Nintendo reports Switch off to a strong sales start — now about those 'friend codes'

After the public shunned Nintendo’s Wii U, the home of Mario, Luigi, Link, Donkey Kong and more has been on the hunt for a rebound.

Out of the gate, its latest device — a console/mobile hybrid dubbed the Nintendo Switch — appears to be providing it, with a little thanks to new game “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé says that the Switch, which launched on Friday, is the company’s hottest-selling console in the U.S. — at least in its first 48 hours.

“Unit sales for Nintendo Switch on Friday and Saturday exceeded any system launch Nintendo has had in the U.S., ever,” Fils-Aimé says.

“For the first two days, Nintendo Switch outsold the Wii, it outsold Nintendo DS, it outsold Nintendo 3DS, it outsold Nintendo 64 — it outsold every system Nintendo of America has launched in the Americas, and I'm talking specifically for the U.S,” Fils-Aimé says. “When I say it is our best launch ever, it is truly our best launch ever, looking at the first two days.”

Fils-Aimé declines to provide a specific sales total but does note the company intends to ship 2 million Switches globally by the end of March.

For some context, Nintendo in 2006 noted that its Nintendo Wii in its first eight days sold 400,000 copies in the U.S — this during the holiday shopping season of that year. The Wii, a home console with a wand-like controller, went on to sell more than 101 million units.

The Switch hopes to redefine the home video game console. In one sense, it works like a traditional video game device that's connected to a television. But when it’s removed from its TV docking station it instantly becomes a hand-held machine with a tablet-like look and a touchscreen.

Some warned about reading too much into two-day sales.

Lewis Ward, a video game industry analyst at research firm IDC, is projecting the Switch to sell around 8 million units worldwide by the first quarter of 2018. Since its launch in 2012, the Wii U has sold just 13.6 million units. Ward expects the Switch to surpass that.

“From my perspective, it’s way too early to read into the tea leaves for the rest of 2017 based on two-day results,” Ward says, noting it’s unknown how many units were pre-sold to Nintendo or “Zelda” die-hards.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and solid games to be released, before we’ll know just how well the Switch will sell relative to Wii or Wii U.

“What it does tell me is that Switch sales are clearly on a trajectory to outsell the Wii U globally, but how big of a margin that will be remains to be seen,” Ward continues, “and that has a lot to do with how well Nintendo executes in terms of steady … game releases that at least approach the quality of ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.’”

Still, the Switch was met with largely positive reviews.

The Times, for instance, praised its versatility, as well as the scope and accessibility of its showcase launch title, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

Fils-Aimé says “Breath of the Wild” is already the company’s top-selling stand-alone launch game, as it’s outpacing sales of “Super Mario 64,” which was released alongside the Nintendo 64.

The Switch will continue to evolve.

No launch game, for instance, takes advantage of the device’s touchscreen, and one gripe among fans and critics has been the return of Nintendo’s so-called friend codes, a series of randomized digits required to play with friends online.

When it comes to social media connectivity and finding online players, Nintendo has long been seen as lagging its competitors at Sony and Microsoft, which have offered more robust online ecosystems and where finding a pal can be as simple as searching for a name.

“I personally have heard all of the commentary around friend codes,” Fils-Aimé says. “As a company, we have certainly heard this.”

There will be change, Fils-Aimé adds. He notes that the Switch will soon require a subscription to play with others online, which in turn will bring with it more robust features. Additionally, an in-the-works mobile app will provide streamlined ways to connect with other Switch owners, Fils-Aimé says.

“In January, we announced that Nintendo is evolving to have a subscription-based service that will encapsulate all of the online matchmaking and competitive play experiences,” Fils-Aimé says. “We are working on an app that will house a great deal of this functionality, in particular the matchmaking and appointment setting that you can do to play with others online.

“What I would tell players is to wait until they see this full service and wait until they see how we're approaching it,” he adds. “I do believe that it will highlight that we have heard the commentary and Nintendo is making positive steps in this place.”

Additionally, those Switch owners awaiting more tablet-friendly features, such as, say, a Web browser, may not find them anytime soon. Fils-Aimé says Nintendo’s focus is the Switch as a pure gaming device.

“It is not meant to replace my phone or my tablet,” he says. “That is not the product vision we had. It was to create this killer, breakthrough gaming device that allows you to play your games wherever and whenever you want.”

Todd.Martens@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @toddmartens

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