Nintendo Sales Hit Harder Than Expected, All Eyes On Wii U

Nintendo's third-quarter sales came in below expectations today, as the company struggled with lower-than-anticipated demand for its 3DS handhelds and a generally weak console market. In April, the company predicted it would sell 10.5 million Wii's by the end of its fiscal year; that's since been slashed to five million.

3DS sales were also lower than expected, with forecasts for the full year now at 17.5M units, down from 18.5M. The chart below, courtesy of VGChartz, shows comparative 3DS sales from April - October, 2011 and the same period in 2012. 2011 is in orange, 2012 in yellow.  

The summer bump was courtesy of the 3DS XL and the launch titles that accompanied it, but demand has fallen again as economic uncertainty and stiff competition from mobile devices both gnaw at Nintendo. October's steep decline could also be related to consumer's prioritizing saving for the Wii U rather than splurging on a 3DS/XL. Despite this, total 3DS sales are still up for 2012 compared to 2011.

The slump is scarcely unique to the 3DS. Here's total console sales across all platforms, compared from 2009 - 2012.

The entire video game industry is taking a beating, and it's not entirely clear why. More eyes than just Nintendo's are going to be trained on the Wii U. It's not just a question of whether or not the company's new tablet controller is attractive to consumers, there's a much bigger issue at hand -- do consumers want new consoles at all?

First day sales are an increasingly poor way to measure demand for a console; the 3DS and PSV both chalked up strong initial volume, only to slump badly after a few weeks. The 3DS, at least, has managed to recover, and while it'll never be as strong as its predecessor, it's scarcely a failure.

The Vita's fate is less certain, and no one knows yet if slumping sales are simply due to macroeconomic factors, consumer desire for new consoles, or a fundamental shift in gaming trends. Several of the Wii U's launch titles are meant to appeal to the hardcore gamers that the Wii typically eschewed, while first-party launch titles like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Brothers U should keep the console from debuting with a bevy of mediocre ports and half-baked games.