No, the Nintendo Switch is not going to sell 20 million units in the next fiscal year, despite the hopes of Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima. Yes, the platform has seen incredible success, selling large quantities across the world, particularly in Japan. The platform has far eclipsed my initial expectation of 6-8 million units in the first year. In fact, to date, the platform has sold over 10 million units in less than nine months. That figure is really impressive; impressive enough for Nintendo to raise its forecast to 17 million units sold by April.
Well, you might be asking: “If Nintendo has a forecast of 17 million units by April, isn’t 20 million just a few more million units? That sounds totally feasible with properties like Pokemon launching next year!”
Unfortunately, that 17 million unit figure is a little disingenuous. Nintendo is counting a total of 13 months in its forecast. Since the Switch launched in March, that 17 million unit forecast includes both the launch month of the platform and its first holiday season. Not including the launch month, Nintendo estimates the 12-month sales of the Switch to hit 14 million units. That’s still quite a lot of Switch units sold; however, 20 million is a lot further from 14 million than it is from 17 million.
Each additional unit of a product is always more difficult to sell than the last. After all, selling additional units requires expanding the product’s base from hardcore Nintendo fans, to other hardcore gamers, and eventually to even the casual market. Seeing an annual uptick of nearly 50% in sales, from 14 million to 20 million, is not only incredibly challenging to justify, but just unrealistic as a whole.
Historically, selling more than 20 million units in a year has been reserved only for the most successful consoles of our time. The Wii had two years where it sold more than 20 million units; that was a record-breaking console in its own right. The PS2, meanwhile, also had two 20 million years. For the Switch to hit 20 million units sold it must defy all logic and match sales of the two most popular home consoles of all time.
Fortunately, Nintendo does have a bit of history on its side. The Wii hit its first year with more than 20 million consoles sold in its third fiscal year on the market. The PS2, meanwhile, didn’t see its first 20 million year until its fourth fiscal year. The Switch does have these prior two consoles as an example that a system’s most successful sales periods may come several years after its initial release.
Some have also suggested that Pokemon would have the potential to rocket the Switch past the 20 million mark. After all, the franchise has historically been responsible for propelling platforms like the 3DS into sales glory. Despite how large Pokemon’s base is, however, that one franchise itself could add several million in sales to Nintendo’s newest platform, but could not take the Switch to 20 million units with Pokemon alone.
Pokemon X and Y launched for 3DS in 2013, during the handheld’s third holiday season. Despite the launch of a new Pokemon adventure, the sales for the 2014 fiscal year hit just 12 million. Surely, that’s a respectable figure, but far out of the range of 20 million units. Pokemon itself can surely help the Switch’s momentum, but the title itself is no silver bullet that alone can magically propel the Switch into the 20 million unit region.
There are other notable franchises scheduled to hit the Switch as well. Metroid, for example, is often considered a flagship franchise for Nintendo. However, the series’ critical success does not really translate into massive commercial success. Metroid Prime games regularly sell between one and two million units. Compare that to Pokemon’s ten to fifteen million units sold and it is easier to see that not many franchises can make quite as big an impact.
Once again, I do not want to completely discount Nintendo’s chances of selling an incredible 20 million units next year, but I find it highly improbable. The numbers are difficult to find, especially with historical Nintendo data cutting against such a claim. Unfortunately, the company has had its fair share of contact with similar “optimism.” After all, this is the company that predicted the Wii U would sell 9 million units in its second year after selling less than half of that in its first year. Perhaps in the future it would be better to tread lightly without making overly-optimistic predictions.