Its 20 days until SNES Mini Classic (Or Super NES Classic Edition if you like) lands, after several weeks of crazy hype. People are offering it for sale at inflated prices before they even have one to sell, and the internet is alight with early accusations of short stock and assumptions of disappointment for many. I’m lucky, I made friends at my local game store, which helped me secure a pre-order for which I’ve already paid – so I will be adding the console to my collection soon. Here are some thoughts on the fervour around the thing.
A year ago the world received the first of Nintendo’s mini series of nostalgia consoles – the NES Mini. Even before release we knew there were not enough of them to fulfil even pre-orders, let alone satisfy those who may have intended to walk into a shop and buy it at a later time. Months later, it is no longer in production and Nintendo have issued some wishy-washy statement saying that they never intended it to be anything more than a one-time, low-production toy. Meanwhile commentators speak out in surprise that the big-N will not make any more, given that they could sell thousands more – making their fans happy whilst lining their already impressive wallets.
With SNES Mini fast approaching, people are expecting more of the same. Nintendo have made (again, vague) suggestions that they have “learned” from last year and will be making sufficient supply of this one, but no one believes them. Perhaps fairly – Nintendo have a terrible track record for underestimating demand for their products. I have memories of every console as far back as Gamecube being unavailable for months after release. Switch is even now difficult to find, 6 months after initial release, and extra controllers sold out all around. There is evidence that even N64, SNES and NES were in short supply in a similar manner in their respective times. So why, after three decades of disappointing consumers, does Nintendo continue with this practice?
The obvious answer, one you’ll have heard before, is that it generates massive hype for their products. People want what they can’t have, often blindly. Think of two boys in a school playground. One is enjoying his delicious yellow sweets, then sees the other child enjoying some blue sweets. He suddenly doesn’t want his yellow ones, he wants the blue ones! Such is the mentality that fuels the hype train for these silly little retro machines. And it works! Just browse retro gaming on twitter and you’ll see many examples of “Nintendo-related stuff? AWESOME!” Sometimes even when it’s not awesome at all.
Nintendo have lots of money. Serious cash. They are larger than Sony (all of Sony, not just the PlayStation section). Largest Japanese company, full stop. And they made a lot of that money through contemptuous business practices. From monopolising the American market in the mid-80s to charging a premium for their games, to the currently discussed practice of under-production. Nintendo also control the price of their products in stores, not allowing shops to reduce the prices until they say so, which is why you will find their games at full price long after games on other systems are being sold at 20% of full price. So it’s not like Nintendo products “hold their value” so much as Nintendo holds the value of their products artificially. For all their fun, family image, they are as cut-throat as a business gets. For further evidence look at recent events on YouTube, where content creators must give their advertising revenues to the company whenever they use content from any of their games.
Don’t expect this to change any time soon. Scarcity is the way they work, and the way they will continue to work. For all the suggestions that Nintendo is the “loser” in each generation (since NES, Nintendo’s home consoles have sold fewer than their competition, at least in Europe (America is another story, and one that doesn’t need to be told again), they sure seem to be doing alright.
So, on September 29th you don’t get a SNES Mini. You wait 6 months, never see one for less than double the RRP. What are your options? I’ll discuss this in a separate article soon. Maybe even later today.