In less than one year, the Nintendo Switch has sold more units than the Wii U did in its entire five-year life cycle.
Depending on the perspective, that can signal the popularity of the new system or the weakness of the old one. It bolsters hope that Nintendo can actually achieve Wii-like sales numbers in an industry that’s seeing early signs of customer fatigue.
Life-to-date, Nintendo has sold 14.86 million Switch units, compared to 13.56 million life-to-date unit sales for Wii U. (That said, the Switch has only sold about half as many software titles in its short life, though that number will continue to grow as the catalog expands.)
Demand for the hardware led the company to post its best third quarter numbers in eight years.
From the beginning, nothing went especially smoothly for the Wii U. The first wave of buyers had to deal with a system update that prevented them from playing games for anywhere from one to five hours, sporadic system outages, and delayed anticipated features. And there was never the overwhelming demand the company saw for the Wii.
That arose, in part, due to confusion about what Wii U was. The name was likely too similar to its predecessor, so mass market consumers didn’t realize it was a new system, rather than a peripheral. That’s something the company realized in retrospect.
The system also launched without a title that really showcased what differentiated Wii U, as Wii Sports had done for the Wii. Nintendo corrected that with the Switch, giving gamers the one-two punch of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, entries from its two biggest franchises.
Nintendo says momentum for the Switch has been stronger than that of the Wii, which sold nearly 102 million units during its lifespan. The company expects sales to hit 20 million next year and will soon begin to focus on non-gamers in its marketing efforts.
The video game industry has changed since the Wii’s heyday, though. Mobile games weren’t a real industry force when that product hit shelves in 2006. And insiders and analysts have speculated for some time that the industry is moving towards a streaming model, where new hardware iterations every five to 10 years eventually fade away.