Wii console sales hit 8 million in Japan as growth slows

By , IDG News Service |  Personal Tech, games, Nintendo

Sales of Nintendo's Wii console have passed 8 million in Japan, according to data released on Wednesday.

The console was launched in December 2006 and as of last week, a little under two and a half years since it hit store shelves, total sales stood at 8,000,540 units, according to Enterbrain. The company publishes Japan's top-selling games magazine, Famitsu. Its data gathered from point-of-sales terminals at 3,500 retailers is generally regarded in the gaming industry as reliable.

The sales underline just how well the Wii has done in Japan against the competing PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles.

The PlayStation 3 just reached sales of 3 million in Japan since its launch, while total Xbox 360 sales there just passed 1 million, meaning the Nintendo console has sold twice as many units in Japan as the competitors put together.

But despite its lead over the competition all is not well in Wii-land.

Its innovative motion sensitive controller caught the eye of many and led to an explosive start for the console, but recently sales have been steadying. In the first nine months of its current financial year, the period from April to December 2008, Nintendo sold a total of 1.9 million consoles in Japan, compared to 3 million in the same period in 2007.

"The Wii is experiencing its most unhealthy condition since launch in Japan," Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo said during a briefing in Tokyo earlier this month. "This is not the position we wanted to be in more than two years after launch and after selling almost 8 million consoles."

Iwata said sales had been rising thanks to a small number of big-selling titles that did well at launch and continued to attract customers long after they first went on sale, but this strategy has recently started to falter.

Indeed, a handful of Wii software titles has dominated sales charts and delivered impressive numbers. "Wii Sports" has sold almost 3.5 million copies in Japan and "Wii Fit" is close behind at 3.3 million. The "First Wii" collection of mini games has sold close to 2.7 million copies and "Mario Kart Wii" sales are at 2.2 million.

The next big title for the Wii, "Wii Sports Resort" is due out in June in Japan and will feature an adapter add-on to the Wii controller that is said to make gaming more precise than now. Nintendo is pinning hopes on the new game and several other titles coming later in the year to revitalize the Wii market, said Iwata.

Analysts will be watching with interest to see if the new software titles can drive Wii owners back to stores or if Nintendo has a bigger challenge on its hands.

In January Nintendo shaved a million units off its worldwide sales estimate of 26.5 million units, largely due to the slowdown in Japan. It also revised down its financial outlook. The company cut its sales forecast by 9 percent to ¥1.8 trillion and shaved a third off its net profit forecast, which now stands at ¥230 billion.

The company is due to report full-year earnings on May 7.

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