Over the past nine months, since the Wii U arrived on the scene, we've seen the inevitable launch day sell-outs make way for a drop-off in sales. As a trend that's fairly common, though in the case of Nintendo's system the loss of momentum was pronounced by an absence of killer software, and it's endured some unfortunate headlines as a result of its predecessor, the Wii, continuing to outsell it in some regions.
In the early days of a new system its predecessor does have advantages, as it'll be a lot cheaper and have a large library of games. It's not simply a case of new hardware arriving and the old simply disappearing from the face of the earth, with the more affordable last-gen potentially continuing to earn new fans well beyond its conventional lifespan.
Utilising sales data from financial reports, Gamasutra has assessed console transitions with the past few Nintendo systems, showing the trends and percentage of lifetime sales picked up after the launch of a successor. The table below shows that, generally, a successor prompts a severe drop-away for the previous console, though with its greater install base the Wii is performing better — this is despite its negligible software output of the past year or more.
Below, meanwhile, are the annualized (trailing twelve month, or TTM) sales rates for each system, which give a useful indication of sales momentum over periods of time, and emphasize the Wii matching up to the slow sales (up to June 2013) of the Wii U.
Even when you combine current-gen struggles and decent late momentum for the Wii, it's clear that Nintendo consoles generally become a much smaller draw once a successive system arrives. The case of Sony is fascinating in its differences — 29.9% of PS1 sales came after the PS2's release, and 31.2% on PS2's lifetime sales came after the PS3 hit the market.
The Wii's sales do assist Nintendo's bottom line, naturally, and what raw figures rarely do is consider the context in the marketplace. Both the Nintendo 64 and GameCube were having a modest time — by Nintendo standards — in the market, so their longevity was questionable. The Wii was a huge success but, perhaps unlike the PS2, saw a more rapid decline in sales and software support than Nintendo would have hoped; nevertheless it may continue to contribute for a little while yet. It's also the case that the trends don't reflect favourably for the current system, though the company aims to reverse the trend with plenty of major software in the second half of the year.