It's no secret that the Wii U is in poor shape. No one is denying that Nintendo has failed to push the Wii U message adequately to either the enthusiast gamer or the mass market. And when Ubisoft moved back Rayman Legends to release alongside the 360 and PS3 versions, I think we all understood deep down that Ubi was nervous about the console's sales potential.
I just don't think anyone could have guessed it was this bad.
Looking at the stats from the January 2013 NPD, Gamasutra reveals that the Wii U during its first three months has sold 38% less than the Wii in the same span of time. Because no hard Wii U numbers we reported, we do a little arithmetic to arrive at a third month total of roughly 55K, lower than any of the previous generation's consoles' worst months with the possible exception of the Wii in the past year. In comparison, the 360 was able to hit a strong 281K.
But before we discuss what exactly this means, let's take a look at what games charted.
Top 10 software chart (SKUs combined)
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, Wii U, PC)
Far Cry 3 (360, PS3, PC)
Just Dance 4 (Wii, 360, PS3, Wii U)
NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, PSP, PC)
Madden NFL 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U)
DmC: Devil May Cry (PS3, 360)
Halo 4 (360)
Assassin's Creed III (360, PS3, Wii U, PC)
Skylanders Giants (Wii, 360, PS3, 3DS, Wii U)
FIFA Soccer 13 (PS3, 360, PSV, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, PSP)
What you don't see on this list is Ni no Kuni, which barely missed the cutoff and came in at #11. However, if you break down the SKUs individually, the Level-5 RPG actually came in at #7. Good news there! Ghibli magic is making waves the world over!
So, what of the Wii U?
As you can see in the chart above, software on the Wii U has consistently sold less than on its console brethren, in some cases even worse than the versions on Vita (about 35K for the month, if you were curious). The Wii U is simply not selling games at all, which makes it perfectly clear why third parties have been extremely nervous.
But wait a minute, the Wii U has barely been out three months! Every piece of software out there right now exists in the launch window, the larval stage of the machine's life before it truly comes in its own. That companies are already writing it off has to be chalked up to something more.
I don't believe for a second that any of these big companies seriously thought ports from the PS3 and 360 were going to make it big right out the gate. This is the first time some of these franchises are appearing on a Nintendo console -- at least in forms that can be considered equivalent to the other HD machines' offerings -- so the audience simply isn't there yet. Obviously, most consumers were going to purchase the sequels to HD heavy hitters on the same console they played the previous installments.
But this is surely the case of most platform launches. Typically, you'll have one or two breakout titles right from the start while rest of the library is rounded out with quickly developed software for the sake of getting into the front door. What even the low-performing launch games ought to demonstrate is a company's willingness to invest in a platform's future, at least for a short while to assess the market and general atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Wii U software is performing even worse than what we've seen in years past. Now companies are pulling back after one game, while others are so scared that they have canceled plans to support the Wii U. Mere months into its life.
As I said before, it's on Nintendo to properly showcase the necessity of having a Wii U in your life, but the anxiety exhibited by third parties is more indicative of their increasing focus on short-term gains, even taking into account the poor sales at the moment. This is not exclusive to Nintendo platforms but rather a portrait of the entire industry. The 360 and PS3 environments are so comfortable, so why risk developing on new hardware?
If the Wii U had more beef under the hood, would that have made a difference? The launch library would have undoubtedly included ports, albeit slightly touched-up ports, and we'd still have a situation where the audience of a game will stick to the same platform for the sequel. And if what Konami's Dave Cox said concerning the lack of Lords of Shadow 2 on Wii U is true, that a Wii U port would add significant cost, how much more expensive do you think it would be trying to port to an even more beastly machine?
The Wii U is in serious trouble, and Nintendo needs to do whatever it can to turn perception around. However, it'll be fighting against a wave that's washing over the entire industry, and I bet you a fat stack that Sony and Microsoft will be feeling the heat as well.
Everyone seems to be eyeballing the new PlayStation and Xbox as the true start of the new generation, but I have this sinking feeling that most are going to be disappointed. When a single misstep has the potential to sink an entire company, and considering the continued strong sales of the 360 in the States and PS3 everywhere else, third parties might want to stick to the old standbys for a while longer. Orbis and Durango will need to have a significant number of new third-party IPs that are greeted with immediate success, but I highly doubt the industry as a whole is adequately prepared for the big technological shift to pull that off.
But that's a discussion for another time. Right now, the focus is on Nintendo and what the Japanese gaming giant has to do. The Wii U doesn't need more Mario; it needs solid third-party support that will attract the kind of audience Nintendo lost over the past decade. And no, yesterday's Nintendo Direct isn't going to cut it.
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