Friday, September 28, 2012

Google Trends Analysis: Wii U search volumes shows strengths and weakness

In a recent article on, Rich Bieglmeier performned a Google Trends analysis and concluded that while Wii U likely will not repeat the success of the Wii, it is likely to do well based on search results, predicting 2 million Wii U sold by the end of 2012 and 3.5 million by March 31 2013 (the end of Nintendo’s fiscal year) ; Nintendo’s own forecasts on estimated a combined 10.5 million Wii branded consoles will be sold between April 2012 to March 2013 with many commentators assuming a 50/50 split, putting the number closer to 5 million.  In contrast, Nintendo sold through 6 million Wii consoles by March 2007.

This is a conservative estimate by most measure.  While actual shipment numbers are unknown, 
He based his analysis on comparing ‘peak 2006’ and current search results for the search terms Wii, Nintendo, Wii U.    The analysis was relatively vague, only concluding that the numbers are down significantly from 2006.  
It also raises a number of questions.    How is the trend moving comparing search volume to major events around the Wii / Wii U, both had E3 reveals and a September price/launch announcements?  How has the search volume trended in the months leading to E3 and immediately after it?

In the spirit of analysis, I have done my own analysis using Mr. Bieglmeier's work as a starting point.  I found his use of the 3 search terms Wii, Wii U and Nintendo to be adequate and appropriate in capturing a wide swath of searches so I will be using the same three terms, with  modifications for this study.

Time scale: 2004-2012, September
Search Terms: Wii, Nintendo, Wii U

This may seem counterintuitive but there are significant overlap between these terms (see below). As will be shown later, Wii has experience significant growth as a brand compared to Nintendo itself.  It is also worth noting that while it does not rank in the United States,  Wii 2 is a related search term for Wii U on a global level, at #8.

Top 10 related terms for each of the 3 terms
Wii:  Wii games, Nintendo, Wii Nintendo, Wii game, Wii cheats, Wii fit, Wii 2, Wii Mario Kart, Mario Kart, Wii Play

Nintendo:  Nintendo DS, DS, Wii, Wii Nintendo, Nintendo games, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, 3DS, Nintendo 3DS, DSi Nintendo

Wii U: The Wii U, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo U, Wii U release, Wii games, Wii U games, new Wii U, new Wii, wii U price

With this in place, I ran my analysis for both the United States and the world.  Our focus will primarily be on the United States, although global search volumes are included as its own chart as well.

Below is a chart showing search volume (with 100 = December 2008’s Wii search term)  comparing 2006 and 2012 (see Note at the end of the post for more information).   There are differences of note.  E3 in 2006 was held in early May, instead of June.   The Wii brand was announced in a letter from Nintendo in April 27 2006, prior to that it was simply known as the Nintendo Revolution.  I have included Revolution’s search volume rating of 2 in April and 1 in May into the Wii tally.  After May 2006, Google trends show Nintendo Revolution search petered out to 0.

Search Trend USA - Click to Enlarge

Search Trend Global - Click to Enlarge

The Analysis:

The E3 Bump
Wii/Revolution search volume went from 4 in April 2006 to 12 in May 2006 during E3 a 275% spike.   Comparatively Wii U searches went from  1 in May 2012  to 4 June 2012; a 400% bump but significantly softer overall due to the lower search volume in the month prior to E3.

There are a number of mitigating factors in play
  • The Wii branding was announced in late April 2006 causing a lot of disdain and confusion among gamers and interest in the press
  • Wii U numbers are obfuscated by searches in the ‘Wii’ category.  Note that Wii jumped from 12 in May 2012 to  18 in June 2012. 
Could we attribute this jump simply to more searches for Wii related software at E3?  Considering the dearth of Wii specific games and announcements that seems highly unlikely.    If we strip the increase in Wii searches and apply it to Wii U,  we have a combined volume of 10 in June.  Still below 11 recorded in 2006. 

September Conference Bump
Wii search volume went from a 7 to 12 in 2006, or 170% increase between August and September 2006.  In 2012, Wii U’s bump went from a 2 to a 6, a much more impressive increase but softer overall due to a much lower August volume.  We should also consider a number of factors.
  • September figures are still provisional. As of this writing, data collected had about one week left in September.
  • Wii search results jumped from 15 to 18 in August and September.    
  • While it is possible September just happened to be a month where Wii searches occur, this seems unlikely.  Wii search volumes have traditionally dropped 4 to 5 points between August and September (return the school season) in every year it has been on the market (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011), excluding 2012 where it spiked to a 18 from 15.
  • This spike in Wii searches provides strong circumstantial evidence that Wii U as a search term under reports searches for the Wii U by the public.
  • If we generously assume true Wii searches remain flat at 15 between August and September,  we can apply the 3 points gained to Wii U.  Giving as an overall  (provisional) result of 9 points.
  • 9 points is still below the 12 reported in 2006, but I strongly believe that this is a fairly conservative estimate.  If we assume a modest dip of 3 points in true searches for Wii related products between August and September,  we would instead apply 6 points for the Wii U and the Wii U bump would be tied with the Wi in 2006.

