Did Nintendo's Wii U Just Outsell Microsoft's Xbox One?

Numbers from a controversial source suggest that that Wii U posted better worldwide hardware numbers than the Xbox One in the final week of 2013. Can these numbers be trusted? What, if anything, do they mean for the future of the console industry?

Jan 11, 2014 at 4:00PM

Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Wii U had a rough 2013. Poor sales across every major territory and the arrival of new consoles from Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) threatened to make the device irrelevant after its first year on the market. Nintendo's move to implement price cuts and bundles seems to have some effect, but the enthusiasm surrounding PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have highlighted the Wii U's weak position.

Conventional wisdom holds that sales of both the PS4 and the Xbox One will quickly eclipse those of Nintendo's latest console. Now, a controversial sales tracking website has published figures suggesting that the Wii U actually outsold the Xbox One in the last week of December. Does this amount to little more than statistical noise, or is the console market picture much different than originally projected?

According to someone
Popular gaming sales website VGChartz recently posted numbers that show the Wii U outselling the Xbox One in the final week of the year. The site lists global weekly Wii U sales at just under 320,000 units, while its Xbox One numbers show just over 307,000 units sold for the period. If these numbers are accurate, it could portend a bleak future for Microsoft's console. Coming off of solid launch numbers, failing to outsell the Wii U in a crucial holiday month could be evidence of a precipitous drop in demand and a need to reduce prices sooner than planned.

Wii U's sign of life in the homeland
The Wii U is having a stronger than expected December in Japan. After bundles that majorly upgraded the system's value proposition seemed to land with a whimper and Super Mario 3D World posted a series-low sales debut, the Wii U appeared to be over in Japan. December saw it become the country's second-best selling hardware along with a strengthening of 3D World's numbers. The last available weekly Japanese tracking data for the Wii U has the system selling approximately 120,000 units. It's not unreasonable to believe that December's final sales week saw the console match or slightly exceed that figure.

While the Wii U had a mildly surprising December in Japan, the system remains comatose in Europe. Nintendo's second fiscal quarter saw the continent's retailers ship back in excess of 20,000 consoles to the company. This means that while the Xbox One is not tallying sales in Japan, the Wii U is a non-factor in Europe.

PS4 emerges as the early sales favorite
Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One outsold the Wii U's LTD UK sales in a matter of days. Tracking has the PS4 selling approximately 530,000 units and the Xbox One at approximately 366,000. The UK is not a perfect indicator for how sales will pan out in the rest of Europe, but Sony's system looks to have momentum advantages elsewhere as well. Still, being outsold by the PS4 does not mean that the Xbox One was outperformed by the Wii U.

Pick a number, any number
Nintendo's console sold approximately 220,000 across North America in November. A generous assumption would see the system selling about 90,000 North American units in the final week of the year. After combining these optimistic North American and Japanese estimates, VGChartz stated figure would require that approximately 100,000 European units were sold in the last week of December. Not gonna happen.

Even if the demand for the Xbox One in North America plummeted after its impressive debut or supply constraint was a major factor, it's still very unlikely that the system was outsold by Nintendo's Wii U. Numbers from VGChartz should be approached with a great deal of skepticism. In fact, other sources have commented the site's methodology and the quality of its predictions seem to be suspect. It has created and maintained Internet popularity because soundly researched and supported sales figures are costly and hard to come by, while its own are free and readily available.

Standing by your sources
As PR spin doctors from Sony and Microsoft make statements about being the best-selling console here or the fastest-selling console there, sites like VGChartz are tossing their own brand of noise into the talkosphere. There's a lot of information being pumped out, and the dust will settle sooner or later. Maybe the Xbox One really is in trouble and Microsoft will have to implement swift and precise action to save its course. Maybe the Wii U really did outsell Xbox One on that cold week in December. It could be big news, but don't trust it unless it's published by a reputable tracker. 

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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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