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Forums - Sales Discussion - The Road to 160m+ for Nintendo Switch

One of the most interesting topics that keeps coming up repeatedly is the question how many units Nintendo Switch can sell in its lifetime. Similar to the awfully low lifetime sales expectations before Switch launched, there are popular fallacies floating around. That's why it shouldn't come as a surprise that this thread's setup will be similar to my "Open Your Eyes" thread. However, the tone here will be less aggressive because the things I want to address are a lot less idiotic in nature.

Usually the reason why 160m+ seems too much for Switch is either that it sounds too good to be true or because it would be a nightmare, depending on your general attitude towards Nintendo as a whole. That's why beliefs win against reason.

So on to the main body of this thread where I break down the various points that bother me whenever I observe discussions about this topic. Skip to point 8 if you are a lazy bum.

1. Where is Switch even supposed to sell so many units?

When we use a regional breakdown for the missing ~60m, it becomes a lot easier to imagine 160m+ lifetime. What's needed is roughly this:

Japan: ~10m more
Americas: ~20m more
Europe: ~20m more
Other: ~10m more

1.1 Japan: 24.36m LTD with 2022 looking to be another 4m+ year as it stands right now. That's almost half of what's needed for the rest of Switch's life.

1.2 Americas: 40.12m LTD with ~85% of the sales coming from the USA alone. We are talking about 60m Switch consoles sold in the Americas alone which may be pushing it on first sight, but the Nintendo DS accomplished 59.93m, so this isn't asking for a record-shattering performance. With Switch demand remaining very high in the USA, 2022 should add another 8m+ to the total (this figure includes all of the Americas).

1.3 Europe: 26.99m LTD with at least the UK and Spain being confirmed to be off to a great start in 2022. Europe is Switch's biggest area for growth, so another 20m units are actually easier to achieve than in the USA. European hardware sales tend to have longer legs than their Japanese and US-American counterparts, so that's an important fact to remember. For the longest time Europe has also been held back a bit by unfavorable price tags, but that has been corrected in fall 2021, a very probable contributor to the strong finish in 2021 and good start in 2022. For comparison, the Nintendo DS sold more than 50m units in Europe. Back then Europe was a smaller market for Nintendo with little corporate activity in Eastern Europe, but things have improved during the past five years.

1.4 Other: 12.09m LTD. Obviously, another ~10m here is a bigger ask than it is for any of the other regions, but keep in mind that Switch only has 56.46m left to go globally, so the values mentioned initially are not minimum figures.

2. Does Switch have enough years left in the tank to pull it off?

Yes, absolutely. This platform will soon have gone a full five years without any price cuts aside from price adjustments due to changing currency exchange rates. The most prominent example is Europe in fall 2021, but if I remember correctly, something like this has happened in Canada too at some point.

The normal pattern for consoles is that they receive their first price cut during the second year and then at least another one 1-3 years later. That is done to maximize sales momentum. Switch has bucked this trend because it has never sold weak enough to warrant a price cut, so demand for the Switch platform is higher and healthier than for anything we've seen before it.

3. Will Switch ever get a real price cut? Will there be more revisions?

This is a combined point because it goes hand in hand and Nintendo can employ different strategies. One path is the classic one of a price cut for the various SKUs to maintain sales momentum whenever the point of necessity occurs. The other path is the value-added one where either pack-in software gets added with no additional cost to the customer, or new SKUs are introduced that replace the old ones at the same price point. And yet another path is a combination of the two strategies for maximum flexibility.

Regarding revisions, Switch has three different SKUs through five years on the market. Portable consoles lend themselves to a bigger number of revisions than stationary consoles, and Switch as a hybrid belongs to the former category. The Game Boy had four SKUs: Original, Pocket, Light (Japan only) and Color. The Game Boy Advance had three: Original, SP, Micro. The DS had four: Original, Lite, DSi, DSi XL. The 3DS had six: Original, XL, 2DS, New 3DS, New 3DS XL, New 2DS XL. So the only time portable Nintendo hardware had only three SKUs was the GBA, a console whose life was cut short due to Sony's imminent entry in the handheld space. It would be foolish to expect Switch OLED to be the Switch's final revision.

4. What incentives are there for Nintendo to give Switch a longer lifecycle than most of their previous consoles?

4.1 Switch is still selling very well late in its fifth year. It's the most profitable platform in Nintendo's history, so there's plenty of financial reasoning to keep this train going as long as possible, especially because the back half of a console's lifecycle is much more profitable than the first half.

4.2 Game development times keep getting longer, so preparing for the launch of a new platform takes more time than ever before. The launch of a new platform is a multi-billion dollar investment upfront, so it needs to be carefully planned. Despite Switch having the best overall third party support in Nintendo history, this shouldn't be taken for granted for Switch's successor, so the burden of building the installed base early will almost certainly fall on Nintendo themselves again.

