Nintendo has been on a roll lately. The Nintendo Switch has been every bit as fun as promised, and it even launched with a massive killer game in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The NES Classic was a hit that far exceeded Nintendo's expectations. Mario Kart 8 exploded on Switch despite being a Wii U game originally, and Super Mario Odyssey looks great.
Despite all that success, there have been some real pain points as the company flexes and changes. The SNES Classic, the Super Nintendo follow-up to the wildly popular NES Classic, has just been announced, and one of Nintendo's worst tendencies is likely to crop up.
Let's gush first though
While just about everyone is going to look at the line-up of SNES games appearing on the Classic and wish for something that wasn't there, there's no doubt that some of the system's absolute best games will be in the box when it ships at the end of September. Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Final Fantasy III, Star Fox, Earthbound, and more make up a list of over 20 games appearing on the mini-console. To top it all off, the previously-unreleased Star Fox 2 will be on the system as well. That's a surprise move, and a very cool one. If you have any history with Nintendo consoles, this piece of hardware promises to make you a very happy gamer. There's an absurd, almost comical amount of gaming value in the $80 box.
So, I'm super excited about this thing. What's the problem?
Let me check in the stock room
Even as Nintendo makes all this great stuff, the company has a consistent problem with fulfilling the demand for it. I would be willing to chalk it up to their manufacturing pipeline, but this problem has been going on since the release of the Wii 10 years ago. At this point, either the company is being willfully ignorant, or they're messing with us.
What it all comes down to is that Nintendo – and only Nintendo – can do this. No one else in gaming, and very few companies at all, really, have the cultural cachet, nostalgic value, and corporate identity to be able to hold onto fans through thick and thin the way Nintendo does. The company showed this ability just a few weeks ago, too, at E3 2017, when it simply announced that a couple key titles were in production but didn't show even so much as a screenshot from them.
I think Nintendo knows it can abuse its fans, and it goes against the very core of what Nintendo represents to those fans and their greater identity.
Nintendo advertises itself as a company not just for guys in their 30s who wish they were still 10, but for boys and girls, families, and everyone in between. Nintendo is a family company. Heck, the Japanese name of the Nintendo was "Family Computer." The content of their games constantly confirms that the company wants to be accessible and PG-rated. Nintendo's communications with fans, through its Nintendo Direct shows online, fits the bill as well, with Reggie, Bill Trinen, and other reps from the company speaking in pleasant, slow cadences under bright lighting and happy-go-lucky music. It'd be too much if it wasn't always so refreshing. Way to be endlessly refreshing, Nintendo.
It's happening again
Over and over, though, Nintendo offers up compelling hardware populated with irresistible games, and leaves fans looking at empty shelves. Nintendo says its hardware is for everyone, but each time a new system launches, we find out who it's really for: the people with the time and money to sit in lines, to wait for orders to pop up, and to spend the scratch necessary to get them from scalpers online.
If that was just a launch-window problem, that would be one thing, but this problem lasts for months. Just last week, the company apologized for continued shortages of Switch consoles. It came out three months ago. Someone in my family told me her 7-year-old was working to save up for a Switch, and I told her, don't help him – they're hard to find right now, so it'll be okay if he has to wait.
This problem gets even worse with their Classic systems, which Nintendo makes artificially scarce by putting drop-dead dates on production.
After the official announcement yesterday, our own Editor-in-Chief Sean Aune and I were chatting back and forth, planning strategies on how to get our hands on these inevitably ultra-rare systems. We're coming up with plans to get our hands on a system that doesn't even release for three months, because we know it's going to be nearly impossible to find.
Nintendo has already said that it plans to ship more SNES Classic console than it did with the NES Classic and has made it plainly clear when it'll be in production and on shelves (September 29 to December 31, 2017). That's better than it did with the NES Classic, but that's a heavily-qualified definition of 'better.'
This limited run certainly drums up a lot of news chatter for the company (I'm deeply aware of the irony of that statement), but it also creates an artificial run on the system. Nintendo is the only game company that has trouble with scalpers. Scalpers are for sports games and rock concerts. And maybe the opera? I don't know what the kids are into these days. They're for events with limited seating and short runs. But they're not for video game consoles. Other hardware, like anything with an Apple logo, elicits similar behavior. The difference is that Apple fans can sleep in on launch day knowing that if they're patient, they'll be able to get their hardware of choice a couple weeks later. The scarcity doesn't last.
The demand for the NES Classic is still high enough that the things are going for over $200 on eBay, which suggests that Nintendo could keep these things on the market for a solid year and still see demand remain consistently high.
It doesn't help that joints like GameStop amp up the scarcity by bundling the system with a whole bunch of accessories no one wants (or that they kind of have to do that to make a profit on the hardware, since there isn't a way to sell games for it).
Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime says the company "[has] a lot going on right now and we don't have unlimited resources," which sounds hollow in the face of just how well these consoles perform.
I joked to a friend that I expect Nintendo's SNES Classic run to be a total of 17 consoles, sold exclusively at a Best Buy in Encino, at 4 a.m. But it doesn't feel like joking. Three months out, this system feels unobtainable. I don't trust Nintendo to make enough systems to fend off the scalpers and to let the greater public get access to the system. Instead, it'll be relegated to the hardest of the hardcore fans and those with the extra cash to spend on over-priced bundles and second-hand systems sold online.
I want Nintendo to get this right. I want to play Earthbound and F-Zero, and to sit down with my girlfriend for a competitive game of Mario Kart. But Nintendo's track record says that someone like me, who can't wait in 4 a.m. lines, and thinks he should be able to walk into a store and buy the system, doesn't deserve one.
But hey – it comes with two controllers, and their cords are five feet long. That's a bit more than half-as-long as the original cords, instead of less than half. So maybe there's hope.