One of the unique features of today’s landscape is that news is instantaneous. Companies – regardless the industry – are far more transparent than ever. Whether technology, medicine, or home insurance, modern corporations are forced to pay closer attention to their image than before. Nintendo has been the topic of much conversation of late – at this website as well as others. With a little over two weeks until the launch of the Nintendo Switch, many consumers are still frustrated with the handling of the NES Classic release just three months ago. Nintendo brought the gaming industry back from the brink of destruction in the eighties, but do they retain the good will to survive their own mis-management?
There’s no mistaking that the NES Classic has sold a commendable number of units. Of course, it was nearly a guaranteed success. Featuring classic titles such as Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man II, and many more, it would have been difficult to fail. Even the timing was well-chosen as nostalgia is in vogue these days. The most recent sales data available from the NPD Group shows Nintendo had sold roughly 200,000 units as of mid-December. We can only assume that sales have continued in the two months which followed, but how many sales have been missed as a result of the limited supply and non-communication?
To be fair, the “Big N” did release an official statement regarding the shortage not long after the mini console launched. Scrolling through the comments on the Twitter posting, however, shows a throng of frustrated would-be customers criticizing the whole situation as deliberate under-supply. While that posting is now three months old, things simply haven’t improved much since then. Inventory tracking websites received a major boon as a result of the situation. Frequent refreshes on websites such as NowInStock.com or Brickseek.com show that supply is still coming in at a trickle. While units are remaining on shelves longer than ever and online resellers are fetching less by the day in profit, things still look tough.
But, wait, where have I heard this story before?
Just ten years prior (has it been that long?!), Nintendo released the original Wii gaming console. What happened next seems painfully identical to the current state of things. A select group of gamers got their hands on the little, white box on launch day, but the majority of potential purchasers were left disappointed and empty-handed. Unopened consoles were immediately listed for sale with outrageous markups. Worse still, supply took over a year to fully meet the demand.
In the midst of things today, I can’t help but notice one important difference between the launch of the Wii and the launch of the NES Classic: two years later, people still really cared to get a hold of a Wii console. Please don’t mistake me, the NES Classic is a fantastic little product, but the reality is that this was a device which badly needed to ride the strength of holiday impulse purchases. At a meager $59.99 USD for the console, controller, cables, and 30 games – well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better thoughtless purchase for any geek on your shopping list. While I suspect there is still a good market to sell to, the 200,000 units sold in the first month likely would have been nearly ten-fold had there been sufficient quantity available. Now that the launch window has passed, it will take months if not a year to sell the volume of consoles which could have been sold within the first month.
The question I’m left with is: what happened? Nintendo’s line is that they simply underestimated the demand. This seems highly improbable. Initially, reaction to the NES Classic was very strong. In fact, the Internet was abuzz with excitement for days after the unveiling as people fantasized about a trip back in gaming time. It’s no more than my opinion, but I think any reasonable person would easily have guessed that Nintendo could move a million units over the holidays – so how did their own executives overlook the same conclusion? More to the point, three months have passed since the release, and supply still hasn’t caught up. While I’m certain Nintendo is focusing on the new Switch release just ahead, it seems reasonable to assume they would still have the capacity to improve manufacturing output on a profitable product. At no point since launch have they made any comment about difficulties producing the tiny gaming device – and such challenges seem unlikely given the minimal and dated technology at hand.
Put simply: if Nintendo truly failed to properly anticipate the demand for the NES Classic, they’ve demonstrated an unfortunate level of corporate incompetence. The alternative, however, is even more troubling. What if – as has been widely speculated – the supply constraints are intentional? Certainly, it’s not at all uncommon for toy manufacturers in particular to deliberately limit supply in an effort to increase demand. We saw this exact phenomenon with “Hatchimals” during this same, holiday season. While most of us think of Nintendo as a gaming company, the truth is that they began and continue to exist as a toy company. If this was deliberate, then their failure is all the more embarrassing. What I mean is that, Nintendo did succeed at creating buzz, but they failed to capitalize by then delivering supply to profit from the stir they started. Demand at any level and for any reason is meaningless to a company if there isn’t a profit to be had. Moreover, if their intention was to create brand awareness just prior to the launch of the Nintendo Switch, then I believe they have still failed. The only awareness I can observe is that most people are now aware that Nintendo cannot be depended on.
All we can do is speculate. With a lack of communication from Nintendo regarding the whole issue, we may never know what really happened. Regardless, Nintendo’s last home console has done nothing but suffer and languish since it’s launch. Investors and consumers are much less optimistic than ever before as a result of the un-profitable decisions made over the last several years. No matter how mighty they may once have been, Nintendo has a lot to prove to win back consumer confidence. In an industry where we’ve seen so many big names fail over the years, I hope the house that Mario built has got a few more tricks up their sleeves. I’m hopeful that the Switch will be different, but I, like others, have been burned a few times too many with promises that never developed. Suffice it to say, you won’t see me in line at launch. Nintendo needs to restore my faith and that of many more would-be customers before they’ll see another sale.
But what about you? Are you tired of the hot air and missed commitments? Does Nintendo have your vote just one, last time? Let us know in the comments below!