2012: The World According to Nintendo

Iwata talks regional sales, Wii U predictions, selling hardware at a loss and digital downloads

Nintendo revealed its first full-year loss in company history yesterday, with the business $531 million in the red after a poor launch for the 3DS, declining Wii sales, a weak Christmas period and tough exchange rates due to the strong Yen.

Speaking in an investor presentation following the results, president Satoru Iwata offered his analysis of the current home and handheld video game market from Nintendo's perspective, looking at the key markets of Japan, the US and Europe, as well as addressing future strategies for 3DS, Wii U and digital growth.

Chart analysis


2012 Hardware Units Sales in Japan

Japan is Nintendo's strongest market. Hardware units sales for the first quarter of the year have been impressive for the 3DS with only the PlayStation 3 a noticeable competitor. Sony's PS Vita by comparison looks in poor shape, being outsold in the handheld market by its predecessor the PSP.

"We believe this is a sign that the Nintendo 3DS has a strong presence in the market," noted Iwata. "On the other hand, since this year started, we have seen the Wii sales quickly losing momentum. In the home console market this year, Sony's PlayStation 3 remains in good shape," he added.

Of the top 20 software titles in Japan so far this year, 15 are for Nintendo systems, 13 of which are 3DS games and five of those first-party releases.

Over in the US the story is quite different, with Iwata acknowledging that Microsoft's Xbox 360 has maintained hardware sales momentum in 2012, although it does not seem to be due to sales of the Kinect peripheral.

"Some Kinect titles fared well in the chart towards the end of last year, but it seems that this momentum did not continue, so Kinect is probably not responsible for the Xbox 360's current sales growth," he said.

Kinect is probably not responsible for the Xbox 360's current sales growth

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo

There were eight Xbox 360 games in the top 20 best-sellers for 2012 according to NPD, compared to six from Sony and six from Nintendo. Iwata added that sales of the 3DS in the region are below expectations.

"Considering that the U.S. market is two or three times the size of its Japanese equivalent, I believe that the sales of the Nintendo 3DS in the U.S. are far below the level that it could potentially reach." There's also still a decent market for the original DS, according to Nintendo.


UK software sales Jan-March 2012, highlighting the dominance of Xbox 360 games.

In Europe it's all change again, with Sony showing the strongest in terms of hardware sales according to Nintendo estimates. "Although the Nintendo 3DS has recently increased its weekly sales, it is far from a satisfactory level," he offered.

Breaking down European regions, Nintendo noted that of the top 20 best-selling titles in 2012, Nintendo claims ten hits in Germany, and nine each in Spain and France. There are six Nintendo titles in the UK charts, but "the UK market is virtually the only market in Europe where the Xbox 360 has a strong presence," according to Iwata. "In fact, it dominates the PlayStation 3, and it is in stark contrast to the other European markets."

Sales forecasts for 2012


Sales forecasts for Nintendo hardware/software. Forecasts for Wii U and original Wii are combined.

Nintendo has said it expects to return to a profit in the current financial year, but disappointingly isn't yet breaking out sales of the original Wii and Wii U, due for sale before Christmas 2012. Instead it has combined sales in its forecasts, expecting 10.5 million combined Wii unit sales and 70 million combined Wii software sales.

"We think that the software sales of the Nintendo DS and the Wii will rather significantly decrease due to the small number of games scheduled in this fiscal year," said Iwata.

"We don't anticipate that the software sales of the Wii U can compensate for the decrease in those of the Wii because the Wii U will be launched as late as in the holiday season and then the total unit sales of the Wii U will be limited in this fiscal year. This is one of the reasons our business performance inevitably fluctuates when we change platforms."

Software sales forecasts for the Wii U and the 3DS include those to be downloaded via digital distribution but exclude Virtual Console software and download-only software.

Sales of the 3DS are expected to climb to 18.5 million with game sales of 73 million.

Selling at a loss

Speaking of the 3DS, Iwata quite simply stated that in the first half of the financial year Nintendo intends to "get out of the situation that we sell the hardware below cost," following last year's poor results. Software must remain evergreen said Iwata, rolling out a well-worn list of Nintendo franchises, before admitting that last year suffered with a large gap between 3DS releases "which delayed the beginning of the year-end sales season and we eventually missed our goal of the sales forecast."

Expanding the digital business

But the headline news from Nintendo's conference call was the reveal that it intends to release digital games at the same time as physical products, although solid details were thin on the ground.

