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UK retail backs Mario to tackle World Cup effect

With DS Lite already off to a solid start in the UK and a new GTA release racing to the top of the charts, retail is now pinning its hopes on tomorrow's release of New Super Mario Bros to increase momentum.

With DS Lite already off to a solid start in the UK and a new GTA release racing to the top of the charts, retail is now pinning its hopes on tomorrow's release of New Super Mario Bros to increase momentum and counter negative impact on consumer spending caused by this weekend's crucial England World Cup match.

A traditional quiet period for retail has been worsened by the transition and the impact of the football tournament currently being held in Germany, with the sales performance in recent weeks described by UK sales monitor ChartTrack as "dire".

Nevertheless, with DS Lite and GTA: Liberty City Stories on PS2 spearheading a minor revival in UK software and hardware sales last week, Mario's DS-exclusive adventure is tipped to provide an additional and timely boost both to DS Lite and the overall market.

"Consumer interest is high for New Super Mario Bros., and all indications are that it could be Nintendo's biggest release so far this year which, considering Animal Crossing's success, is phenomenal," said Steve O'Brien, boss of leading independent retailer Action Replay.

Lite sold through an encouraging 35,000 units in its opening weekend in the UK, and was welcomed with not a little relief by an embattled retail community.

"Sales were in line with positive expectations," HMV head of games Tim Ellis told GamesIndustry.biz. "We sold more of the white model as we have more of it overall, but about ten of our stores ran out of the black by virtue of smaller quantities of stock available. Stores should be fully stocked again shortly, however."

"We think that Nintendo has done a great job in marketing this product and its strong customer appeal clearly caught the imagination of our customers," added GAME's commercial planning manager Alex Vines. "Both colours did very well due to the fact that they appeal to different consumers."

"DS Lite outsold what I anticipated but it didn't set the world alight," offered Action Replay's O'Brien. "We sold out of white, which was the weaker of the two SKUs to start with. Black, initially, was the most popular in our stores. I think Nintendo's done another great job in terms of giving itself another sales spurt."

The arrival of the new system appeared to boost DS software sales, with both Brain Training and Nintendogs: Dalmatian & Friends moving up the Top 10 in the ChartTrack UK all formats listing, but a direct correlation was not witnessed by everyone.

HMV's Ellis revealed there was a "significant increase in associated software" at the entertainment chain, while O'Brien observed: "The attach rate was extremely low. Even with bundles it was less than 1:1. I'm not convinced that New Super Mario will drive hardware sales unless Nintendo were to bundle the product, which at this stage isn't really necessary.

"I would think that Brain Training Academy is possibly pencilled in to do that job at the beginning of the all important summer holiday period," he added.

The launch of Lite also, notably, failed to impact negatively on sales of the original DS. Sales of the Pink model in particular - popular with female consumers - remained solid.

"Our Nintendogs bundles are still performing consistently well thanks to the DS Lite being targeted at a different customer to that of the original pink and blue consoles," GAME's Vine revealed. With a Pink SKU of Lite confirmed for Japan earlier this week, however, it is surely only a matter of time before the original DS loses its USP in this territory.

Yet despite the hoped-for sales boost Mario is expected to deliver, such optimism could well prove short-lived, with an otherwise bleak release calendar failing to alleviate fears that the tough trading conditions are set to continue over the coming months.

"This summer is all about treading water and waiting for the things that are better to come," added O'Brien. "It's paramount we don't all take our eye off the ball as market share is obviously going to be important when it comes to allocation for new formats. It's almost the worst summer I've ever seen in terms of releases and the consumers' response to them."

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Johnny Minkley

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Johnny Minkley is a veteran games writer and broadcaster, former editor of Eurogamer TV, VP of gaming charity SpecialEffect, and hopeless social media addict.