Is this Game Over for Nintendo?

Nintendo has been having a rough time since the release of their two latest consoles, the 3DS (released in 2011) and the WiiU (released in 2012), announcing what multiple sources cite as “their first fiscal loss in 30 years.” Let’s look at the numbers: worldwide, the Wii U sold 460 thousand copies from its release until September of this year, while the 3DS sold 15 million copies, also since its release. That would make it, respectively, 460 thousand in a year, and 15 million in 2 years. Now compare these figures to their predecessors, the Nintendo Wii (which sold 5.84 million units one year after its release) and the Nintendo DS (which sold 35.61 million units two years after its release) and there’s a clear difference. In terms of actual money, Nintendo lost 28 billion Yen, roughly 186 million US Dollars, from the Wii U flop alone. But why has this loss occurred? And how is/can the Big Red N going to recover?

Generally, Nintendo’s recent history before the Wii U and 3DS has been one of equally grand hits and misses. While there were major successes such as the Wii’s first-party games (i.e. Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bros., and the like) and the original Nintendo DS lineup of games and hardware in general, Nintendo was dubbed the “little brother” of Microsoft and Sony, for having consoles displaying generally inferior graphics and an excessive amount of horrible third-party games. These faults, along with the technical superiority of its competitors, caused Nintendo to fall in the interest of the general gaming public; going against its bigger, better rivals, Nintendo became the “kid console company.”

This view extended itself to the current lineup of gaming systems—the Wii U and 3DS were both seen as “just another Nintendo console” when announced, despite the consoles’ amazing selling pitches (3D video games for the 3DS, separate screen for the WiiU). This increased Nintendo’s need for more “serious” third-party games, made especially obvious with the WiiU, which upon release had games such as Batman: Arkham City and Watch Dogs being listed alongside Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101. The majority of these third-party games, however, were merely rehashes of games that came out a few years prior on other consoles, rendering the Wii U and 3DS practically useless.

It would seem, however, that during the last semester of 2013, Nintendo is learning from their mistakes. Recently, they have been focusing on making quality first-party games that allow for many hours of replay. Notably, the Nintendo 3DS has had four of these games, which came out almost one after the other: Kid Icarus Uprising, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Pokémon X and Y. The latter two caused a recent boost in 3DS hardware sales, with Animal Crossing passing 6 million copies this November and X and Y selling four million copies only two days after its release in October. The trend continues with the Wii U, where the creation of a console-game bundle with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD as well as a drop to the console’s price helped boost the WiiU’s sales significantly. Further major first-party games such as Super Mario 3D World and Super Smash Bros. Wii U are expected for release later by early 2014, which should increase sales even more. The Wii U also seems to be receiving less “shovelware” (a term used to describe low-quality games that use the console’s main resources) and is releasing its third party games at the same time as its competitors (recent examples include Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed 4). Furthermore, some of its third-party games are being released with exclusive content, giving the WiiU a small edge over the competition.

While Nintendo’s uphill run seems to be finally paying off, they still have quite a bit of catching up to do. The PS4 and the Xbox One—the Wii U’s current competition—seem to, despite their ever-increasing prices (especially in Brazil, where prices soar in the quadruple digits), have a fantastic lineup of games, as well as superior software and graphics. For now, the second semester of 2013, Nintendo has won the handheld battle, with Nintendo 3DS sales surpassing those of its main competitor’s, the PS Vita, but it hasn’t won the war. One can only wait to see what Nintendo has in their item box for the upcoming major gaming conferences because, as any Mario Kart player knows, last place always gets the blue shell.