Nintendo Switch Outsells The Wii in First 48 Hours, But What Does That Mean?

Nintendo offers benchmarks, but no real numbers.

News by Mike Williams, .

We're starting to get a rough picture of the early sales for the Nintendo Switch worldwide. This is Nintendo's platform moving forward, so it's good to figure out whether that platform is off to a great start.

Does it print money?

Over in the United Kingdom, the Switch hit 80,000 units sold. That's double the Wii U, but below the debut sales of the 3DS (113,000) and far below the PlayStation 4 (250,000) and Xbox One (150,000). According to Famitsu (via Bloomberg reporter Yuji Nakamura), the Switch sold 313,700 units in the first week in Japan. That puts the system ahead of the Wii U (308,600), but behind the PlayStation 4 (322,100) and Wii (371,900).

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Now thanks to an unpublished interview with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime by New York Times reporter Nick Wingfield, we have a very rough idea of Switch sales in our region. Sales for the first 48 hours of the system "exceeded" the first 48 hour sales for any other system in Nintendo history. The next biggest system was the Wii. In addition, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was Nintendo's best-selling standalone launch during the same period, beating Super Mario 64 for Nintendo 64.

The Switch sounds like it's off to a solid start! That's great. The problem is if you're trying to read any further context into all of this. Let's dig into why.

First, the Japanese sales are good, in line with many other successful launches in that territory. The issue here is whether the region was supply constrained. It's entirely probable that Nintendo probably could've sold more systems if they had shifted the worldwide allocation around a bit. Perhaps that initial shipment aptly covered Japanese demand, or there's a ton more to go around. We don't really know.

Second, the specific range of the Nintendo of America quote is a bit odd. The two day focus means that Nintendo either doesn't know numbers beyond those two days in the United States, or sales dropped off. In the latter case, sales fell off due to demand being met or the supply being drained completely.

The dragon Nintendo will forever chase.

The closest numbers we have to work with are the Wii and Wii U sales. The Wii sold 476,000 units during its launch month of November 2006 and the system was horribly supply constrained at the time. The Wii U was around 400,000 for its opening weekend sales in North America.

This time around, Nintendo is doing better with supply and production; the company said that it was shipping 2 million Switch systems by the end of March. Assuming a larger chunk of that allocation is for North America, that's a lot of Switch to go around. Those two day sales could be amazing, or they could be average. 500,000 would be damned good, I'd think.

If they had crossed the 1 million unit milestone established by the PlayStation 4 in its first 24 hours in North America, we would've had a press release by now. So it's likely below that crazy high number.

Even once we have the numbers, it won't paint a full picture of the Nintendo Switch's overall fortunes. The 3DS had pre-order numbers that were double the Wii and sold 440,000 units in its first week. (375,000 in 48 hours in Japan.) The problem was sales dropped off a cliff following the successful launch of the system. From April to June of 2011, the portable only sold 710,000 units worldwide, which was pretty bad. Nintendo was able to pivot quickly with an $80 price drop and the holiday release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

There's no clear indication as to whether the same will happen with the Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the next big title for the system, coming in late April. Then we're waiting for Splatoon 2 this summer. I'd surmise that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe could keep the system afloat until Summer, when Splatoon 2 will probably lead to a huge boost in Japanese sales. (Seriously, they love Splatoon.) I just don't know where sales are going to be for other regions.

Will Nintendo have to pivot with a price drop again? No clue. They are in a good spot for it, with Super Mario Odyssey coming in during the Holidays.

For right now though, I have cautious optimism for the Nintendo Switch. I want Nintendo to do well this time, because I enjoy the system. I just don't know exactly where it stands in our region yet, or where it'll stand in the future.

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Comments 18

  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker A year ago
    Weren't people skeptical about a Nintendo system after the last two "not so good" success? Makes a bit sense that today it would outsell the Wii in its first 48 hours, considering the amount of buzz for the system and how well people went nuts over the NES classic. 400,000 for a Legend of Zelda game vs something like Wii Sports? That's gonna get a lot of people out on day one and two, as opposed to an entire holiday season.

    I hope the two million units ready for sale by the end of the month is true. Even if I'm not an early adopter, it's annoying to find scalpers trying to make a $50 profit off these things.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #2 MetManMas A year ago
    While it may be an enhanced port with additional content, I think Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has a good chance of being a big seller for the system. I don't see everyone double dipping, but it's a port of one of the best Mario Karts and one of the most popular Wii U titles that will now be available portably and with new content. And there's surely plenty of Switch buyers out there who had passed on the Wii U.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #3 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @riderkicker Last two? The Wii U was their first unsuccessful console, even more so since each unit sold at a loss. But the 3DS was a success, despite the rocky launch. And the Wii, well, that was a monster no matter how looking back we may feel about it as a whole - it was reversed for me. At first, I was lukewarm on it, but then I grew to love it when Galaxy came out and all these 3rd party gems started popping up.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #4 SIGGYZtar A year ago
    @Modern-Clix Our demographic will buy Nintendo consoles day one, much like how we get the new Call of Duty or iPhone. Now what matters if Nintendo can maintain this momentum until the peak buying season, unless it really doesn't matter to them.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #5 Lonecow A year ago
    Like you said in the article, I think it mostly had to do with supply demand. They did not have nearly enough Wiis ready.