Wii is the new Nintendo
An interesting trend is the creep of the Wii to replace Nintendo.  In a similar way PlayStation became a brand synonymous with Sony, Wii is now a much more popular synonym for Nintendo.

Note the reversal between 2006 and 2012.  Our datapoints in 2006 show Nintendo leading much of the way until Wii took off in searches around October.   The inflection point was infact October 2006. That was the last time Nintendo as a search term lead over Wii.  Since then Wii related searches have lead the way.

Pausing for a breath or continued decline?
The trend-lines also show unquestionably a decline in Wii and Nintendo related searches every year since 2008.  Nintendo as a search term is at an all time low.  At an 10 rating in September, it is lower than  the 13 rating recorded in September 2004 when the Google Trends app started tracking.  All years since have seen a higher search volume for Nintendo.

Interestingly at a combined state, overall searches for Nintendo + Wii is comparable to 2006.  Combined search volume for Nintendo +Wii and its related terms (note some overlap so there is double counting) was 29,  in 2012, combined Nintendo + Wii + Wii U is 31.

However, reviewing the intervening years between 2006 and 2012, The combined search volume is running behind Septembers in 2009 (37 points), 2008 (44 points) and 2007 (40 points).  It however beats Septembers 2010 (27 points)  and 2011 (25 points).

The launch of the Wii U will no doubt see increased volume searches for the next six months, but it will be interesting to see where Nintendo is trending over the next few years.

  • There is strong correlation in the movement of the Wii search term along with Wii U related events
  • Basing purely on just the Wii U search term, Wii U awareness is much lower comparative to Wii in 2006, how much lower is open to debate.  Our estimate, conservatively is it is running 25% behind the Wii at the same time six years ago based on our estimate of a search volume of 9 for the Wii U in September vs. Wii’s volume of 12 in 2006 for the Wii.
  • Wii U awareness is significantly more elastic than Wii, showing considerable growth in interest during E3 and the Nintendo September conference spiking 400% and 300% respectively, compared to 275% and 170% for the Wii.  
  • A plausible conclusion could be that this elasticity will bring Wii U search trends inline with Wii in 2006 when the marketing ramps up.  
  • Related to the observation is also the hypothesis that there are many dormant Wii owners who haven’t touched their Wii in a while but may become interested and search for Wii U when they hear news about it.  This could explain the correlation between Wii and Wii U searches because these owners may simply type in Wii, Wii 2, Nintendo Wii, instead of Wii U specifically when searching.   How successful Nintendo is in convincing them the Wii U is worth $299.99 is a question for sales charts to answer.
  • The real proof of how well Wii U will emulate the Wii’s success and how this observed elasticity in search interest will carry them through to the fall in terms of generating public interest will be in the months of October/November and December.  These the months Wii searches have spiked in every year since 2006.   In recent years, these peaks have become increasingly less tall.  If we see a substantial ramp up in 2012, similar to 2006, it is possible to speculate that Nintendo may have succeeded in their goal and our hypothesis of dormant interest in Wii being reawakened could be proven.
  • September data is only provisional as the study was conducted with about 1 week left to go in September
  • Several search terms that could be significant to Nintendo such as Nintendo TVii do not yet have enough data to be recorded in the trends, although the search term TVii does record a correlation back to Nintendo TVii in Google Trends.  Either case, this ‘casual friendly’ feature would be something we want to pay attention to in coming months to see how well it trends  as a search term in conjunction with Wii U’s rollout in November.
  • We remain uncertain how closely correlated Wii U is with Wii in terms of search volume.  
Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

*Note: Google Trends numbers are normalized and thus fluctuate depending on search term used and time scale.  The numbers by themselves mean little without context.  In our search trend context,  a number of 100 means search volume equals the highest volume experienced between the search terms. In this case, as you’ll note in the peak right in the middle of the graph,  100 = Wii on December 2008.

A number of other Decembers came close, most notably the search volume for Wii in December 2007, with a figure of 92, or 92% of 2008’s peak.

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