Reports of Nintendo’s demise have proven to be just a bit premature. Yes, the company has had a few rough years, both due to missteps in the home console market and circumstances (like the Yen’s exchange rate) beyond its control. This week, however, Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata announced that the company is back to profitability. After three fiscal years (nine months each) of losing money, Nintendo is making it again, meaning that the company’s brief troubles barely made a dent in its ginormous war chest of Wii money.
Nintendo’s recent third-quarter financial results briefing contains numerous other interesting tidbits about the state of the company. I like Mr. Iwata because unlike some other CEOs, he doesn’t prance around the challenges that his company faces. Iwata admits that gaming habits are very different in Japan versus globally, with Japan becoming ever more portable while core Western gamers still prefer home consoles. He acknowledges the challenge that smartphones and tablets are making against Nintendo’s portable gaming devices.
However, Iwata has some good evidence to show that Nintendo can continue to thrive despite these challenges. The 3DS has passed the 50-million unit sales mark. The New Nintendo 3DS release provided a boost to sagging hardware sales in Japan (note that they were sagging only compared to a previous, record-breaking pace—sometimes these things are all about how you read them). Although of course the numbers aren’t fully in for North American NN3DS sales, reported sell-through is quite high, and anybody who has tried to find one can tell you that we need more supply, stat.
Even the much-abused Wii U has seen improved sales, particularly in North America, Europe, and Australia. Mario Kart 8 did brisk sales for the Wii U outside Japan (Japanese sales got a boost, but not as large a boost as the rest of the world), and Super Smash Bros. is on track to do even better.
This year’s plan for the Wii U is to make better use of the GamePad, but along with that goal, more traditionally-controlled titles like Xenoblade Chronicles X and Splatoon are helping to fill out the console’s library. If Nintendo can actually get Zelda and Star Fox out this year as planned, it could be the best year yet for the Wii U’s library. In the meantime, after a slow software year in 2014, the 3DS library is starting to pick up again. Plus, the New 3DS is getting a great reception even from gamers who hated the 3D on the original 3DS.
Nintendo has its struggles, and I certainly don’t agree with all of the company’s decisions. I’m particularly annoyed at the over-conservatism of Nintendo of America, which seems determined not to release enough supply of any of its physical products to meet demand… not to mention being prejudiced against us small-handed gamers with its refusal to sell the regular-sized New 3DS here.
Still, I think the company gets a raw deal from the Western gaming press. Every financial loss on Nintendo’s part is heralded as the final death knell for the company, when the other big hardware makers get a free pass even if they operate in the red for years (which Sony and Microsoft’s gaming divisions did before the 2010s). Remember, just because you have a beef with Nintendo’s decisions, it doesn’t mean all of them spell doom for the company. I remain particularly unconvinced that Nintendo should stop making hardware just because some gamers want to play its games on their PS4s, Xbox Ones, or smartphones. We need Nintendo’s playfulness and innovation in both hardware and software, even if not all of the company’s ideas turn out to be runaway hits like the Wii was.
Nintendo is doing just fine, and I look forward to seeing all the cool things it’s bringing to us this year.