Handicapping Reggie's Bet: Can New Super Mario Bros. Beat Modern Warfare 2?
Game industry executives usually aren't big on making concrete sales predictions to the press. So it was a bit surprising when, back in early November, Nintendo or America President Reggie Fils-Aime confidently predicted in a GameTrailers interview that New Super Mario Bros. Wii would outsell either console version of Modern Warfare 2 through the holiday season, which Reggie defined as "all the way through the January NPD data." (Note: Reggie clarified that he meant Mario would sell more than both the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of the game taken separately, but not more than both versions combined).
Well, with the December 2009 NPD data released today, we can see how Reggie's bet is doing 2/3rds of the way through. And... well, it looks like Reggie's baby still has some work to do.
There's a lot of good news for Reggie in this data, for sure. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the best-selling title for December, up from third in November, and sold at least a million more units than either version of Modern Warfare 2. The trend line looks promising for Reggie too -- NSMBW sales increased by 145% month to month, while sales of MW2 plummeted by 40-61% (depending on the version).
But while NSMBW has already passed the PS3 version of MW2 in cumulative sales, it's still a good 1.62 million units behind the Xbox 360 version, thanks to the latter game's record breaking launch. Even if Mario wins over Modern Warfare in January by the exact same margin it won December, it will still be a good 400,000 units short of making good on Reggie's bet.
But should we expect Mario's January margin to be the same. Will sales on New Super Mario Bros. Wii fall off in January (as most games do after the holiday season)? Will sales for Modern Warfare 2 drop as well? Most importantly, will both games fall at the same rate?
It's impossible to know for sure at this point, but we can make some educated predictions based on data from some of last year's biggest holiday sellers -- games that just happen to be in the same series that we're looking at today.
Granted, the late 2008 sales data for Mario Kart Wii and Call of Duty: World at War doesn't exactly match the Mario/Modern Warfare battle of today. And the specific circumstances behind the various games are definitely different (Mario Kart Wii was a racing game and released back in '07, World at War took place in a different time period and wasn't developed by Infinity Ward).
But looking at a competition between a Mario game and a Call of Duty game from just a year ago can be instructive. In both cases, the Mario game did better in December than November, while the Call of Duty game fell month-to-month. In each case, the Mario game did better than the PS3 version of Call of Duty, but worse than the Xbox 360 version cumulatively through December. For predictive purposes, it's pretty much the best we're gonna get.
So what happened to these three game when 2008 turned to 2009? Let's have a look.
Unsurprisingly, there were big month-to-month drops across the board after the Christmas season proper. The good news for Mario boosters is that the January sales for the World at War games dropped proportionally much more than sales for Mario Kart Wii sales. But even though Mario Kart Wii snuck into a monthly lead over both Call of Duties in January, it was a bit of a phyrric victory. The smaller overall sales pie in January meant Mario Kart Wii didn't gain much ground on the Call of Duty games, beating the Xbox 360 version of World at War by only 50,000 units for the month.
So what happens if we apply these 2008/2009 trends to the similar 2009/2010 holiday season releases? To find out, I assumed each game's ratio of January sales to combined November/December sales would match the similar game from a year before (So since Mario Kart Wii sold 18% of it Nov./Dec. total in January, I assumed New Super Mario Bros. Wii would do the same. The Call of Duty ratios were 9% for Xbox 360 and 10% for the PS3, respectively). When these projections are applied, the results don't look very good for the Nintendo side.
Based on this projection, New Super Mario Bros. Wii will again outsell both individual versions of Modern Warfare 2 next month, by a margin of roughly 250,000 units over the Xbox 360 version. This is a definite victory, but well short of the roughly 1.6 million unit lead that the Xbox Modern Warfare has going into the month. If you base your January 2010 projections on the December-to-January drop-offs of '08/'09 (ignoring November data entirely), NSMBW does a little better, but still falls short of the Xbox 360 Modern Warfare by a good million units for the entire holiday season. On the bright side for Nintendo, both projections show NSMBW outselling the PS3 version of MW2 by a good margin, both in January and for the holiday season in general.
In short: The smaller January market makes it unlikely that NSMBW will have enough time to make up the sales lead Modern Warfare 2 currently enjoys. Of course, this is all educated guesswork. Modern Warfare 2 sales could fall to next to nothing in January, while New Super Mario Bros. Wii could absolutely explode for the month. And looking past the holiday season, the long term prospects definitely seem better for Mario, which seems poised to become a Mario Kart Wii-style regular fixture on the NPD Top 10 for months and even years to come.
That said, sorry, Reggie, but I think you're gonna lose your bet.