4.3 Times have changed. During the early generations of consoles, new platforms had to be introduced to keep up with increasing gameplay possibilities. Nowadays it's basically just about adding more bells and whistles to the graphics of games, first and foremost games of developers and publishers who don't want to publish their games on a Nintendo platform to begin with. That's why there's no pressure on Nintendo to release a new console because a new PS and Xbox are out now; the disparities in graphical fidelity is essentially meaningless.

4.4 Worth pointing out here that Nintendo has repeatedly talked about their intention to give Switch a longer lifecycle than their previous consoles.

5. But even if Nintendo doesn't replace Switch anytime soon, who's to say that Switch won't fall off a cliff like the Wii?

It's kinda sad that this point is included here. If it were only for that recent troll account who stops by in Famitsu threads, it wouldn't be so bad. But there are actually legit people who worry about this.

In short, the Wii's sharp decline was caused by severe software droughts in the later stages of its life. Not only did Nintendo move on to the 3DS and Wii U, but most third parties had pretty much pulled the plug on Wii support from 2011 onwards. None of these factors apply to Switch and its year 5 (which is almost completed by now) should have told you as much already.

6. That still leaves the DS's sales curve though. What about that?

While the DS is better understood than the Wii in general, I feel it isn't properly understood either. The factors that played into the DS's sharp decline were:

6.1 Nintendo moved on rather quickly. While there were a few notable first party releases even after the 3DS had launched, the number wasn't close to what the 3DS received after Switch had launched. I'd hope you notice a difference in the final years of the DS and 3DS where the 3DS shows a lot more stability despite selling much less than the DS during its peak years. Since the next transition phase will have only two Nintendo consoles, that will be a lot easier to manage than during the DS days where Nintendo had to juggle four consoles. This favors Switch over the DS significantly.

6.2 Third parties moved on quickly. Globally, it was believed that handhelds were done for and that mobile is the future. In Japan specifically, many third parties would rather opt for the PSP and later PSV than a Nintendo handheld, so 2010 onwards saw more PSP than DS games. Mobile has turned out to be unreliable in general and virtually unsustainable for paid games specifically, and Sony has exited the handheld market. So in both instances history cannot repeat for Switch, especially when you consider that Switch owns ~90% of the Japanese software market. Any third party that is hesitant about Switch's successor at first will continue to make Switch games for a while, because that's the only viable option for them.

6.3 The 3DS was backwards compatible with the DS, but more importantly, the 3DS received a huge price cut in 2011 that made it cost about the same as the two DSi SKUs. Of the three points here (6.1 to 6.3), this one is the only one which carries some uncertainty. Nintendo could mess up Switch's successor and as a consequence take similar actions to get the successor back on track, although it will be a bigger challenge for Nintendo to mess up on this magnitude nowadays than it was a decade ago.

7. Which role did COVID-19 really play?

This topic is much like the question whether Switch is a home console or a handheld, where a lot of people change their stance depending on the larger thread they are discussing. That is to say that there are people who believe that 2020 was only up over 2019 for Switch because of a COVID-19 boost, but then turn around and celebrate the decline of 2021 as if it was the beginning of the end for Switch. But anyone who believes that COVID-19 caused a boost of 5m+ in 2020 should then acknowledge that 2021 was virtually flat then.

Taking a step back from the console war, COVID-19 most certainly caused a boost over 2019, but so did a full year of Switch Lite availability and a good nine months of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Then in 2021 COVID-19 most certainly caused less of a boost than in 2020, plus 2021 has a negative impact from the initially unexpected semiconductor shortages. The fiscal year ending March 2022 will be ~6m lower than the preceding fiscal year, but the actual loss in Switch momentum is a lot less dramatic and that's ultimately the important takeaway as it means no grounds for serious concern.

8. Please give me a summary. I don't want to read such a big post.

Fine. Here are the key points:

8.1 Switch is a globally successful console, so a sales level of 160m+ is achievable.

8.2 Switch's momentum is still going strong going into year 6.

8.3 Nintendo has plenty of basic cards left to play when it comes to price cuts and revisions.

8.4 Switch will have a longer lifecycle than previous Nintendo consoles.

8.5 The crucial factors responsible for the Wii's decline do not exist for Switch.

8.6 The crucial factors responsible for the DS's decline do not exist for Switch.

8.7 Factors outside of Nintendo's control make Switch's decline in sales momentum from 2020 to 2021 look bigger than it really is.

Closing comments

I think for most people merely the existence of a Switch Pro would tip the scale largely in favor of Switch becoming the best-selling console of all time. But since we don't have that yet, we'll have to make do with what we've got. The catch with big threads like this is that it's easy to forget to address one or the other point, but that's okay, because that's what forums are for: That there's more than just the original post and some actual discussion afterwards.

