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Breaking down Wii U's post-launch software lull

Breaking down Wii U's post-launch software lull Exclusive

January 18, 2013 | By Matt Matthews

January 18, 2013 | By Matt Matthews
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

With a dearth of software releases coming out between now and March, is the Wii U's post-launch software pipeline any drier than that of other consoles? Gamasutra analyst Matt Matthews takes a closer look.

When writing earlier this week about hardware sales, I said that I was astonished to see so few titles releasing for the Wii U between now and the beginning of March of this year. A few commenters took me to task for that remark, asking whether the Wii U was really out of the norm.

It's a good question! I'll answer it in just a moment, but I left some important context for my remark out of that column, and that was a mistake.

If you look back at some of the comments that Satoru Iwata has made over the past year in his role as president of Nintendo, you'll see some acknowledgment that the company hasn't always managed the pipeline of software for its platforms as well as it could, both in terms of first- and third-party titles.

For example, in April 2012, Iwata said this: "As we look back, when we launched the Nintendo 3DS, we failed to prepare a software lineup which could satisfy our consumers in addition to other factors, and the Nintendo 3DS could not initially increase the sales as we had originally expected."

He also said: "We absolutely need to keep the vitality of evergreen titles and release new key titles seamlessly."

Almost a year prior to that, in July 2011, he responded to a question about the lack of software for the Wii this way: "We thought that time would solve the issues for the Wii just as it had done for the Nintendo DS, but this was not the case. [...] The lesson from this for our future business is that we need to establish a structure to provide software in a seamless manner."

In this context, I found it astonishing that Nintendo, with a million new Wii U owners in the U.S. as of mid-January, would only have two titles available between that point and the beginning of March. If there is any time to cement your relationship with the consumer, I'd think it would be right up front, before the enthusiasm has a chance to wane.

I'm not so much astonished at how many titles Nintendo launched with (that was actually quite good) but rather that they would leave a gap right after release, right after Christmas, even after they had promised to avoid that kind of thing in the future. Yes, launches are special and the timing can be difficult, but launches also too important to screw up.

With that partial mea culpa out of the way, let me address the actual data out there. I spoke with Liam Callahan, an analyst with the NPD Group, and he was kind enough to pull the data for the Wii U and the previous six consoles that launched in the U.S.

In the figures below, I'm only considering the first four calendar months that a system was out. So, except for the PlayStation 2, which launched in October 2000, all of these windows run from November of one year through February of the following year. (I also prepared a copy of this showing the titles in their release order.)

Because we aren't yet to March 2013, I have added two titles that I expect to see release by the beginning of March: Rayman Legends (February 26) and The Amazing Spider-Man (March 5). It is possible that some other title will make it to retail before that point, but I'm going to add these two to the Wii U total. The NPD Group's figures show only 37 SKUs released for it so far, which would bring its early March 2013 total to 39.

Except for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox, both of which had 51 SKUs at retail within their first four months on the market, the Wii U comes out ahead of every other console since the turn of the century.

Just behind the Wii U is the original Wii, with 36 titles in its first four months, and then the GameCube with 30.

The two consoles with the least titles during their respective four-month launch windows were the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with 22 and 21 SKUs, respectively.

So this much is true: Nintendo launched with an exceptional number of titles available in the first two months, and it will end the first four months with a well-above-average number of SKUs on store shelves.

However, to bring it back to my original point, the gap during January and February is just the kind of gap that I had thought Nintendo was going to try to avoid. Iwata has even said about the Nintendo 3DS launch in 2011 that they "failed to prepare a software lineup which could satisfy our consumers."

Maybe the lineup they have really is satisfying consumers, but I honestly thought they'd go about it in a different way.

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