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The Wii U launch by the numbers Exclusive
The Wii U launch by the numbers
December 12, 2012 | By Matt Matthews

December 12, 2012 | By Matt Matthews
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

When Microsoft's Xbox 360 launched in November 2005, the industry's leading U.S. console was having a good year: PlayStation 2 hardware sales in 2005 -- its fifth year on store shelves -- were 18 percent higher than the 2004 total.

That wasn't the peak for the PlayStation 2, but it was a sign of market resilience. I believe the weaker 2004 sales can be put down to Sony's uneven transition from the original PlayStation 2 system to the revised PS2 Slim model.

Regardless, the PlayStation 2 was a rock of stability in a market making the transition to the first generation of HD consoles. In that year alone God of War, Gran Turismo 4, Guitar Hero, and Shadow of the Colossus were all released for the PS2.

At this moment, as the market makes its latest generational transition, the previous generation's market leader has not proved as stable a foundation. Nintendo's Wii was a huge moneymaker from 2006 to 2009, but then saw a very rapid contraction from nearly 10 million units per year in 2009 to well under 5 million units per year in 2011. And outside of an acclaimed title like Xenoblade Chronicles, a title sold new at a single retail chain in the U.S., what has been released in the past year that people will remember as a classic Nintendo Wii title for years to come?

But it isn't just Nintendo's Wii that's been on the way down. No single system has seen better hardware sales in 2012 than it did in 2011. So far this year, Microsoft's Xbox 360 is down nearly 30% and Sony's PlayStation 3 is down over 22%.

It's into this reality that Nintendo launched its latest console, the Wii U. As its predecessor did six years ago, the new system has taken its first tentative step down what we can surmise will be at least a five year life on the market.

How did its hardware sales do in the first month? How much software did it shift? What was its total contribution to the wounded U.S. retail video game market? I'll answer these questions and give the gritty details below.

Hardware: A Good Start

According to an official press release from Nintendo, its brand new console sold 425,000 units during the week from 18 November to 24 November 2012, based on data from the NPD Group, the largest retail tracking firm in the United States. That week was the last of the November period in the U.S. retail calendar, ending with the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday and Black Friday.

Previously, the company had announced sales of roughly 400,000 units during the week of Thanksgiving, based on its own internal tracking data.

How well does that launch stack up against the precedents set by previous consoles? Going back to 2000 and the launch of Sony's PlayStation 2, the launch month sales for each major console are given in the table below. (Click for a larger version in a new window/tab.)

Because each system was available for a different amount of time in its launch month, I've included an average systems per day figure to try to make the comparisons a bit more direct. However, there is no way to account for all of the factors affecting a launch, like supply shortages, so the comparison shouldn't be taken as an absolute metric of success or failure.

Regardless, the data above appears to show that the Wii U had a good start. It wasn't a runaway success, as Sony saw with the launch of the PlayStation 2, but it was better than the original Xbox, the GameCube, and the PlayStation 3. It was in the same ballpark as the Xbox 360 and Nintendo's own Wii.

I stand by my previous comments that the Wii U should hit right around a million units in the U.S. by the end of this year, if it maintains the sales velocity that it had out of the gate. Because of the timing of the retail calendar, there is a longer-than-usual run up to Christmas in the December period, and that will give Nintendo plenty of time to resupply stores. (A local retailer informed me that they had received four additional shipments of Wii U systems since launch, and they continued to sell out as the new systems arrived.)

One quirk of the launch that is worth noting is that the Deluxe model of the Wii U, which retails for $350, was more popular with consumers than the $300 Basic model. According to data provided to me by the NPD Group, the average price across all Wii U systems sold in November was $338. That means that the Deluxe outsold the Basic by a 3 to 1 ratio.

That's particularly interesting because on older systems, it is invariably the cheapest or middle-tier model that is preferred by consumers. For example, during November the Xbox 360 averaged $227 per system while the PlayStation 3 sold for approximately $238. That means that Microsoft and Sony moved a great number of heavily-discounted or software-bundled systems, and fewer consumers opted for the more expensive models.

