For four consecutive Mondays, we've counted the number of people who are playing Black Ops II on the Wii U. We've wanted to, however roughly, measure the uptake of online gaming on the Wii U, using one of the most popular online series around.
Over those four Mondays, the combined number of Wii U owners playing Black Ops II's competitive multiplayer or co-op Zombies mode has climbed from 560 to 727 to 1,167 to 1,408. In that same time, of course, Nintendo has sold more Wii U systems, launching the console beyond North America to Europe, Australia and Japan. (CoD is now out in all of those regions except Japan.) The game is now available to many more potential players around the world.
These online multiplayer numbers have seemed disturbingly low for a game as popular as Call of Duty. It draws hundreds of thousands of players on Xbox 360 alone night after night. But when we crunched the numbers in week two of our experiment, we found that about 2 out of every 1,000 Wii U owners were playing Black Ops II online at the moment we checked. That compared to about 9 of every 1,000 Xbox 360 owners at the same time. A worrisome comparison? Hard to say. You have to factor in the likelihood that a person who buys the Wii U wants Call of Duty. Perhaps they have it for another console already or would prefer to play it on one where they have more online friends against which to compete. Or perhaps they really don't want Call of Duty. Maybe it's not for them. Another possibility; perhaps many of the Wii U's we're counting are wrapped up under Christmas trees and are incapable of running any game online until they're unwrapped. That means that the post-Christmas count of Black Ops II activity on the Wii U might be all the more telling.
There are many ways to slice this, and it's impossible to say which is correct. I'm simply a fan of data. I like capturing it and letting people begin to think about what it means.
We'll be putting our Black Ops II Wii U counts to rest for a bit. We may return monthly. We'll see. For now, here's one more data point:
In the first calendar month it was on sale, November, the Wii U sold more than 425,000 units in November. The machine launched on November 18 and NPD, the U.S. sales tracking firm, counted that number of units sold in the week that followed launch. In that same period, sources tell me that NPD calculated that the Wii U version of Black Ops II sold 23,000 copies (NPD sales figures for individual games are not public, and a rep for the company did not respond to a request to confirm this, though I'm confident my sources are correct).
23,000. Small number, right? That's about 1 in 18 Wii U owners picking up Call of Duty.
Good? Bad? Too soon to say.