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Nintendo: Our digital sales are soaring

Reggie Fils-Aime tells us that Fire Emblem alone sold around 80,000 units digitally; also, the pace of Wii U releases will increase "dramatically"

Last August, Nintendo began to more fully embrace digital distribution as a way to get games in people's hands - a notable shift for a company that had previously stayed an arm's distance from the online world.

The experiment is paying off. Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, says digital downloads are fast becoming a notable contributor to the company's bottom line - and he expects the trend to continue its rapid rise.

"We have 15 Nintendo-published titles available, both physically and digitally [on the 3DS]," he says. "So far in 2013, of those 15 available in this format, 11 percent of sales have come through full digital downloads of those games."

The numbers get more impressive with some individual titles. Fils-Aime says Fire Emblem Awakening has sold 240,000 units life-to-date in the US - with one-third of those in digital form.

Fils-Aime was in the mood to talk more about the 3DS than the Wii U, given the company's plans to announce new entries in the Legend of Zelda, Yoshi's Island and Mario Party franchises at today's Nintendo Direct broadcast. And given that system's success compared to its console cousin, that's understandable.

"So far in 2013 - through April 15 - 3DS game sales are up 55 percent versus last year, counting both physical and digital"

While the Wii U has yet to gain significant traction in the market, the 3DS has become something of a surprise success story. In the first two years on the market, it sold 8 million units in the US - 1 million more than its predecessor. And game sales have kept pace.

"When the NPD numbers come out later this week, you're going to see life-to-date 3DS game sales surpass 20 million units in the US," says Fils-Aime. "And that's just physical. It doesn't include digital sales. ... So far in 2013 - through April 15 - 3DS game sales are up 55 percent versus last year, counting both physical and digital."

Fire Emblem Awakening - a digital success story for Nintendo

67 percent of all Nintendo 3DS owners have connected their 3DS to the Internet so far. And most of those have found something of interest in the eShop.

"Through that connected experience, consumers have downloaded more than 41 million items from the eShop - everything from full games to applications like Nintendo video, DLC, demos, free items, and more," says Fils-Aime.

The 3DS was criticized initially for a slow ramp of games, something Nintendo has tried to counter with releases like Luigi's Mansion (which Fils-Aime says has sold 415,000 units so far) and today's Nintendo Direct announcements. Over the next nine months, he says, "the pace is going to be dramatically ramped up."

That's also going to be true of the Wii U, he says - but it appears the company is keeping that powder dry for E3.

"What I would say about Wii U - and what Mr. Iwata has said - is that the pace of launches has been slower than we hoped. But as we prepare for E3, the pace of launches for Wii U is going to dramatically increase."

One area you shouldn't expect the company to focus on, however, is non-gaming entertainment. While competitors like Microsoft see the console as a gateway into the living room that works in conjunction with the cable box, Fils-Aime and Nintendo would prefer to stay focused on games - and they believe the same is true of Nintendo's customer base.

"The pace of [Wii U] launches has been slower than we hoped. But as we prepare for E3, the pace of launches for Wii U is going to dramatically increase"

"We believe consumers buy our systems first as a gaming system, then enjoy the other entertainment options, so that's why we're putting such a big emphasis on the gaming software," he says.

Of course, another part of that software emphasis is the coming competition this holiday period. The Wii U will be fighting Sony's PlayStation 4 (and, almost certainly, Microsoft's new Xbox) for customer dollars. Nintendo's hoping the big guns in its new software lineup outshine the launch titles of the other systems.

To win the battle, though, it helps to be in as many retail storefronts as possible - and Nintendo is absent in one of the biggest: Amazon. While the retailer sells Nintendo hardware through some of its retail partners, it has not carried the products itself for a long time.

Fils-Aime declined to say precisely why the two companies seemingly aren't able to work together on hardware sales, noting that it was ultimately Amazon's decision.

"We have programs we make available to all retailers," he says. "So then in the end, it becomes a decision by the retailer how they want to participate. Right now, Amazon is focused on selling software, but has decided not to sell hardware."

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Chris Morris avatar
Chris Morris: Chris Morris has covered the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and breaking several major stories. He was the author of CNNMoney’s 'Game Over' and has also written for Yahoo!, Variety,, and other publications.
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