I'm unsure how Wii U sales will balance out during the coming months. At least through January, I believe the Deluxe bundle will remain dominant. But as the early-adopter market gets tapped out, the remaining population of potential consumers could turn out to be much more price-sensitive. One has to look no further than the launches this year of the Nintendo 3DS XL and the Sony PlayStation Vita to see this effect.

On the other hand, just on paper, the Deluxe model is much more appealing, since it includes a game and four times the hard drive storage as the Basic. I've often said that consumers buy according to perceived value, and this is likely the case with the Wii U, for now. Perhaps the Basic set will turn out to be the 20GB PlayStation 3 of Wii U configurations.

And, as has been happening with the Nintendo DS and 3DS for well over a year now, Nintendo will continue to fight for sales against its own legacy system, the Wii. Despite its age, the Wii still represents a tremendous value for the consumer who merely wants entertainment for a low price.

For example, the average price for the Wii in November, at $108, was well under one third of the price of the Deluxe Wii U set. For just $150, Nintendo and Activision were offering the only Skylanders Giants hardware bundle that I'm aware of in the U.S. And just about every used software shop is packed to the gills with hit games from the heyday of the system: New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario Galaxy, several iterations of Guitar Hero, and dozens of other titles.

Speaking of Software...

Fortunately for consumers, they can still buy Wii games and play them with the Wii U. But the new Nintendo console is the first to feature $60 new releases, like Call of Duty and Nintendo Land, and you can bet that third parties and Nintendo itself would prefer consumers invest in the more expensive software.

According to Nintendo, citing NPD Group data, the flagship New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U sold 243,000 units during November. However, Longbow Research's James Hardiman was quoted by GamesIndustry International as saying that the Wii U tie ratio was around 1.2 units of software per system.

That would put total software sold at just over 500,000 units and around 270,000 units across the other twenty eight launch titles.

I think I can provide a little historical context with the table below. (Click for a larger version in a new window/tab.)

As the figures above show, the half million units of software for the Wii U appears to be around half the volume that the original Wii moved at launch. And that figure for the Wii does not, I believe, include the pack-in Wii Sports.

In a note sent to me earlier this week, Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities told me that if you add in the copy of Nintendo Land software bundled with the Deluxe Wii U set, the tie ratio for the system came out to 2 titles per system.

That is, if I've got my estimates right, the Wii U launch software count only gets close to a million if you count the copies of Nintendo Land bundled with the Deluxe set while the Wii got a million at launch without counting the bundled Wii Sports.

At least part of this difference has to come down to just raw dollars. At launch, a consumer could buy a Wii (with Wii Sports) and another game for $300. Out of the gate, the base Wii U system is $300, and that model doesn't include Nintendo Land. And any consumer who picks up the $350 model is at least tempted to be happy with Nintendo Land and old Wii games until used software begins to show up in GameStop.

This first step for the Wii U is clearly disappointing to analysts. Michael Pachter called the software sales "abysmal". Cowen and Company's Doug Creutz said that Wii U software dollar sales came in at half his company's initial estimate. Personally, given what happened with the Wii, where software sales picked up to an absolutely torrid pace a little over a year into the system's life, I'm willing to wait a bit longer.

In mathematical terms, this is just the initial condition. The dynamics of the market over the next year are simply too difficult to read too far into the future.

Going back to the software sales table above just for a moment, the Xbox 360 launch figures are really astounding. They demonstrate what I believe is Microsoft's success in encouraging its most avid Xbox consumers to upgrade as soon as possible. Perhaps earlier systems like the PlayStation 2 did just as well at launch, but it's difficult to imagine. If and when Microsoft introduces a new dedicated console, I believe they stand a good chance of urging the latest generation of Xbox enthusiasts to repeat that performance.

Can the Wii U Turn the Tide?

