How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Got Its Sales Groove Back

Monday, December 24th, 2018

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The sales story of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate continues to grow, and it shows no sign of slowing down. This week, newspaper Nikke reported the superstar crossover fighter sold 5 million copies worldwide in its first three days. It’s not a surprise; all previous Smash Bros. games have seen plentiful success, but Ultimate seems to be launching on another level.

To wit, Smash Bros. Ultimate has been breaking records in all the major markets, becoming the fastest selling Smash, if not Switch, game period in North America, Europe, and Japan. In comparison, the last home console game in the series, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, sold 700,000 units in North America back in its first month in 2014.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has sold 5 million in a mere three days of its launch on December 7th, it’s on pace to become the best-selling entry in the series to date. To wit, it’s well on its way to overtaking what Smash Wii U sold in its lifetime within a month. Here are the raw numbers for each Super Smash Bros. game, putting things into perspective.

  • Super Smash Bros. (N64): 5.55m
  • Melee: 7.41m
  • Brawl: 13.29m
  • 3DS: 9.35m
  • Wii U: 5.34m

We know where the game stands, now let’s look at how the ever-so-anticipated fighter got to these chart-topping numbers.

Back in 2014, the fourth major entry of Super Smash Bros. came out within months of each other across Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. This followed through on a three years-earlier promise by Satoru Iwata at E3 2011 that a future Smash Bros. would be worked on for both. In hindsight, it seemed like a good idea on paper (sell even more units of basically the same game on two platforms), but it ended up with one version sabotaging the other.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS came out first in all territories before Wii U. When combined, both games total about 13 million units sold, but the 3DS game has sold 3.43 million units more than its console counterpart. It’s highly possible many people bought Smash on 3DS and were satiated, not needing another version (and another console) to play essentially the same game over again. Hardware sales bear out this division too, as the Wii U’s 13.56 million units pale compared to the 70+ million moved by the 3DS family since 2011.

This time, both Nintendo and the developers of Smash Ultimate had the advantage of only making one game, rather than trying to sell two versions to the same audience at once. That guarantees the focus on one platform, the Switch, which has a meaty 22+ million strong worldwide audience to market the game to. In essence, every division at Nintendo, including marketing and sales, is a winner.

December seems like an oddball time to launch essentially a AAA game (following Black Friday in the US), but the holiday season has been really competitive this year. By pushing Smash Ultimate as Nintendo’s end of the year present (effectively), it kept out of the way of such major launches as Red Dead Redemption II, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, Fallout 76, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It also afforded Nintendo to give their other first party launches more space, including Super Mario Party in October, and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! the month of November to themselves. An early December launch still guaranteed plenty of last-minute, gift-giving sales for such a critical holiday release as Smash.

The gaming landscape has grown a great deal in the 17 years since the only other time a Super Smash Bros. game launched in December. 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee launched on the 3rd. More people now know what Smash Bros. is, and the amount of people spending money on gaming hardware and software has exponentially grown across all markets worldwide. With that much time of brand awareness growth, and clearer skies in the release month, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was guaranteed the 5 million+ sales worldwide it has richly earned.

Let’s not forget, first and foremost, that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a quality game that delivered on its lofty subtitle. As fans had clearly been asking for every past character to come back in one major sequel, so t’was done. The sheer quality of Ultimate is obvious in every crevice of its design, what with bringing back a major single-player campaign, the updated gameplay mechanics, and tons of multiplayer options (we gave it a great review, after all). Ultimate has proven to be everything fans and critics wanted, and more.

At the rate things are going, Ultimate will beat out the numbers on Smash Melee and Smash 3DS, and it’s a matter of time until it beats out the series’ sales champ, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Only it has cleared the mythical 10 million unit mark, with 3DS almost there at 9.35 million. Thanks to a combination of positive Switch news, a large install base, and upbeat social media coverage, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will reliably be one of Nintendo’s biggest sales successes for the Switch, and is assuredly one for the company’s record books.

About Alex Irish

When he's not writing about games, Alex Irish is an illustrator and animation expert. His favorite gaming franchise is Pokémon, full-stop, but his favorite game of all time is Resident Evil 4. He attended the first-ever IGN House Party and is a five-time attendee of the Ottowa International Animation Festival.