Nintendo recently released a slew of updated sales numbers. Of course, this also came with a fresh look at hardware sales, particularly for the Nintendo Switch. While the recent update did confirm that the Switch has managed to outsell the Nintendo 3DS, one important tidbit was also quietly confirmed: the Nintendo Switch Lite is about to outpace the lifetime sales of the Wii U.
This milestone is profound considering that the Switch Lite only released just at the end of September 2020. That means, in just a little over 15 months on the market, the Switch Lite has nearly matched the number of units that it took the Wii U four arduous years to amass.
As of December 31, 2020, the Nintendo Switch Lite has sold 13.53 million units worldwide. Meanwhile, Wii U lifetime sales are a mere 13.56 million units. With these numbers being just a few thousand units apart from one another, it’s safe to say that by now with sales in January, the Switch Lite has already come out ahead.
For context, the flagship Nintendo Switch outsold the Wii U on its own in about nine months; that milestone was achieved by the beginning of 2018. With now both models of the Switch family surging past the Wii U, it reveals just how troubled of a life Nintendo’s past home console had. Although it does have its niche group of passionate fans, consumers all over simply seemed to pass the Wii U by almost entirely. To this day, many are still unaware of its existence, if not still confusing it with its predecessor.
The Wii U has long been heralded as a textbook example of how not to bring a console to market. The apparently confusing branding along with lackluster implementation of its key feature, the Gamepad, basically made it a tough pill to swallow from its inception. Despite it having such a bad reputation, Nintendo executives acknowledge the role it played in paving the way to the hybrid system that everyone loves today, the Nintendo Switch.
Just recently, former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime commented on this very thing. He stated that the release of the Switch was a “make it or break it” moment for Nintendo after the Wii U failed to capture the market. Reggie’s words are not hyperbole by any means. The industry as a whole was questioning the future of Nintendo as Wii U sales tanked month after month. There were even calls for Nintendo to, as its former rivals SEGA and Atari did, bow out of the hardware business entirely. Even so, Nintendo decided to gamble with its knack for focusing on innovation over imitation one more time, and thus the Switch was born.
In many ways, the Wii U can be seen as a bit of a glorified prototype to the Switch. It introduced the idea of having a home system that could be played on a TV and also on a handheld screen, and it also brought the much-needed tech advancements of things like the Nintendo eShop to Nintendo’s home console business.
Nintendo also started taking the needs of developers into more consideration around this time, especially with its heightened interest in indie studios. All of this groundwork that was laid during the time of the Wii U allowed for the Switch to have a mostly smooth launch. Really, the system’s biggest issue early on was that people couldn’t buy it because there were so much demand. A stark contrast to the Wii U were people didn’t even want one.
As for the future of Nintendo’s hardware beyond Switch and Switch Lite, that remains unclear. The company has neither confirmed nor denied that it’s working on a next model of the Switch, simply saying that we shouldn’t expect one “anytime soon“.
Nintendo has also avoided saying if its next true system will be a traditional console, handheld or a continuation of the Switch’s hyrbid design. Time will surely tell. But, it seems that the company has finally found a working formula that it is more likely than not to stick to as long as it continues to develop hardware. Let’s just hope that whatever the next piece of hardware is, it doesn’t have an infamous design flaw like Joy-Con drift.