Forums - Sales Discussion - Is there a possibility that the Nintendo Switch will be the best-selling console?

Ain't gonna happen. I've been over this before in other threads, but the Switch would need to be incredibly back-loaded. By this point (~40 months), most Nintendo systems had sold through the majority of their lifetime totals. While the Switch is less front-loaded than Nintendo's past home consoles and has racked up over 20M in its first 40 months (a very impressive total, to be sure), it would still need to be one of the most back-loaded systems ever to best the PS2 & DS. Lets compare it to other super-popular systems, and let's break it down by region.

In the U.S., the PS2, which sold just under half of its lifetime sales in the U.S. after 40 months. If the Switch is at the halfway point of its lifetime sales total in the U.S., that would mean it would end up somewhere around 41M. And that's not good enough, because that's still far short of the PS2's lifetime total of about 46.4M. The Switch would need to have sold no more than 44% of its lifetime total to date for it to match the PS2. In other words, it needs to sell roughly 26M more units from now to the end of its life. While it is currently reducing its deficit against the PS2, let's not forget that the PS2 was posting solid sales for a very long time, with over 11M sold from the PS3's launch onward. Also, it's worth pointing out that the majority of the deficit reduction came from the COVID boom in the console market this year, and that reduction may not continue indefinitely.

And it may need to do more than beat just the PS2, because the Switch needs the U.S./NA to help make up for Europe (see below). More realistically, it would have to beat the DS, which is the best-selling system ever in the U.S. at about 53.5M sold. And to beat that it's going to require the Switch to have sold no more than about 38% of its lifetime total so far. That's very backloaded for a system. The 360 was roughly at that after 40 months, and, more relevant, it's also comparable to what the DS was at after 40 months. But the DS had a slow start and a delayed peak. The Switch had a faster start than the DS, and it seems unlikely that it can post comparable growth to the DS, which it would need to in order to sell the ~33M more it needs just to match the DS. While the Switch does have a lead, that lead has been shrinking, aside from a brief reversal caused by the aforementioned COVID boom. Seeing what the Switch is up against in the future against the DS in the U.S., it's not looking plausible that the Switch can beat it.

We had a thread about Japan just last week, and here's my post on the subject. But to summarize, the Switch needs to sell another 18.6M units to beat the DS in Japan. No system has ever come close to selling that many units after the 3-½ year mark in Japan (the DS is of course the current record-holder with about 10.3M units sold after the 3-½ year mark). The Switch would not only have to beat ever record for back-loading of sales, but absolutely obliterate them. Assuming it stays on the market for another 4-½ years, it would need to average over 4M units per year that whole time. Game systems just don't sell like that in Japan. While the Switch will definitely pass the 3DS, it will almost definitely fall short of the DS.

Finally, as for Europe, the DS sold about 52M units and the PS2 about 55M. According to VGC, the Switch is currently at about 15.6M. The Switch simply isn't doing nearly well enough to sell the 37-40M more units it needs to best either of them. Considering it's been selling at a considerably slower rate than the DS and even the PS4, it would need to be insanely back-loaded. It is almost certainly going to fall well short of being the most successful system ever in Europe, which is why North America and Japan are going to have to make up for it, and odds are it will far well short of the new #1 position in those markets as well.

At best, I can see the Switch selling somewhere in the 120-130M range. I know some people are being very bullish on the Switch, and I myself like seeing it do well, but we have to be realistic. The PS2 and DS were anomalies in their respective sub-markets. That sort of success will almost certainly never be replicated. The odds that the Switch will even get close to them is low. And that's fine. It doesn't need to be the best-selling system ever to be a success. It's already a success. Even 100M would be an incredibly impressive figure, being a milestone only six other systems (Game Boy, Wii, DS, PS1, PS2, & PS4) have passed.

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The_Liquid_Laser said:

The most likely scenario is that Switch will become the best selling console of all time.  This year is going to be it's peak year, and it's going to peak higher than any home system ever has.  The only system with a higher peak would be the DS, and it's sales fell extremely quickly after it's peak (basically it fell harder than any successful system ever has).  All Switch needs is a somewhat gradual descent in sales after it's peak and it will coast right into the #1 position.  Mathematically it's very feasible.  It's peaking later and higher than the PS2, so it is set up very well to outsell the PS2.  Or if you want to compare it to the DS, then it just needs a gradual descent, and it will ousell the DS.  

People say "the stars need to align" in order for this to happen.  Well, let's actually look at what would needs to happen for the "stars to align" on the most successful system ever and see if that is happening for the Switch.  Since DS is the big selling Nintendo system, let's compare Switch and DS.  Here is what would need to happen for a Nintendo system to surpass the DS.

1. Incredible First Party Software. Check.  Switch easily has this category down.  Compare the first party line-up of the Switch and DS.  Both had evergreens, but Switch evergreens are actually core Nintendo titles.  Zelda and Smash were never considered evergreens before.  Now they are.  Mario Kart 8 has already outsold Mario Kart DS and it's still going strong.  Animal Crossing is heading like it's going to sell 3-4 times what the DS version sold, which is crazy.  We can safely add in 2 more Pokemon games and another mainline Zelda before the Switch is done and several more years of other first party titles.  DS had amazing first party sales, but Switch is totally blowing it away.
2. Lots of 3rd Party Support.  Check.  DS had 1985 games.  Switch already has 2665 games.  Conservatively speaking, we can double that and Switch is going to have at least 5000 games by the time it is done selling.  However, so far each year Switch gets more third party releases than the last.  Most likely Switch will have 7000 games (or more) by the time it's all said and done.  It totally blows the DS away here too.
3. Cheapest System During a Recession.  Check.  DS sales peaked during the 2008 calendar year which is when a major global recession hit.  It was also the cheapest current system on the market.  Switch will be the cheapest current system on the market when the PS5 and Series X launch, and there is a major recession looming.  Since I live in the US, I've only been looking at US financial metrics, but here it appears this recession is going to make 2008 look like a cakewalk.
4. Room for Revisions and Price Cuts. 
Check.  Switch has only had one major revision, the Switch Lite, and ironically the base model is the more popular system.  Switch has also had no price cuts.  We are almost 3.5 years after the launch of the Switch, and it's in short supply in many places and it still hasn't had a price cut yet.  It isn't even holiday season either.  That is unprecendented.  People are waiting for Switch to do something unprecedented.  It's doing it right now.  No system has ever gone this long without a pricecut, and it isn't going to get one soon, because it's sold out in so many places.  Switch has so much room to introduce revisions and price cuts and it doesn't have to do this anytime soon.  Meanwhile, the DS actually was being outsold by the PSP when it first launched.  It didn't start selling like crazy until after it's first revision.  Since the base Switch model is in short supply 3.5 years after launch, it is blowing away the DS here too.

In short, the stars are aligning for the Switch.  It needs the stars to align and they most definitely are.  When you compare the Switch to other successful systems it's peaking later and higher than everything but the DS, which peaked around the same time but higher.  The DS also crashed hard after it's peak and still became the 2nd best selling system of all time (not far behind the PS2).  All Switch needs to do is to not crash hard.  It just needs a gradual decline in sales each year after this one.  How can it do that?  Solid first party evergreens, lots of third party games, be the cheapest option during a recession, and have lots of room for revisions and price cuts.  It has all of that.  It's set up to sell better than the DS by a fair margin.

The Switch is set up to be the best selling system of all time.  This is actually the likely scenario.

Illuminating, thanks for opening up another perspective. You make me a believer!