Switch Is Selling Like Wii, Thanks To Traditional Nintendo Games

Screenshot: Nintendo

Nintendo had a wildly successful December in the U.S., the market research company NPD said on Wednesday. Both Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the Switch hardware itself sold in quantities that could legitimately be called “record-breaking.”

Nintendo’s dream of selling Wii-like quantities of the Switch is looking more likely today — and it didn’t have to have a Wii Fit or a Wii Sports to get there.

While the data-tracking analysts of NPD don’t release specific sales numbers to the public (they’re locked behind an expensive paywall), they do share some relative statistics each month. December is usually the biggest month of the year for console sales, and Nintendo sold more Switches last month than any game machine has ever sold in a December this generation, NPD said.

That means PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or even 3DS at its peak never had a December this big. In fact, you have to go back to December 2010, when Nintendo sold a whopping 2.5 million Nintendo DS systems, to find a higher December sales figure.

Even more beyond expectations was the blasting-out-of-the-gate success of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which released on December 7. First, let’s look at the top 20 best-selling games for the entire year (by dollars, not units), as reported by NPD:

  1. Red Dead Redemption II

  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4^

  3. NBA 2K19

  4. Madden NFL 19^

  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*

  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man

  7. Far Cry 5

  8. God of War 2018

  9. Monster Hunter: World

  10. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

  11. Grand Theft Auto V

  12. Mario Kart 8*

  13. FIFA 19^

  14. Battlefield 5^

  15. Super Mario Odyssey*

  16. Call of Duty: WWII^

  17. Dragon Ball: Fighterz

  18. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild*

  19. Super Mario Party*

  20. Pokemon: Lets Go Pikachu*

*Digital sales not included ^Digital PC sales not included

In less than 30 days on shelves, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became the fifth best-selling game of 2018 in the U.S. That’s staggering — more so when you consider, as NPD pointed out in its report, that the figure does not include download sales, but it’s being matched up against figures that do take them into account.

NPD didn’t release the exact sales number for Smash, but it gave us enough to roughly figure it out. It said that Ultimate exceeded the launch month sales of Super Smash Bros. Brawl by over 70 per cent.

Since that number is known (2.7 million), we can add 70 per cent to it to get rough first-month sales for Ultimate at a little over 4.5 million units — again, not counting download sales.

Screenshot: Nintendo

In fact, Ultimate’s debut was, NPD said, the best launch month for a console-exclusive game in “video game history.” The strength of the Switch overall also boosted the sales of its major games, sending 2017 games Mario Kart 8, Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey into 2018's top 20. Overall, NPD said, Nintendo made more money on software than any other publisher this year, a feat it hadn’t achieved since — you guessed it — the salad days of Wii, in 2009.

Wii ended up selling over 100 million units, all told. It’s hardly a sure thing that Switch will get there, but it’s well on the way.

What’s interesting about this success is that Nintendo achieved it with Mario, and Smash, and Zelda, and Pokemon. The successes of Wii and DS were thanks to Nintendo’s canny “blue ocean” appeal to casual players, lapsed players, your mum, et cetera.

It was games like Wii Fit and Brain Age that were tearing up the charts. That meant that Nintendo’s software library on Wii ended up leaning pretty heavily towards trying to find that next big casual hit (hello, 30-minute Wii Music presentation at E3) and was ambivalent at best about core games.

Nintendo has tried to find a casual hit on Switch, first with 1-2 Switch and this year with Labo. But neither of these took off. Instead, these millions and millions of hardware units that Nintendo is selling are to people who appreciate open-world Zelda and 3D Mario. And Nintendo knows that if it wants to keep selling software to these people, it’s going to have to make more of the things they want. If these are the sorts of games you want from Nintendo, then Switch’s success is good for you.

This is not to say that Nintendo won’t keep trying to swim into that blue ocean again for Switch. When one of these novel experiments does catch on, it opens up a whole new profit stream. Now that core Nintendo fans are making Switch a huge success, that means Nintendo can safely invest in games for them, too.


    I would have said it was thanks to combining a home console and a handheld in one unit, allowing them to develop more efficiently and increase third-party titles on the platform, but then, what do I know...

      I think many households will be buying multiple Switches to prevent the kids fighting over who's turn it is, where the Wii presented itself as a multiplayer console much better.

        I dunno, maybe the Wii is the better multiplayer console - but it was also from a time where all consoles were better multiplayer consoles. In the current market, the Switch is hands down the best console for splitscreen/coop local multiplayer games.

        There is no more couch coop and split screen on Xbox and Playstation. Save for a very few select titles, it is essentially gone. A decade ago, that was not the case - almost every game you picked up had split screen capabilities.

        I purchased a Switch specifically for its couch coop. Mario party and mario kart both do up to 4 players and smash bros does 8!

        Odyssey has 2 player coop, donkey kong has coop, new super mario bros has coop.

          okay, I think you read my comment as the Wii is the better multiplayer console, which is not what I meant and a debate about the state of couch multiplayer in this day and age is somewhat missing the point.
I only intended to imply that it presented itself as a multiplayer console much better. All of the marketing shows multiple players at once, normally 4 players laughing and having fun on or near a couch.
The Switch marketing has a much stronger focus on the handheld and portable nature, which brings the console back from being a ‘family’ console and more of a personal device.
          My hypothesis is that Switch households are more likely to have multiple consoles because of this, and of course for my previous stated reason that multiple consoles are bought to prevent kids fighting over it.

