Nintendo took a lot of risks with the Wii U. It bet on the second-screen controller becoming a major draw, that the console's relatively limited hardware wouldn't be an issue, and that it could spark the same kind of meteoric sales volume a second time around. It's the first time Nintendo has ever tried to launch such a comprehensive device, and as we noted in our review, the Wii U isn't a slam dunk.
Early sales data for the all-important holiday season indicates that gamers may feel the same way. Japanese magazine Famitsu reported that post-Christmas Wii U sales slumped to 70,000 units per week, down from 76,000 the week before. That's particularly important because, in Japan, the week after Christmas is when teens tend to spend their holiday money. Sales of every other console on the market, from the decrepit PSP to the Xbox 360, PS3, and 3DS, all went up. Even the Vita managed to nearly double its sales, from 18,000 to 31,000 units.
Wii U sales, in absolute terms, are still good. NPD reports that the console moved about 2.52M units worldwide, and 890,000 units in the United States. The question, however, isn't whether or not the Wii U's initial demand is good, but whether the console can sustain positive growth given its flaws and the spectre of competition looming from Sony and Microsoft. If those two companies plan massive unveils for E3 later this year, Wii U sales could tank as consumers opt to save for one of the newer options.
The $299 price point is another potential weak spot. It's not that the Wii U is a bad value at $299, but when it launched in 2006, it was dramatically cheaper than the PS3 or Xbox 360. The Wii was often sold-out and nearly impossible to find at retail, but if you could
locate one, you could've bought two Wii's for the launch price of a single PS3. That kind of math made Nintendo's console the default choice for gamers who didn't have $600 to spend. The Wii's 480p maximum resolution wasn't a problem either -- if you didn't already own an HDTV, the prospect of buying one to take full advantage of your new console made the entire affair even more expensive.
Long term, I think the Wii U is going to be fine, but I also think Nintendo is going to have to face facts sooner, rather than later. Attempting to keep the company's franchises locked up and limited to just its own platforms may not be a tenable solution going forward.
The good news for Nintendo, though, is that the company has 8-10 months to polish the current Wii U out-of-box experience. If it can make that happen quickly, it could be the preferable platform for general entertainment and audio-visual capabilities by the time the Xbox Durango