Given the figures we have, it now appears that the Nintendo Wii U contributed about $144 million to the hardware total for November and in the neighborhood of $25 million to software, on the assumption that each Wii U software unit averaged $45 to $50, as is has often been true for the other HD consoles.

Out of the $250 million spent on accessories in November, according to the NPD Group, it is difficult to imagine that the Wii U accounted for more than $10 million to $15 million. Unfortunately, accessory data is closely held by the NPD Group and it is unlikely that we'll ever get hard figures.

If my estimates are reasonable, then it appears that the Wii U contributed at most $185 million for the month, or around 7% of the entire market size across all segments. In just software, it was a very small 2% of all sales.

In just one month, a new console cannot alone turn the tide of a market that has been in a slump like the one the U.S. retail video game market has been experiencing for nigh on four years. It is, however, a good first step.

It will take at least six months for the system to substantially build up from the losses in Wii software sales, and this is where Nintendo will need to execute on its stated business plan. As I've pointed out before, Nintendo claims it has learned from the Wii and Nintendo DS will work to provide a steady stream of top-notch first-party and third-party software titles for the Wii U.

I believe Nintendo has a good start for its Wii U in the U.S. and the honeymoon will continue until at least March. Once the launch party is over, the company will have to demonstrate that it has attracted the publisher goodwill and brought its own best products to the table to keep the Wii U and interesting and attractive product for consumers.

Then, and only then, can we say whether the Wii U will help build the industry back up or simply replace what is being lost in the decline of older systems.

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Frank Cifaldi
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WOW, the 360 had a 3.9 tie ratio at launch? That's insane!

R. Hunter Gough
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@Anthony: Looks like CoD2, Madden 06, and NFS were the "killer apps":

Daniel Boutros
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It's been a while. It was crap when it launched remember? Like 1.5 or something.

k s
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As far as tie ratios go I've already got 3 games for my Wii U (Nintendo Land, Assassin's Creed III, and Mighty Switch Force), when I got my 360 I only had one game (Perfect Dark Zero, which was okay) until Oblivion came out.

Harlan Sumgui
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keep us updated on your tie ratio. ;-)

Russell Carroll
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Mighty Switch Force is downloaded, which means it doesn't count into Tie-in ratio.

Notably, this points out the biggest issue comparing the WiiU launch to any previous launch (especially Wii).

You can purchase downloadable games day one, including retail games, but those games are not included in any publicly available numbers.

Chris Hendricks
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Thank you. This article was the most informative I've read of the Wii U's launch yet, and wasn't tainted with an agenda (at least, not that I could see). Well done.

Thom Q
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I agree, informative article.
Although I am now curious for the EU and Japan sales..

Thom Q
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Thanks. Ive been searching for Euro numbers, but the market is so split up between the different countries, its very hard to find...

Andrew Chen
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@CK - Ah, very interesting. Seems to suggest a slightly worse tie ratio out the gate in Japan than in the US (seeing ZombiU's sales and assuming even more massive drop-off for subsequent third party titles). The Monster Hunter figure likely includes the bundles...I would imagine a Monster Hunter fan would be best served to pick up a brand new system with the most value-added package.
I'm waiting to see what the market reaction is to the Dragon Quest bundles, whether many potential customers have been holding off in anticipation of the HD version.
Regardless, I think Wii U is really well-positioned for the Japanese market in particular: Nintendo's own key brands, its early ownership of key third party brands, WiiU's suitability to small spaces, modest economic recovery being the main factors.

Dean Pullen
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Yeah the 360 had a huge tie-in, it was reported widely at the time.

By the way, neither model of the Wii U has a hard drive, the author needs to rectify that in his article. He/she calls it 'hard-drive space'.

Brian Peterson
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Does this include digital sales of retail games on the eShop? If not, my tie ratio will appear to be 1.0 for the entire duration of this system's life.

I'm hoping Nintendo releases some eShop numbers to give us a better idea of how successful they were at pushing digital purchases, especially with the Deluxe version including a 10% back offer for digital game purchases over the next 2 years.

