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The State of Nintendo in 2016

They've certainly seen their ups and downs this year, but how does Nintendo stand up at the end of 2016?

Nintendo has long been one of -- if not the biggest -- names in gaming. The company whose roots date back all the way to 1889 has seen some of its hardware take 3 of the 5 highest spots for sales in gaming history, as well as the weakest sales in recent history. 2016 has shown that Nintendo has continued this state of perpetual ups and downs as the Wii U reached toward the end of its life cycle, and the 3DS continued to be the lifestream of their operations.

Unfortunately, the overall health of Nintendo's operations has been rather difficult to pinpoint as investors and fans butted heads throughout the year. Many controversies arose over things such as a dismal library and sales for the Wii U line of consoles, while 3DS sales and ventures into mobile gaming have been met with relatively high success.

But after a wild ride of a year that saw the release of Pokemon GO, the announcement of the Nintendo Switch, and many other great titles among the disappointments, how has Nintendo fared overall? Today we'll be taking a look at the year of 2016 to see just how well Nintendo actually did this year, and see if the console giant still makes as big of a footprint as it used to.

The Wii U fades out with a whimper...

Depending on who you ask, the verdict on the Wii U's sales are rather doing abysmally or just good enough. This is in part due to Microsoft's lack of information on current sales numbers which -- according to rumors -- are rather still sitting in the 10 million mark or just under 20 million. It's essentially a race to avoid the bottom as both Nintendo and Microsoft's home consoles' confirmed sales sit at about the same mark as Sony's widely considered "failed handheld," the PlayStation Vita.

That said, the Wii U's sales for software have actually been fairly decent overall. At the time of this article's publishing, the Wii U has an approximate sale rate of 6.9 software titles per Wii U unit. This places the Wii U in 5th place overall for software-hardware ratios, with only the SNES, NES, Wii and GameCube beating it in this field. That said, the GameCube sold about 9.6 games per console sold, so make of that what you will.

This year certainly did not help the Wii U's reputation either as sales slowed down, and most releases consisted of short arcade-style games, and remakes. Even Nintendo failed to produce first party titles for the console, the only releases from their publishing branch this year being:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
  • Pokkén Tournament
  • Star Fox Zero/Guard
  • Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
  • Paper Mario: Color Splash

Even to the most dedicated fan, this selection is abysmal, especially when compared to last year. In 2015 the Wii U had a momentary revival with multiple game releases such as: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yoshi's Wooly World, and more. While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks promising, it is doubtful that the game will have a significant impact on the Wii U's sales as the Nintendo Switch's port might very well drain away any potential buyers of the Wii U version.

The Nintendo 3DS rocks the stage!

While the Wii U disappointed on many levels, Nintendo's 3DS line of handhelds has actually done remarkably well. Not only has the handheld sold almost 6 times more than its rival - the PlayStation Vita - but has also 14.17 million more units than the highest selling home console, the PlayStation 4.

Despite not selling as many software titles per unit as the Wii U (approximately 4.8 copies per hardware unit), the 3DS has seen its library expand greatly over the course of the year. Published by Nintendo alone, the 3DS has received over 18 first party published titles. Among the herd are multiple major non-remake releases including:

  • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
  • Fire Emblem Fates
  • Bravely Second: End Layer
  • Kirby: Planet Robobot
  • Metroid Prime: Federation Force
  • Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
  • Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls
  • Pokemon Sun and Moon

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as many 3rd party and indie titles were released for the handheld throughout the year. The list here serves the sole purpose of making it evident that the 3DS has seriously outperformed the Wii U, especially in terms of software releases. Considering the weak start the 3DS had when it first launched, this can only be considered a good thing for the future of Nintendo handhelds.

Outside the Consoles...

Nintendo goes mobile!

While Nintendo may not have had a direct hand in Pokemon GO, they are one of the major shareholders of The Pokemon Company, and have benefitted from the game's release in multiple ways. The mobile game, which was released earlier this year in July, quickly became the biggest games in mobile history, stealing and surpassing the titles set by games such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans in only a few short days. 

The game to this day continues to provide a steady stream of income, making about $500,000 a day, placing it among the top 5 biggest daily earners. It is arguably also partially responsible for the success of The Pokemon Company's 20th anniversary celebration doing so well, as well as boosting pre-orders for Pokemon Sun and Moon, and by extension Nintendo's 3DS hardware.

Unfortunately, Miitomo -- Nintendo's other mobile title -- has not seen nearly as much success. According to Survey Monkey, Miitomo has seen a weekly churn of 48%. This means almost half of the users who play the game on any given day stop using the app the following week. Weekly users barely float over the 1 million mark at any given time, and this can only be a bad thing for a social media app.

Whether or not Nintendo's latest update to the app can salvage it from the grave is an entirely different matter. However, despite being a dedicated user myself, I don't see it happening.

The NX gets revealed!

Nintendo's big reveal of the year, the Nintendo Switch was the console that became of their codename NX announcement from 2 years ago. The console is a handheld household console hybrid that prides itself on being both portable, as well as powerful. Throughout their first looks trailer, Nintendo made it apparent that they are looking to create a console that is great for individual gamers, group get-togethers, and even the eSports scene.

On the flipside, both fans and investors had very different reactions from each other. While fans celebrated the Nintendo Switch, praising its bold departure from the Wii U, investors failed to see the innovation in the device. This divide led to a strange drop in stock prices despite the overwhelmingly positive response from fans and developers. Thankfully, the company's shares have somewhat stabilized since then.

Only time will tell whether or not the Nintendo Switch is successful as the main stress points that will make or break the console have yet to be revealed. Most of all, both fans and investors seemed worried about the price point of the device. Without an official price listing, everyone can only hope that the device's price will sit somewhere between the price of a home console and that of a handheld device. Should the recent placeholder put up by Toys R Us Canada be anything to go by, their fears might just be alleviated.

The Verdict

While it's rather easy to say that Nintendo did poorly this year based on the Wii U alone, the success of both the Nintendo Switch announcement, as well as 3DS sales says otherwise. The takeaway? Nintendo is just being as Nintendo has been in the years since the Wii U's release: not doing incredibly well, but not terribly either.

With plenty of upcoming news for the Switch just around the corner, Nintendo fans can rest easy that the company will be ready to dish out another round of great titles in the coming years. Hopefully, the new console will meet expectations, and we will see the company rise to the best-seller list once more. After all, if the sales of the PS4 and Xbox One are anything to go by, Nintendo needs to be the company to somehow bring console gaming back to the forefront.

But what do you think about Nintendo's success and failures in 2016? Do you have high hopes for the Nintendo Switch? Do you wish people gave the Wii U a chance? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Published Nov. 16th 2016

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