While much has been said over the years about the disruptive influence of the Wii in the video game industry, it often needs little more than raw statistics to back it up. It's also, arguably, set high standards that are exceptionally difficult for Wii U to meet; sales and impact that have proven impossible for the new system in it's first few months, which it will perhaps also struggle to hit in the medium to long term.
As has been said elsewhere, the game industry is in the middle of another disruptive, awkward period where the goal posts are moving on a regular basis. One area under strain is the retail game market, with pressures on the pricing model, high street stores and development costs. The market is evolving, but perhaps Nintendo can take heart from the fact that, in the most recent shake-up of the retail market, it fared well.
Gamasutra took on the task of looking at software sales in the U.S. over the past two generations of home consoles, with some interesting results.
This first image shows the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era, and shows a clear dominance of multi-platform games — with the exception of the Halo titles — that were either mature experiences or EA published sports/racing games. GameCube has a presence in terms of multi-platform releases, but ultimately lost that particular console war in terms of unit sales.
These results reflect the end of the current/last generation, and show a shift with headline Wii titles fighting their way into the top 10. Call of Duty dominates in the multi-platform stakes, but the Wii exclusives' presence shows how big an impact the system had on the market, with the games in question being those typically associated with attracting less experienced gamers — or casual gamers, if you fancy opening that can of worms. If Nintendo could bottle these results and reproduce them, it'd be very happy indeed.
These figures, put together with assistance from NPD, do perhaps reflect how much some things can change at the top end of the market between generations. The coming generation that includes Wii U will have a lot of new variables, such as the role of download retail games, Sony's potential movement into some game streaming services, and challenges from alternative platforms.
There's also a final statistic that can arguably put a positive gloss on recent headlines of declining retail sales. In the respective top 10 lists, the previous generation big-sellers combined to around 50 million unit sales in the U.S., while the most recent generations' top 10 is estimated to have surpassed 100 million units. Retail game sales have dropped in the past couple of years, a challenge for the big three console makers to take on, but they've dropped after what's arguably been an impressive burst of growth — at least in the case of sales of the most popular games.
What will the coming generation bring, and will we see equally impressive figures for Nintendo and the industry as a whole in five to six years? Will Wii U and its competitors gradually capture the public's imagination and secure a healthy future for "traditional" gaming hardware and business models? We'll just have to wait and see.