Over 70 % of 3DS users in the US and Japan have connected to the internet compared to 50% in Europe

"The company will offer the software titles that Nintendo itself publishes in both packaged and digital download formats so that our consumers can choose the way to purchase them," offered Iwata.

He revealed that in Japan and the US over 70 per cent of 3DS users have connected to the internet, while in that figure is only 50 per cent in Europe and Australia, "which is not a satisfactory level yet."

Iwata said he wanted to continue to use traditional retail to sell digital content using codes purchased at physical or online stores, and noted a difficulty in exposing potential customers to digital content. "If only the consumers who proactively visit the Nintendo eShop are aware of the digital download software that we deploy, there is no chance that our digital business can drastically expand," he said.

"By asking our retailers to take part in selling our digital products as we propose, they can prevent the losses due to having excess inventory and prevent their business opportunities from being lost due to being out of stock," he concluded.

Related stories

Nintendo to halt service of two mobile games in Belgium amid loot box debacle

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes to be taken offline in Belgium on August 27

By Haydn Taylor

Nintendo Switch sales pass PS4 in Japan

But it is off the pace of DS and 3DS

By Christopher Dring

Latest comments (8)

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Matt, you missed the units of measure in the hardware and software projections. It's based on 10,000 units, not 1,000 units. You need to move the decimal to the right one space.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University7 years ago
The sales curve for DS was around 6 months ahead in Japan when compared to the US/Europe, so I doubt Nintendo will be too worried yet, but obviously they need to make sure they build more momentum for 3DS in the West. Mario Tennis, New Super Mario Bros 2 and Brain Training this year would do wonders. Japan's had more big hits than the West so far, most obviously Monster Hunter Tri, and most recently Fire Emblem.

Nintendo need a more consistent release schedule, and a more versatile software pricing model.

Edit: six months ahead, not 50%. What was I thinking?!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 27th April 2012 3:00pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers7 years ago
I suppose the $64 question for Nintendo is whether or not 3DS sales will eventually live up to expectations in the West. I think this year will be very telling as to what the system's long term viability will be.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (8)
As Jim said, all the numbers in the article are wrong, i.e. "Sales of the 3DS are expected to climb to 1.8 million with game sales of 7.3 million"

...should be...

"Sales of the 3DS are expected to climb to 18 million with game sales of 73 million"

This idea of "selling digital products through retail" is an intriguing one, not sure if its ever been done before.

Will they sell both physical & digital at once? Will the prices be the same? Will they be forced to sell physical copies first, before selling digital ones? Will retailers take their cut of the digital goods? What happens if someone buys a digital product, but can't install it (for whatever reason)? Could you take a 3DS into a store, and have the download done there?

Nintendo would gain the "store advertising", but lose the extra shipped (vrs sold) units.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Michael, I believe the stores are in charge of the actual pricing (so no price difference and if there is a boxed sale, it's on sale via DD as well) and everything will be launched together, nothing boxed first or DD first.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mohammed Alsadoon Staff Writer, Gaming Bus7 years ago
You guys scared me there, I thought my numbers were wrong for a minute but it seems you guys missed a decimal point.

But Nintendo are basically counting on about the same sales for the 3DS this year and with Mario Tennis, New Super Mario Bros, Animal Crossing, Brain Age and hopefully Fire Emblem for North America, I expect them to get be able to hit that number.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Ingrams Writer 7 years ago
It's about the games. Why did the PC dominate in the 90's? Because graphics and sounds were better than consoles of the day? Not really. It was the range of games that did it, and the general quality. From Railroad Tycoon to Thief. From Civilization to Command and Conquer. From Sam and Max to X-Com UFO Defence.

If the industry can find a way to bring back a range of titles/genres, rather than shooters all playing the same and RPG's that become more Action-Adventure and "streamlined" with every new release, effectively giving us two genres only; we are heading for a really big fall!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Well, that would be interesting. If the retailer gets the same cut/price on both the boxes & DD versions, Nintendo would be making an extra $5-$10 on DD units - as there is no manufacture involved.

I would expect Nintendo to "sell" DD copies to retailers for less (also no shipping involved), and maybe give the retailer a slightly higher margin. I would also expect the retail price to be slightly lower (at least) than physical copies. No physical copy means no ability to trade-in (2nd-hand), give to friends and so on. I think if they priced the two identically, the system would fail and mainly physical would sell at retail.

Its an interesting point though: if the price for all versions (DD, DD via retail & physical) was always identical, I wonder how consumers would behave. Also begs the question as to whether physical copies could be "installed" (which would open several cans of worms...).
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.