Three years ago it always felt like an uphill battle when I talked about a healthy software pipeline and how important it is for sustained good sales in the long term. When I talked about how that's not a trait unique to a PlayStation console and that the DS already showed what difference it makes for a Nintendo console. Now, three years later, I expect people to be a lot more receptive to this very basic general idea, because they could witness it first hand year after year how a cliff never materialized for Switch. And perhaps the post-successor sales of the 3DS and PS4 help too, because it used to be that good post-successor sales were categorically ruled out for Nintendo while taken for granted for PS consoles.

Get with the times.

Legend11 correctly predicted that GTA IV (360+PS3) would outsell SSBB. I was wrong.

A Biased Review Reloaded / Open Your Eyes / Switch Shipments

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This will a interesting thread.

When you look at the numbers broken down by region you can clearly see that the Switch is within striking distance. Very doable my friends!!

It's doable. 1.5 to 2 years ago I would've said it's too high of a prediction. And 4 years or more ago I would've called it hysterical and pretty much pie in the sky.
Nintendo is a very tough to corporation to predict regarding their software, hardware, services, etc. They could already release Switch 2 in mid to late 2023 for all we know and give Switch the 3DS treatment you mentioned at best. And if Switch is already replaced in the second half of 2023, it will probably finish around 130-140 million. But if it's replaced in March 2024 like I think it will be, it will probably finish with 140-150 million or so units sold.
My point is that Switch will probably sell around 10 million units once its successor launches because Nintendo will likely want to focus as much manufacturing on Switch 2 and Switch 2 will probably be popular right out of the gate.

Lifetime Sales Predictions 

Switch: 144 million (was 73, then 96, then 113 million, then 125 million)

PS5: 105 million Xbox Series S/X: 60 million

PS4: 120 mil (was 100 then 130 million, then 122 million) Xbox One: 51 mil (was 50 then 55 mil)

3DS: 75.5 mil (was 73, then 77 million)

"Let go your earthly tether, enter the void, empty and become wind." - Guru Laghima

It won't.

See ya in two years.

My bet with The_Liquid_Laser: I think the Switch won't surpass the PS2 as the best selling system of all time. If it does, I'll play a game of a list that The_Liquid_Laser will provide, I will have to play it for 50 hours or complete it, whatever comes first. 

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Wman1996 said:

It's doable. 1.5 to 2 years ago I would've said it's too high of a prediction. And 4 years or more ago I would've called it hysterical and pretty much pie in the sky.
Nintendo is a very tough to corporation to predict regarding their software, hardware, services, etc. They could already release Switch 2 in mid to late 2023 for all we know and give Switch the 3DS treatment you mentioned at best. And if Switch is already replaced in the second half of 2023, it will probably finish around 130-140 million. But if it's replaced in March 2024 like I think it will be, it will probably finish with 140-150 million or so units sold.
My point is that Switch will probably sell around 10 million units once its successor launches because Nintendo will likely want to focus as much manufacturing on Switch 2 and Switch 2 will probably be popular right out of the gate.

I doubt they will keep the Switch on the market as long as the 3DS when the successor comes out. Wii U was a massive failure and 3DS was the system keeping them afloat. Switch wasn't necessarily going to pick up immediately, so the 3DS was kept around to assure some kind of cushion in case they need it. 

Successor will probably be a Switch 2.0, so why would they keep the cheap regular model on the market as long. That's why i don't see the successor for a while unless they count it as a successor and a part of the Switch family, which is something they have been hinting at.

Metallox said:

It won't.

See ya in two years.

One Year would be enough to see Nintendo 2023 Games Line Up and tell if they really want to keep the Switch alive or they are getting ready for Switch 2.0.

This year Switch is going to finish close to 130m, so another 30m+ even 40m+ would start making more sence.

3DS Sold another 20m after Switch Trailer was revealed in October 2016 and it didn't even reach 7m sold that year.

Last edited by eddy7eddy - on 04 February 2022

This is my type of topic.

Should I take the OP as an official prediction then?

Japan: ~10m more, so ~35m LTD
Americas: ~20m more, so ~60m LTD
Europe: ~20m more, so ~47m LTD
Other: ~10m more, so ~22m LTD

I would have been skeptical this would be possible until Nintendo’s quarterly earnings call this week. Nintendo said that the switch was “midway” through its life. Midway, as in not nearing the end. They clearly plan to support the console for several more years.

A scenario where it turns out they were joking and a switch successor is launching in 2023 would be the only way a “cliff” could materialize, I think

I'm hopeful that it could happen. Really depends on when a successor launches. The earliest I could see a successor launch in which Switch reaches lifetime sales of 160 million would be Holiday 2024 (which is when I'm personally hoping Switch 2 launches). Anything earlier than that and I can't see Switch reach 160m. Anything later and it just becomes easier.

It's also still possible for the successor to launch in Holiday 2024 and for the Switch to fall short of 160m and even fall short of passing DS & PS2.