The Nintendo Switch has been a hot commodity all through 2020 and the console’s sales figures reflect it. According to a recent Nintendo press release, the company sold 24.1 million Switches in 2020, a 35 percent increase year-on-year. The surge in sales has given the Switch the kick it needed to pass the lifetime sales of its predecessor, the Nintendo 3DS. As of December 31, 79.87M Switches have been sold worldwide. Back when the 3DS debuted, it faced a very different market.
The 3DS launched in 2011, in the middle of mass-market smartphone adoption. Its initially high price and the uncertain future of its 3D effects put some users off the console. Nintendo saw which way the wind was blowing and slashed the 3DS’s price by nearly a third, from $250 to $170. Sales of the platform promptly surged, and while the 3DS never achieved the dizzying heights of the original Nintendo DS, its lifetime total of 75.92 million sales is enough to make it the 12th best-selling console of all time, beating out the NES, SNES, and the original Xbox One.
While Nintendo doesn’t mention it, the Switch broke its own record for most units shipped this year. Nintendo’s fiscal quarters don’t align with the calendar year, so it may be waiting until what we would consider Q2 before it gives a formal full-year total.
The Switch has already broken its 2019 shipment record by no less than 25 percent. If sales remained this strong for another year, the Switch’s total lifetime sales would be bumping up against the Wii, at 101.64 million consoles shipped over its lifetime. As it closes in on four years old, the Switch is outselling the PS4 at a comparable point in its life cycle.
Ten years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find pundits arguing that the only way Nintendo would survive is if it went all-in on smartphones and started working on mobile ports. Dedicated handheld gaming systems were dead, or so the popular opinion went, to be inexorably replaced by touchscreens and phones.
If the 3DS proved that Nintendo had enough of a dedicated fan base to support a handheld console ecosystem, the Switch has shown that tens of millions of smartphone owners also enjoy gaming on a dedicated handheld platform. Animal Crossing has sold a massive 31.18M units in less than a year. The only game to sell more copies is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with 33.41M in lifetime sales. Animal Crossing will beat it next quarter, based on how well each is selling. Nintendo moved a total of 176.1 million games in calendar 2020, an increase of 43 percent over last year.
Despite the impact of smartphones, dedicated handheld gaming is very much alive — at least if you’re a Nintendo fan. Don’t say such things near PlayStation Vita forums.