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I have 4 games, all hard-copy. Nintendo Land (Came with system) Assassins Creed III, CoD BLOPS2, and NG III RE. I may get Trine 2, one of the gamers on my list has it, and in order to get the deal with the deluxe system you must first purchase one game from the eShop and then after 24 hours sign up through the website using your Gamer Id.

Thom Q
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Trine 2 multiplayer looked Amazing from what I saw. Tons of fun, its one of the ones ill be getting :)

Joe Zachery
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Thanks for the informative Agenda less article.
Personally I have 8 Wii U games and would have 9. Instead I decided to spend that money on E-Shop games on Wii U and 3DS. The Wii U software situation is a very interesting. Since there are so many factors that have had an affect on it. You can't compare it to the 360 launch because that launch didn't have to deal with those same variables.

For example the 360 launch lineup was of just release games now in HD. Gamers choice to buy the 360 version over XBox/GC/PS2. Since they could see at least a major difference in the games. We all know hardcore gamers care less about innovations like controls. They want to see the difference visually in their next generation games.
This leaves us with the Wii U launch. With most of the games being ports of games that in some cases over a year old. Lazy ports full of glitches and frame rate issues.

The few exclusive 3rd party games in the case of Zombie U has been butchered by reviewers. Even though the game is exactly what Ubisoft promised being a person who do own it. Still if you were thinking about buying it. After seeing that the majority of people saying it's garbage. Are really going to take a chance on a game that cost 60 dollars?

Last but the most important factor is the self sabotage from 3rd parties. Mass Effect 3 on Wii had no chance. Thanks to EA decided to release a cheaper collection of all 3 games on 360/PS3. Why would anyone buy the Wii U version if you already have one of those systems. EA did it again with Madden 13 a port of last year's game for the Wii U. Not the new game that they release this year for the other consoles.

With Black Ops 2 on Wii U they are doing the ground work on building a FPS community. Despite being inferior Call Of Duty games sold over 1 million on the Wii. Those gamers if they still decided too need a chance to upgrade to Wii U. No one should have expected 360/PS3 owners who have been part of those FPS communities for over 5 years. To move over to the Wii U unless if the Wii U version was something totally different. Which it's not even if it has 2 player online on the same console.

With all these factors people are not dumb and they will spend their money wisely. So I totally understand whey the Wii U tie ratio being what it is.

Joe Zachery
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@Jeferson Soler
I agree with everything you said! Just trying to go into detail on some of the issues that going on right now. Some of these sames issues that could have similar affect on the next Xbox/Playstation systems. If they launch with a higher price tag, and minimal graphic improvements. They will also start out slow on the hardware, and software side. Gamers who buy games and systems on day one care about things like that. Nintendo's audience even their die hard fans have never been the type to go and support day one. Nintendo game are known to be evergreen titles.

When I was talking about 3rd parties I was looking at it from the point of view of games who would care about those issues.
Personally I have been a Wii only owner this generation. I had a PS3 but sold it during the Sony Linux removal issue. So even games like Batman are worth buying for the first time because of the controller.

I also agree that sales of games are down everywhere. So it's more of industry problem, and not a Nintendo Wii U issue only.

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Zombie U actually has a decent Meta score of 75, and many of the people who actually have the game recommend getting it. I also believe its available for both retail and DL. It think when the numbers come out we will see it at the second or third slot in Wii U games sold. The only game that actually gets a bump in score from the original is Ninja Gaiden 3. Most core sites kept the score of the other multiplats at the same level as their older scores.

Joshua Hawkins
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This is probably one of the best thought out, researched, and useful launch analisis I've ever seen. Good job Matt!

john stark
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I was really tempted to get a Wii U but in the end there simply was no game to justify buying it.

Nintendo Land ? Well... buying 4 Wiimote+ and Nunchucks to fully enjoy its potential ? Way too expensive.
SMB U ? Yeah, playing Mario Games since 1988... its not that much of a Killer App anymore.

