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access_time January 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM in Features by Rod Oracheski

Is the Nintendo Wii U’s Software Struggling?


With December’s NPD numbers now available it’s clear that Nintendo’s Wii U is struggling.

Now hold on, Nintendo faithful, don’t get the pitchforks and torches just yet. After all, the struggle is all on you.

With the Wii U moving 460,000 units in December and 425,000 in November, the hardware is more or less holding up its end. Sales aren’t spectacular, there’s undeniably still stock on shelves and the resale price – always a solid indicator of market demand – hasn’t skyrocketed like it did for past console launches, but they’re decent.

The real problem is on the software side of things, and that’s where Nintendo fans – those who were undoubtedly the first to purchase the Big N’s newest machine – have dropped the ball.

You’re not buying third-party games.


Normally I’m right there with you when it comes to complaining about weak ports, but you didn’t get shafted that way this time. You got the biggest entertainment release of the year, the new Call of Duty game, virtually day and date with everyone else. You got versions of big new games like Assassin’s Creed 3 that stand up to what was offered elsewhere.

Assassin's Creed 3

But you didn’t buy them.

Yeah, there were some bad ones. Mass Effect 3 by itself, for the same price as the Mass Effect Trilogy on other platforms? Poor showing, EA. And nobody can blame you for not wanting to shell out $60 for the now heavily-discounted everywhere else Batman: Arkham City, no matter how much Reggie said it was all-new content.

But why is Zombi U not selling? That’s exactly the sort of ‘hardcore, mature, gamer-focused’ title that you kept saying you wanted on the Wii. It’s exclusive, so you hadn’t played it elsewhere, and while I’ll admit it could have been more fleshed out, it’s not bad for a new IP on a new console. According to the December NPD numbers, Zombi U is currently the third party ‘winner’ on the Wii U, as the only third party game to sell over 100,000 copies lifetime to date as of December 31st. Sitting somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 units sold, Ubisoft has to be wondering if a sequel – which could have addressed the game’s issues – is deserved.


What is selling? Surprise, surprise, it’s a Nintendo game, New Super Mario Bros. U, with 580,000 copies sold, lifetime to date. It’s the platform’s top-selling title with a 65% attach rate. Even Nintendoland is selling, though average sale price shows consumers are choosing the deluxe version by a wide margin, and it’s, if we’re being honest, a bunch of tech demos that showcase the console’s (or more specifically the gamepad’s) capabilities.

In November, Nintendoland sold more than Skylanders Giants. In December, it outsold games like Assassin’s Creed 3, Madden, NBA 2K13, and FIFA 13.

Third party sales haven’t been particularly strong on a Nintendo console for quite a while, arguably since the N64. There are breakout titles here or there, Just Dance or Skylanders, for example, but for the most part if it ain’t Nintendo, you ain’t buying.

Buy Wii U games or I'll be sad

Buy Wii U games or I’ll be sad

And that’s a problem, for both you and Nintendo.

Third parties are watching and evaluating. The Wii U is already being passed over for a number of big games. Far Cry 3 already passed it by. Dead Space 3 will be giving it a pass, as will Crysis 3 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. A port of Metro: Last Light has been cancelled and ports of Tomb Raider and Splinter Cell: Blacklist (not due until August) are both currently being denied, though they may yet happen. Even Bioshock Infinite, a title that, judging by the jankiness shown in recent videos, could benefit from the increased RAM available in the Wii U, will be passing Nintendo’s machine by.

Companies have been burned in past generations – not by Nintendo, though their general unwillingness to promote third-party efforts certainly hasn’t helped, but by a fanbase that has proven itself reluctant to buy third party games, and they’re far less willing to take a chance on a Wii U port, much less dedicate resources to an exclusive. It’s become too common of an idea that “you buy a Nintendo console for Nintendo games” and that’s hurting Nintendo in the long run. After all, third-party games provide a strong source of revenue for console manufacturers – but only if they sell.


The third-party evaluation window for the Wii U is closing rapidly, especially with word of Microsoft and Sony’s new machines expected this spring. Unless you just really like complaining about a lack of third-party support, it might be time to support some of those third-party publishers.


  • Shogo January 21, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    I have Zombi U and Assassins Creed 3. I’m no interested in any of the current Nintendo first party games. So I am doing my part in supporting 3rd party developers. If it wasn’t for those 2 games I wouldn’t even had been interested in a Wii U.

  • Justin January 21, 2013 at 8:52 PM

    The sales are pretty average for a launch. Zombi U sold about 300,000 copies worldwide (NPD is only US). By comparison, Condemned: Criminal Origins at the 360 launch sold about 370,000 copies. Even Perfect Dark Zero only sold 700,000 copies and that was supposed to be Microsoft’s biggest launch titles. Even Madden 2006 for X-Box only sold about 580,000 copies, and that’s a pretty established franchise.

    Sonic and Sega All Star Racing sold 150,000 copies on the Wii U. That might not seem so hot until you take into consideration that the PS3 and X-Box 360 versions only sold 170,000 and 200,000 respectively. Considering that those systems have about 70 million more customers, that’s not bad.

    Only about 2 million people own a Wii U, so every 100,000 games means about 5% of the Wii’s audience. Hopefully, third party companies had appropriate expectations. I wouldn’t be worried just yet. If games like Rayman Legends and Lego City Undercover (not technically third party, but close) don’t do well, then maybe it’s time to be concerned.

  • Rod Oracheski January 21, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    I use NPD because they’re the only credible numbers we have for a major market, going back to before the launch of the current gen systems.

    Condemned moved 65,000 copies in November, 2005 with the 360 selling 326,000 units. That’s a 20% attach rate, and in the market that existed seven years ago – not the much bigger one we have today. It’s also worth noting the 360 reportedly had a 4:1 attach rate in that first November, meaning that on average people bought a console and four games. The Wii U attach rate isn’t even 2:1 and it’s impossible to argue it didn’t have ‘bigger’ games than the 360 launched with.

    Sonic is one of the few ‘breakout’ titles I was talking about and even then it’s a bit sketchy to call it successful with the numbers we have. I think SEGA may also have burned gamers on the PS3/360 with a few too many crappy Sonic games for them to give it a chance. Even then, it sold just over 50,000 copies in December on the Wii U and was outsold in November by Nintendoland, only listing ahead of games that sold under 10,000 copies.

  • Ramon Aranda January 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    Speaking of Condemned…I didn’t even give it the time of day until about 2 years later…it rocked.

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