Nintendo’s Wii U sold more than 460,000 units in December — enough to outpace the sales of its predecessor but not enough to take the top spot in video-game console sales.
The Wii U figures, released by Nintendo on Thursday night, are from the NPD Group’s December report on the video-game industry as a whole.
Overall, the numbers were in line with the flagging sales that have plagued the industry all year. But it was particularly disappointing for Nintendo, which needed an unqualified hit to shake the bad press that’s plagued it since the Wii’s popularity started to wane.
Microsoft and Sony are expected to announce new consoles soon, since both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are several years old. In fact, Microsoft’s Xbox guru Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb dropped an enigmatic hint that the next Xbox may debut at this summer’s Electronic Entertainment Expo by posting a countdown to the show on his blog.
Gamers are certainly hungry for new, innovative hardware. For proof, look no further than this week’s CES tech show, where three game devices picked up a tremendous amount of buzz because they promised to pull hardcore PC gaming off of the desktop.
Nvidia’s Project SHIELD offered a glimpse of more mobile PC play by essentially putting a screen on a console controller. That raised gamers’ heartbeats not only because it untethers them from the keyboard and mouse, but also because it opens the door for more advanced streaming games.
Perhaps most threatening for Nintendo, however, was the announcement that the game company Valve is working with Xi3 Industries to deliver the Piston console, to bring streaming PC games straight to the TV without the user having to connect to a computer. Valve also said at E3 that it’s working on a “Steam Box,” which will run the Linux operating system. As VentureBeat reported, it’s not yet clear how closely related the two devices are.
Right now, the prototype console doesn’t have the multimedia and video-on-demand partnerships that give the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii U a place of honor. But because Nintendo has taken a while to amp up its entertainment, having started offering its social and searchable Nintendo TVii service only in December. That arguably makes it the most vulnerable to disruption from these upstarts. That will only increase as the technology advances to make network lag — skips between a key or button press and the action in games — increasingly less of a problem.
As gamers shift their interests from physical discs to digital downloads — for evidence, you need look no further than the ever-shrinking PC sections in game stores — leaner, more mobile machines are becoming more attractive. That could knock more traditional consoles out of the living room altogether.