Nintendo Switch has sold ten million consoles, but is it the success it claims to be?

Posted on December 18, 2017

Another month, another report of the success of the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo has announced that their Switch has now sold in excess of 10 million consoles over its mere 9 months on sale.  To put this in perspective, their previous console the Wii U managed 13 million sales in its 4 year lifespan.  Every new console is a huge risk and this one appears to be paying off, at least on the surface.

It goes without saying that the Nintendo Switch has had a crazy successful year. The console was unveiled mere months before launch. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a launch title. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a sales smash and huge success. Super Mario Odyssey arrived later on in the year and blew everyone away. The Switch has some of the highest reviewed games of the year. The reports of its success have been coming thick and fast. But is everything all it’s cracked up to be?

There are a couple of interesting things happening in the background, one of those is the Japan side of things. The Nintendo Switch is outselling all other consoles combined at the moment and despite shortages is approaching 3 million consoles sold. The PS4 in it’s lifetime has sold approximately 5 million consoles in Japan and the Xbox One is non existent there, meaning that the Switch is on track to become market leader. But everywhere else in the world is a different story. The PS4 is the clear market leader globally, just surpassing 70 million consoles in gamers homes. If 5 million are in Japan its just under 10% of their market. Whereas with the Switch, 30% of their lifetime sales are in Japan at the moment.

This means a couple of things. Firstly many notable third party developers are based in Japan. The winner there will likely get more attention from the local developers. The other thing is that a lot of the Switches success is local success. 7 Million consoles outside of Japan, in a launch year is impressive. But it is nowhere near enough to catch Sony. In reality this is Nintendo’s second attempt at this generation and the others have a three year head start. In Europe for example the PS4 is outselling the Switch at a ratio of 4:1 which is very strong momentum and looks like it has a very strong 2018 ahead of it. So could we have a situation where Japanese developers flock to the Switch yet Sony maintains a monopoly in the West?

Ultimately, the regular reports of the Switch’s runaway success is great news for Nintendo. They clearly have executed on their strategy in 2017 and gamers have responded. They have built a strong base for themselves going into next year. But I do wonder if the constant reports are starting to give a slightly warped impression of the true state of play. Clearly in Japan the Switch is a sales powerhouse, however globally Nintendo is a small player in a large market.

That said though, another year like the one just been and the gaming world could look much different in 12 months time.