This One Mistake Could Cost Nintendo Dearly This Holiday

I still remember my time at Nintendo’s booth during E3 2013.  The PR person I was assigned to was very helpful as she led me to each of the games that Nintendo brought to E3.  The people in charge of each game area were also friendly and answered many of my questions about upcoming games like Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8.  As much fun as I had with the games a looming threat was on the horizon, literally, I could look over the ledge of the press area and see Sony and Microsoft’s booths.

The launch of the PS4 and Xbox One has proved quite fruitful pulling in launch numbers that Nintendo could only dream.  PS4 in particular managed to sell 1 million units in 24 hours in only two countries (U.S. and Canada) with the console having just launched in 30 other countries.  What about the Wii U?  Well it looks like this Holiday is going to be painful for Nintendo’s latest home console.

You see, back at E3 when I was questioning the Nintendo PR person assigned to me, she set off an alarm in my head.  Mario Kart 8 was not coming out Holiday 2013.  I voiced my concerns to her, but she shrugged it off saying that Nintendo had a strong line-up to compete with PS4 and Xbox One.  Now, at the end of year, we can safely say that this line-up was not strong.


Looked cool, didn’t sell so wonderfully

Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, both championed by Nintendo since their debut at E3 2012, ended up falling into obscurity thanks to the release of the high profile launches of Saints Row IV, Grand Theft Auto V and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD helped lift Wii U sales a bit, but not enough to make a serious dent against Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.  Sonic: Lost World, much like Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, was sent out to die when it launched so close to Batman: Arkham Origins, Battlfield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

What about Nintendo’s shining gem?  Super Mario 3D World has received universal praise, something that cannot be said for PS4’s Killzone: Shadow Fall or Xbox One’s Ryse: Son of Rome.  I’ve played through the entire game and found the game to be quite fun, though lacking the creativity and innovation of Super Mario Galaxy, but the game has had little impact on Wii U sales.  The Japanese sales are in and Super Mario 3D World has only sold about 100,000 units in its first week making it the worse debut of a 3D Mario game ever.  Worst yet is that Wii U sales only increased by 5,000 units, terrible for a game that is supposed to be the savior of a platform.  In the U.S. and Europe Nintendo sent the game to die as it launched alongside the Xbox One in the U.S. (November 22) and alongside the PS4 in Europe (November 29).


Critically acclaimed, lost to critically panned Knack

In fact, we just got sales figures from the UK where the game simply bombed.  In fact, Knack, the critically panned platformer for the PS4, outsold Super Mario 3D World and has prompted talks from many industry professionals that the Wii U may not live to see another Christmas.  This is terrible news, especially when the game is very good.

However it never really was the 3D Mario games that drove sales.  It’s Mario Kart.  Mario Kart Wii has sold 35 million units to date and remained one of the bestselling titles for years after release.  Mario Kart 7 has sold over 8 million units worldwide and is credited for saving the 3DS platform when it was struggling to sell.  Mario Kart 8 could have done this for the Wii U, but will now launch in Spring after the PS4 and Xbox One release worldwide and high profile exclusives inFamous: Second Son (PS4) and Titanfall (Xbox One) launch.  By then it very well could be too late.


30+ Million Units on Wii, 8+ million Units on 3DS. Mario Kart could have saved Wii U

Nintendo has made a lot of mistakes with Wii U.  Its high price, terrible marketing, lack of third-party support and lack of compelling software through 2013 have been detrimental to the console’s success.  Earlier this year Satoru Iwata promised us all of these games by the year’s end with Super Smash Bros. and a new Zelda somewhere on the horizon.  What we have now is Nintendo once again shooting themselves in the foot.  Another lack of marketing, several exclusives sent out to die and a console that continues to slip into irrelevancy now that the PS4 and Xbox One are out.  Mario Kart 8 had the power to change all this.  History has proven that people will buy any platform a Mario Kart game is on, but now it is probably too late.

  • Ryan Cartmel

    While I can agree with the idea that pushing a Mario Kart out faster would have helped Wii U move units, I don’t understand the assertion that games were “sent out to die” simply because they were released in chronological proximity to the titles that you mention. Starting with Saints Row the time period that is covered is 4 months long with a crescendo ending in the releases of the two new “big dogs”. This was obviously a very good strategy on Sony and Microsofts part as it kept their consoles fresh in the minds of consumers while building to the payoff of the release of their now current gen offerings. Does this mean that Nintendo should have fed into even more of a software drought (one which they were receiving heavy criticism for, and rightfully so) throw up their hands and say “welp the big guys are at it might as well not even try”?

    I wholeheartedly agree that within the first year of Wii U was not a good time to dust off the Pikmin franchise (especially looking at how poorly it sold with the re-release on the Wii) and that is certainly a fair criticism. The most likely scenario is the fact that Nintendo incorrectly assumed that they would be sitting on much healthier numbers with the Wii U and let that overly influence their development and release schedule.

    I also agree with the fact that Nintendo should have pushed harder with marketing sooner. That was completely flat-footed on their part, but they also likely didn’t want to haphazardly start throwing money into advertising and instead focused their efforts on getting the most bang for their buck by waiting for the holiday season when consumers wallets are the most open.

    Mario 3D world was their only chance at not being completely drowned out in the hubbub of PS4 and XB1 release. This was obviously going to hurt sales. but nothing was going to stand in the way of new console buyers, and they grabbed attention (as much as they could anyways) with the outstanding quality of 3D world.

    All in all I think the biggest mistake was Pikmin. While it is obviously a good game, it is decidedly not a system seller and just isn’t an inherently “buzz” worthy game. And yes, Mario Kart should have been on the menu for prospective (and current) Wii U owners by now.

  • Stealth

    This article is pure nonsense because it generalizes sales

    Mario 3d world DID AMAZING look at the install bases dude

  • Meret

    You write nonsense about Super Mario 3D World sales. The truth is Mario never reaches its main sales in first week. So that comparision with Knack (outsold Mario by 1K IN ONE COUNTRY OH WOW, lol, and it’s during overhyped PS4 launch week). Like every other Mario, 3D World will sell millions in the end and games like Knack will fall in sales as quick as their Metacritic rating before release.

    Also, during launch week in Japan, 3D World rised Wii U by 5K only, yes. But in 2nd week, without any new games released, Wii U jumped 7K more and became 2nd best selling console of the week, losing only to 3DS. On the third week of game’s release it will rise even higher and 3D World will rise on that market, too. Look at Amazon Japan’s TOP 100, where Mario continues sitting inside TOP 3, unlike majority of games for other consoles: In TOP 50 there’s only Nintendo 3DS and Wii U hardware, not anyone else’s. So your conclusions are pretty shortsighted.

  • Meret

    And it’s stupid to compare ultra niche games like Wonderful 101 to Pikmin 3, lol. W101 sold like 20K, Pikmin 3 sold a looot better, more than 200K in Japan alone already. Reached TOP 10 on NPD monthly and was highest charted Wii U game in Europe this summer. Like many other evergreen titles, it’ll continue selling.