          I would go so far to say that you are an outlier if you bought the Switch on the basis of it's coop ability, and that more people have bought it for it's portability.

            The Switch is the only current console that actually ships with 2 controllers ready to go. While the joycons are often used together to combine into a single controller, essentially, they can and are used separately as 2 different controllers for many games, including Mario Kart, Smash, Mario Party and Mario Odyssey. Lots of Nintendo's marketing actually focuses on this too, showing people taking their Switch out to the park and playing multiplayer with individual joycons and the like. If you want to play 2 player on a Switch, you don't need to go out and buy a second controller.

              I'm not saying the Switch isn't a multiplayer console, just that the Wii marketed itself more strongly as such. This is obvious when you compare the marketing side by side.

          I bought a switch specifically for its couch co op and multi as well.

            I also picked up a switch because of couch co-op. And didn’t get the Xbox one for the same reason. I owned the original Xbox on launch day, and the 360, couch co-op is a huge driver for me.

    I'd like a switch... but I'd like a switch on sale even more!

      Currently on sale at JB's. $397.

      Rumours of a hardware revision this year though, so you may want to take that into consideration. Especially if a lot of sales on the current version start popping up.

    I think one of the huge things benefiting the Switch is the multiple systems thing. A lot of people would pick up a Playstation or Xbox *and* a Switch.

    The wii was quite underpowered and had a bad rep among core gamers. The Wii U didn't do well at all. Now with the Switch going gangbusters, a whole heap of people are jumping back into the dual ownership or coming back to Nintendo after being away a few generations.

    All the other people I actually know that have switches are people that have come in as new or lapsed Nintendo owners.

    Then there is me who buys every console they put out.

      Yeah I was a lasped owner. Skipped the Wii U. But did have a Wii. Shame about the Wii U but I think we wouldn't have the switch without it. I also think it is doing well as poeple buying one for the kids and then also one for themselves or vice versa. It has a great market of games for the kids and also games that are still accessible to both kids and adults or entirely adults. Plus the portability is a win for anyone.

      I remember the big thing back in the day was the ps3 launch price was so ridiculous that you could buy a xbox 360 and a wii together for the same price as a ps3... And so lots of people did that.

    Lots of positive talk....no mention the switch is not going to hit its 20million this fy target...

      Huh. I thought it did in the end? Either way it's hardly doom and gloom. I think I read that smash brothers had the best month for any game ( exclusive?) since Halo 3. If it didn't make the 20 million, it must have been very close.

    I'm curious as to what the driving forces are. Is it the fact that Switch is two years old while XBox One and PS4 are 5-6 years old so people have been looking for an extra console? Is it that the West is starting to become a handheld society too with the rise of mobile? Are people bored of the AAA scene and want something that isn't angry people with guns? Is it just a sign that video games are reaching a far broader audience now than they did a decade or even half a decade ago? Are we just seeing big numbers and thinking they mean something significant when proportionally it's just normal growth?

      Are people bored of the AAA scene and want something that isn't angry people with guns?

      I don't think that's really a reason for the success of the Switch. While Switch is getting a lot of indie games, most of them are ports of games that already came out some time ago on any or all of PC / PS4 / XB1 / Vita.

      You can play just as many (if not more) indie games on PS4 or XB1, and those are cheaper than a Switch. I don't know, maybe it's the portability that makes it more appealing than the other consoles?

        For some reason, the indie seen is nuts on the Switch. It's not uncommon to see stories about the Switch release of an indie selling more than all other sales combined, or at least double the next highest console.

          It's taken over from Vita as the indies platform of choice, and I suspect it's at least partly for the same reason - they can get some clear air there.

          When Vita launched, there was an initial flurry of AAA games for it from Sony and 3rd parties. Once it became apparent that it wasn't going to be the success they hoped, that dried up pretty quickly (although there was still a fair bit of Japanese support since the Vita was very successful there, at least). But once the EA's and Activisions and UbiSofts (not to mention Sony themselves) abandoned it, indies found that they basically had a platform all to themselves with a user base big enough to support games made on those limited budgets.

          Now they look at Switch, and while there is AAA support there, it's nowhere near as big as it is on PS4 / XB1. Look at the latter part of last year - if you launched your indie game on Switch in late 2018 then yeah, you're up against Nintendo's big first party games like Smash Bros, just as you have to contend with the exclusives on the other platforms. But at least you're not also trying to compete with RDR2, Assassin's Creed, COD, Battlefield, etc etc.

        I would definitely think the timing of its release played a massive part in it, everyone who wanted a ps4 or xbone would have assuredly already bought one and the switch isn't like super expensive or anything.
        For myself I already had an xbone, I skipped the wii u and have always loved Nintendos first party games, so once I heard it was a solid console , and that zelda was fantastic I jumped in. I won't lie when I say I'm a big indie game fan and the switch has been just marvelous for that.

      To be fair, it could be a mix of all those things in some way or form.

      Another thought, the 3DS continued to sell strong numbers during the early days of the PS4 era, potentially many customers see the Switch as its replacement even if Nintendo don't.

    And yet Fortnite was still the most played game on the Switch in 2018. Maybe Smash would have knocked it off with more time.

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