendo’s own financial reports and GfK Chart-Track.

About MCV Staff

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