Why the Nintendo Switch is Already a Bigger Success than the Wii

Why the Nintendo Switch is Already a Bigger Success than the Wii

There's a story behind Nintendo's latest batch of numbers.

The Nintendo Switch is still selling very well. In other news, the sun rose in the east today, and cats are soft.

But Nintendo's latest financial report, which puts the Switch near 20 million hardware units sold so far (plus 87 million units of software), doubles as a cool deconstruction of what arguably makes the Switch a bigger success for Nintendo than its last best-selling console, the Wii. It's not always about how much you sell of something, but what you sell.

That's not to suggest the Nintendo Switch's hardware sales are weak next to the Wii's. As GoNintendo tweeted earlier this morning, the Switch's 16-month sales are comparable to the PlayStation 4's sales around the same time. But whereas the PlayStation 4 reached 20 million units sold within two holiday seasons, the Switch has only had one holiday season so far—and Christmas 2018 will bring the guaranteed system-sellers Pokémon Let's Go and Super Smash Bros Ultimate with it. Nintendo will likely finish the year on a very high note (though investors aren't convinced yet).

Nintendo's latest numbers are important for reasons beyond raw numbers, though: The data for Switch game sales indicates Nintendo's tried-and-true properties still contain enormous pull. The system's best-selling game is Super Mario Odyssey at 11.17 units sold. That means more than one in two Switch owners also have a copy of Super Mario Odyssey. That's incredible. Not even Sony's best PlayStation 4 exclusives see that kind of attach rate.

Mario Odysseys' success isn't a fluke, either. The Switch's second best-selling game is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at over 10 million units sold. Then comes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at over 9 million units. 1-2 Switch and ARMS, both new properties for Nintendo, chart at 2.45 million and 2.01 million units sold, respectively. While there's a worrying lack of third-party games amongst the Switch's list of top-sellers, it's also kind of cool to see Nintendo pull itself along with its own muscle.

In its seven-year lifespan, the Wii sold nearly 102 million systems along with nearly 920 units of software. Those are huge numbers, but when you look at the best-selling games on the Wii, Nintendo's mascots (besides Mario) don't have much purchase. Wii Sports—the pack-in game for the Wii, and a pop-culture phenomenon in its own right—is the Wii's top "seller" at nearly 83 million units sold. Mario Kart Wii follows at 37 million sold. That's quite a drop for a system that wound up in over 100 million living rooms worldwide! Other big sellers on the Wii include Wii Sports Resort (33 million), Wii Fit (22 million), and Wii Play (28 million).

BRB, I suddenly got a *great* idea for a Hunger Games / Mii crossover fanfic.

"Traditional" games are tellingly much scarcer on the Wii's list of top-sellers. Super Mario Galaxy sold around 13 million, Super Mario Bros Wii sold 30 million, and Super Smash Bros Brawl also sold about 13 million. Now think back to the 16-month-old Nintendo Switch and the crazy attach rates for Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

2006 and the popularity of the Wii unfortunately saw us get a bit snobby about "hardcore gamers" versus "casuals." Nevertheless, the Wii's game sales tell the story: The console was undeniably a biggest hit amongst people who dug Wii Sports and Wii Fit—people who generally don't buy consoles for traditional games.

While I maintain my long-held opinion that video games are for everyone, I won't deny the user base for the Nintendo Switch is clearly far more loyal than the user base for the Wii. A sizable percentage of Wii owners were fine with sticking to Wii Sports. Third-party developers read the writing on the wall and bowed out quickly; the Wii's lack of HD support, low processing muscle, and noticeable lack of a hardcore audience meant their efforts were better spent on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And when Nintendo expected all those new Wii owners to adopt the Wii U, well…they didn't. By 2012, mobile and web-based games were offering the Wii's highly-accessible style of fun for free.

"Fine. Go play Angry Birds. See if I care." [sob]

Humbler and sadder in 2017, Nintendo launched the Switch with Breath of the Wild and the promise of Mario. Loyalists bought the system, and they bought the games. That addendum is important: In my eyes it's what already makes the Switch more of a success than the Wii. Nintendo built a house, it furnished the house, and as long as it keeps adding nice things, fans of Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, et al, people will continue visiting the house.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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