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Wii U matches early Wii sales at 3 million, but Nintendo earnings show a murky future for the machine

Speculation can be laid aside. No more compiling snippets of data based on the amalgamated research of firms like NPD Group, market analysts, and retailers. Nintendo itself laid down the raw numbers on the sales performance of its new home console, the Wii U. Nintendo believed before the Wii U’s release that, with supplies limited and expected demand high, it will sell 5.5 million consoles between November 2012 and the end of March 2013. With the lucrative holiday season behind it and two months to go, Nintendo is going to fall far short of its initial expectations. What’s more, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Wii U will not match its predecessor’s success.

Nintendo reported its earnings for the holiday period on Wednesday, revealing that it’s sold just over 3 million Wii U consoles worldwide since releasing the machine on Nov. 18. Back in 2006 Nintendo sold almost the exact same number of Nintendo Wii consoles over the same period, putting the two machines on the same trajectory going into its first year. There’s a problem, though. Nintendo has seen demand for the Wii U slow since its debut and as such had to downgrade its expectations. Rather than 5.5 million Wii Us sold by the end of March, Nintendo now only expects to sell 4 million.

The Wii hit 4 million handily over its first four months, selling 436,000 consoles in January 2007 alone. Its success illustrates why, despite comparable sales at first, the Wii U is failing to match its predecessor’s success. Nintendo was unable to keep up with demand for Wii during this period, with retailers selling out throughout 2007 and into 2008. The Wii U, meanwhile, is readily available on shelves. There was also a key release for the Wii during its first four months, Wii Play, that kept demand at a fever pitch. The Wii U’s only confirmed exclusive releases coming between now and the end of March are Rayman Legends and LEGO City Undercover. Neither have the sales potential of Wii Play, which included an extra Wii remote to encourage buyers.

Nintendo’s earnings weren’t all bad news. The Nintendo 3DS continues to sell well, and people are buying plenty of games. Nintendo expects a boost in profits as well. Where it was previously expecting profits of approximately $75 million, it’s now expecting to bring in nearly $154 million thanks to favorable currency exchange rates. Total revenue, however, is going to crash. Nintendo is now only expecting to bring in a total of above $7 billion, where it was previously expecting to bring in almost $9 billion.

2013 is going to be a rough year for Nintendo. Unless the company can get more Wii Us in people’s hands, developers aren’t going to invest in new games for the platform. Even the Wii needed games like Carnival Games to keep it strong outside of Nintendo-made content. With Nintendo’s development cycle for Wii U games sluggish, it needs those third-parties more than ever.

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