The Multi Plattform titels ? I already have a PS3...

wes bogdan
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Right now's the time they throw as many systems out the door as possible but by march i'd be very inturusted how they address nintendo network-despite having a profile everything's still just tied to 1 serieal #.

Voice chat with headsets from turtle beach and astro a $19.99 toslink adapter either using wii sd digiport or a usb to optical should be made avaible.

Should a great many games require the screen then a southpaw scheme like the 1 i already use must be implimented because while everyone buys nintendo hardware for nintendo games if i can't play it i won't buy it even if for the first time ever i miss a metroid,3d mario or zelda.

They should've put the update on launch games or stamped a special update disc because come christmas that 1-2 hr wait could be x10 as more wii u's than ever come online at once...then watch kids eyes glaze over.

Christian Nutt
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"And outside of an acclaimed title like Xenoblade Chronicles, a title sold new at a single retail chain in the U.S., what has been released in the past year that people will remember as a classic Nintendo Wii title for years to come?"

The Last Story!

Russell Carroll
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Rhythm Heaven!


Wonderful game that is different than any other console game available on the market.
I keep hearing people ask for something different, but whenever they get it, it gets completely ignored/forgotten :(.

Francisco Javier Espejo Gargallo
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I think that Digital Sales would increase noticeably the tie ratio. I know tons of people from forums that bought Nano Assault, Trine2 or both. These seem quite popular. Mighty Swicht Force seems to be selling nicely along with New Super Mario Bros WiiU. eShop is selling smoothly as far as I know.

Leon T
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Wii U was the first home console to sell digital versions of retail games on launch day. Without those numbers it is hard to tell how much software actually sold. With the delux being more popular it would also be good to mention that Nintendo has a promotion going on to get those owners to but digital instead of retail. Digital has more of an advantage on the Wii U with off screen play in my opinion.

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Yeah, its worth mentioning that in order to even get the promotion you have to buy at least one digital game first through the Wii U before signing up.

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No I mean you have to buy a game off the e-shop and then after 24 hours you can then go to the site to sign up for the promotion. I think the do it this way because the DMR can detect if you DL form the Premium Wii U or the Standard Wii U. The way I found this out was because I haven't myself bought any games form the e-shop yet and I tried signing up for the promotion when it went live. I was directed to buy a game first, then wait 24 hours, and then come back to the website to sign up for the promo. Once your signed up I believe the shop can then calculate how many games you have bought and how many point you need to have. Then buying games in the promotion window of time (its like 2 years I believe) will net you more points towards your next purchases.

I mentioned this because if the e-Shop games are not yet calculated in to the figures and the majority of gamers bought the Premium Wii U for the promo and extra features, that it may be assured that they purchased at least one game from the shop because you have to do that just to sign up for the promotion itself.

Geoff Yates
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Great article really liked the research it was quite good.

Well I purchase the premium pack and ZombiU. Can't play it yet as its my Christmas gift (wife is quite insistent ;)).

wes bogdan
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Even if you aren't allowed to play it yet you best set it up BEFORE 25-12-12 otherwise you'll be waiting awhile.

You could proabably see the hobbit and not be done updateing when you return home....that and jumping in asap claims your gammertag from xbl or psn because the newer it is the less people have id's which gives every early adopter a much bigger chance to keep the same gamertag across all platforms as i did.

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"You could probably see the hobbit and not be done updating when you return home"

Lets not over exaggerate. I think mine took like 35 mins. and the dl is 1.5 gigs.

wes bogdan
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Well when i did mine it "lost connection" twice but retained what had beed already downloaded but it still took more than an hour and this was odd since i have an access point in the same room as wii u + nyko's usb-cat 5 wii adapter which should be faster than wi-fi anyway.

Still poor form that ninty didn't just put the update on discs like nintendoland or nsmb u which would've been faster than a dl on launch or worse christmas day.