Nintendo's impressive Switch sales slump
Plus Google's new hardware from I/O 2023
Welcome back to Multicore for Thursday, May 11th.
Two things can be true at once: Nintendo Switch sales have clearly been on the decline for years, and yet they remain strong for a console launched in 2017 with hardware that was underpowered even at the time.
Nintendo announced its full-year earnings this week, confirming 3.07 million Switch units shipped in the quarter ended March 2023. That's a 25.3% year-on-year decrease and meant the company just missed its target of 18 million shipments for the year; the final total was 17.97 million.
It's worth noting that the 18 million figure was already lower than initially expected. A year ago, Nintendo forecast 21 million shipments for the financial year, before revising its forecast to 19 million six months later, then 18 million three months after that. The previous year's figure was 23.1 million, while the year before that saw a massive 28.8 million shipments.
Now, Nintendo expects to ship 15 million units in the April 2023-March 2024 fiscal year. The company has exactly three games on its upcoming release calendar: tomorrow's surefire blockbuster The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, cult strategy sequel Pikmin 4 in July, and an ominous "TBA" date for Metroid Prime 4, which was announced all the way back in 2017 but completely restarted development under a new studio years later.
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It's possible, or even likely, that this is it for first-party Switch titles. It's an open secret that a successor console is in the works, and an enthusiast-focused game like Metroid Prime 4 would make sense as something to hold back for more powerful hardware, even if it runs on the original Switch as well.
With that in mind, shipping 15 million Switch units this year would actually be quite an achievement, and one that essentially rules out the possibility of a "Switch 2" in 2023. In the Switch's first full year on sale, which included the release of mega-hits like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo shipped 15.1 million consoles. The Switch suffered from supply constraints that year, but to get within striking distance of the same number six years later would still show remarkable stamina.
"In the history of Nintendo's console business, we've never expected to sell 15 million units of any hardware in its seventh year," president Shuntaro Furukawa said at the company’s earnings briefing. "We've entered uncharted territory."
For context, Sony announced that the extremely successful PlayStation 4 had sold 106 million units at the end of 2019, six years after its own launch, and five quarters later issued a new figure of 115.9 million units. That's with several big exclusive titles coming out in 2020 like The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Final Fantasy VII Remake.
How exactly is Nintendo going to sell 15 million Switch consoles this year?