Total Wii U sales overtake total Xbox 360 sales… in Japan

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Good news for Nintendo at long last… well, sort of, anyway. Apparently the total lifetime sales of the Wii U (ie: sales since the console was first released) have finally overtaken sales of the Xbox 360. Whilst this may on the surface sound like great news… it needs to be taken with a large pinch of context.

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The numbers are pretty clear. According to Eurogamer, the WiiU has sold 1,643,095 units in Japan since its December 2012 launch – versus 1,641,528 Xbox 360s sold since its December 2005 (yes, 2005) launch. Not bad, right? I’m not so sure.

Whilst some people (specifically, wrong people) might wish to view this as encouraging news for the struggling platform, there’s two key factors at work that make Japan’s gaming dynamics very different to the West.

The first is that Japan is unusually receptive to Nintendo products – not surprising perhaps, as Nintendo are the home team in the territory. Culturally, Japanese gamers are proportionally slightly more interested in fun characters and collecting coins, than the brown-landscaped, gritty murder simulators we play in the West. So Mario’s appeal will be more enduring.

The second is that the Xbox 360 has historically performed disastrously in Japan. Though 1.6million lifetime sales isn’t terrible, when it was first released the weekly sales figures were embarrassing – shifting only a couple of hundred units a week. It wasn’t until Microsoft released Blue Dragon in 2006 that Japanese gamers started paying attention. For the sake comparison, the PS3 lifetime sales is 6.3 million. (The Xbox 360 vs PS3 divide is closer to 50/50 in the West).

As for comparisons with the current generation of consoles… things are less promising. The PS4 was only released a couple of weeks ago in Japan, and has already shifted 309,154 units – already about 20% of the way to matching the WiiU. As for the Xbox One, it still hasn’t been released over there – and with Microsoft only giving a vague “2014” indication. It is almost as though they don’t care… or are bitter about having their fingers burnt last time around.

So whilst yes, Nintendo have achieved something… it’s a bit like they’ve beaten an old and greying player at a game of their choosing, whilst playing at home. It’s a victory… but not a particularly spectacular one.

Still, anything for a bit of good Wii U news, right?

James O’Malley
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