Back in mid-November, just before the Wii U was released, mega gaming chain GameStop said they had some 500,000 people on a waiting list to get the Wii U. That sounded great.
Last week, GameStop told investors that, through November and December, the mega chain sold 320,000 Wii U's.
Readers don't need us to inform them that 320,000 is a smaller number than 500,000, but we needed GameStop to tell us what happened. Didn't half a million people say they were going to buy these new Nintendo consoles? Thankfully, GameStop didn't blame the difference on those trucks full of stolen Wii U's. Instead, it turns out that 500,000 people never put money down for a Wii U and GameStop probably didn't have 500,000 Wii U systems to sell.
"Our initial allocation from Nintendo was not 500,000 units," GameStop spokesperson Matt Hodges told Kotaku when asked about the apparent discrepancy. "We never disclosed that number; we only stated that we had reserved thru those units in the first 48 hours of them being offered. NPD reported sales of 463,000 Wii U units in the U.S. in December. That number added with those sold in November brings the LTD total to 888,000."
The NPD numbers don't really matter here. That firm only tracks U.S. sales. GameStop was talking about global sales.
What does matter is that GameStop says that those 500,000 people who they talked about in mid-November didn't actually put any money down for the system. They didn't really pre-order the Wii U the way so many customers plunk down five bucks at GameStop to pre-order a new game. Those 500,000 folks merely said they wanted a Wii U and hoped to get one from GameStop. "One thing to consider about the people who signed up for our waiting list is that they had no financial commitment to do so," Hodges said, "So it is possible that they purchased their Wii U from another retailer."
The other wrinkle to this is that GameStop isn't just keeping quiet about how many Wii U's Nintendo shipped them to sell. GameStop also won't say how many they got of the Deluxe ($350) edition vs. the Standard ($300). The Deluxe version has more internal storage and a packed-in game, which seems to offset its higher price enough that it has proven to be the more popular version of the console. Nintendo has said that the Deluxe edition was "effectively sold out" during the holiday season. While Kotaku staff saw a lot of Wii U's available in stores this past Christmas, the preponderance of those units were the Standard version.
GameStop's Hodges wouldn't bite on the suggestion that maybe the Deluxe sold out at GameStop and that maybe some of GameStop's 500,000 wait-listers decided to forgo the Wii U until GameStop had more Deluxe editions in stock. Instead, he said, "When the Wii U first launched, both were out of stock, but now the inventory flow for both is much better."
GameStop has described the Wii U launch as "successful," while industry trade Gamasutra, in comparing it to the launch of older consoles, says Nintendo's console is off to "a good start." Nintendo chief Satoru Iwata has stated that Wii U launch sales are "not bad."
How is the Wii U really doing? You can judge for yourself. In the U.S., in their respective launch years, this is how each of the last four major consoles sold, from November launch through the end of the December reporting period, according to NPD:
Xbox 360: about 600K
PS3: nearly 700K
Wii U: 890K