    Like any business they only produce hardware based on the sales number of their previous console. So based on Gamecube numbers they didn't predict successfully the high demand of the Wii. For the Wii U they over calculated because of the Wii and ended up with a surplus that they were trying to get rid of for months after launch. By this logic they should have had a lot fewer Switches available at launch based on the lackluster Wii U sales. That is, if the NES Classic had never existed.

    I think the Switch can thank the NES classic for having a lot more units available for consumers because it was such a news story that they didn't have enough units of that thing ready for people to buy. Nintendo could go to their Board and justify producing more Switches as a result, which their EXTREMELY conservative Board would have probably never agreed to otherwise.

    On another note, the Switch has such a better buzz than the Wii U. I can always gauge how mainstream something is reaching by how much my Dad wants one. He was a big 2600 player and never bought another game system that wasn't for me until the DS and then again for the Wii. He's retired now and has been wanting to get a gaming console and was thinking about a PS4 but abandoned that idea for a Switch. Which I actually tried to talk him out of since there are no games on it he has any interest or patience for, but hopefully that Virtual Console will launch soon.
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #6 matthewcooley77 A year ago
    @MetManMas I imagine there are a lot of people like me that skipped the Wii U but are going to get a Switch. I am pretty excited for any and all first party Wii U ports I can get.
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #7 matthewcooley77 A year ago
    @lonecow In this case of these major system launches I don't think underestimating demand plays a role. Once the hardware was finalized, they probably decided the minimum inventory needed to launch and calculated the point their factories could produce that many: March 2017.

    Given more flexibility, I am sure they would have preferred to launch in November 2016, and with much, much larger inventory.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #8 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @SIGGYZtar Oh I get that. I was referring to the comment saying the last two unsuccessful consoles, because the 3DS was successful. We all know about the Wii U. Despite the fact that I love the Wii U to death, I am quite aware it was their first bomb (not counting Virtua Boy lol)
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #9 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    Well, I hope the system does well! I want Nintendo to have another big success, they deserve it.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #10 benjaminlu86 A year ago
    I want the console to succeed but yeah, I agree that Fils-Aime's comments seem to be trying to paint a misleading picture of the launch.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #11 SargeSmash A year ago
    Well, I've got mine, at any rate. I didn't jump on board day one with the Wii U, but I did with this one. I love it so far. And no issues on my end with the left Joy-Con. :)
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  • Avatar for docexe #12 docexe A year ago
    Launch numbers were always going to be strong and ultimately determined by how supply constrained the system was. So, it’s indeed too early to tell how well the Switch will do commercially.

    The true test by fire will probably be the Holiday season at the end of the year. If Nintendo can maintain momentum by then, they will have another hit. If they don’t, they might end with another Wii U situation.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #13 Roto13 A year ago
    Launch sales figures aren't meaningless, but they'd mean more if consoles didn't sell out right away. Who knows how many Wiis would have sold on launch weekend if there had been enough available for everyone who wanted one to buy one?

    To me, it looks like Nintendo has done a good job selling the main point of the Switch and getting people on board for it. I got mine Friday morning and the waitress at lunch was excitedly asking about it, as well as one of my neighbours (who I'd never talked to before) once I got home.
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  • Avatar for petercacic #14 petercacic A year ago
    really lol so sad , Wii was junk at launch it started selling way into its life after non gamers were lied to and brainwashed it was some fitness machine so near all old folks homes bought them for fitness and mixed with motion control perfection and its why it sold big . because 98% of real gamers put there Wii in the closet two weeks after purchase .

    also tip stop are you a uneducated child sales at launch dont count for nothing this is fact nearly all new tech from major companies sell out at launch , also its hard not to sell out when Nintendo the scums are only giving companies like London drugs 2 units and bestbuy got 4 my EB got 8 its pathetic and then to act like its selling out is big . How about we get real reviews not fake joke BS on Zelda the game dips to 18 frames after the patch and these reviewers are liars not even bringing it up and giving it a 10 when its a mess and basic open action adventure game nothing more except it has zelda in the nameEdited March 2017 by petercacic
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  • Avatar for petercacic #15 petercacic A year ago
    @Roto13 you have no clue about launches it is meaningless in telling how its going to sell and how popular its is , example vita , psvr, ps4,ps3,wii,xbox one all sold out in nearly all places its a given but difference those companies send out units Nintendo is a joke and they still shipped nothing out go look at records from these stores . also depends were you are in Canada nearly all new tech stuff and consoles that are big companies sell out but after first month there a dime a dozen
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  • Avatar for saisunilvadithya00 #16 saisunilvadithya00 A year ago
  • Avatar for vondoran21 #17 vondoran21 A year ago
    @Modern-Clix He was talking about the launches, and he was right, 3DSgot lucky, but still had an unsuccessful launch. And I can't agree with Wii U being its 1st unsuccessful console, the GameCube was fairly unsuccessful, well below anything before it. It sold more than double the WiiU, but nothing compared to the N64 or SNES. The Wii was a huge bounce back. I'm shocked that this console is doing well, but I'm glad.
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  • Avatar for saisunilvadithya00 #18 saisunilvadithya00 A year ago