Don’t let the headline of this editorial fool you. We here at The Beat DO NOT condone or endorse the acquiring anyone’s intellectual property by illegal means. This is about why Nintendo’s recent SNES Classic pre-order debacle and its track record with possible manufactured scarcity is giving its fans little in the way of alternatives be they legal or illegal.
Back in June, Nintendo announced a follow up to 2016’s impossible to find NES Mini a box loaded with old Nintendo games designed as a miniature version of their now iconic hardware. The new SNES Classic will be Nintendo’s hot commodity of 2017. A tribute to its 16-bit era system preloaded with games fans hold in high regard such as Super Mario World and the never before released Star-Fox 2. Last year, the NES Mini ended up paying the mortgage on professional flippers houses as the Haley’s Comet like inventory created listings on eBay as high as $500 from the $59.99 Nintendo originally asked for. With the announcement of the new SNES Classic came reassurances from Nintendo of a longer manufacturing run time (though still limited to this calendar year) and a significant increase of units from the NES mini’s 2.5 Million sold or distributed in 2016. For all the good faith many fans and journalists took Nintendo on, this past week everyone in the U.S was repaid with a karate chop to the throat from the Japanese company.
This past week, major retailers in the states had extremely limited pre-orders for the system go up in the middle of the night without any warning. By the time anyone was aware, it was already too late. One GameStop store in a major market claimed to only have an inventory of eight units for pre-order and it being on the higher end of stores in the area. Retailers once again faced the issue of not having enough supply to meet the demand. Some people on various message boards reported having their pre-orders canceled due to unavailable inventory. Amazon the biggest of online retailers can not keep a waiting list of unfulfilled orders for everyone who managed to get in the system because they have no information on shipments after the product’s September launch. It’s an outside possibility Nintendo could simply say they put all their eggs in the September basket and ya ain’t gettin anymore. I myself am to be considered one of the lucky ones, Amazon sent me an email assuring I would receive one instead of the soul crushing cancellation email…so far. If it ends up being a better late than never situation that would be fine, but you can’t really count on anything when Nintendo is involved.
As far as I know, only one other person who ordered on Amazon got the above email, most everyone else who wasn’t guaranteed a launch SNES got flat out cancellations. It begs the question of why in a world where SDCC on sale is announced through dozens of press releases and commercials tell you a date you can start buying Star Wars tickets, would Nintendo treat the SNES like an alien corpse being transported to area 51? Granted knowing the time and date wouldn’t help inventory problems but it at the very least would have given everyone who wanted one the same chance.
We live in a pre-order consumer culture where companies pull out every stop to try and get their customers to pay money up front for products, services, even entertainment they won’t get for, in some cases, months out. It’s extremely unnecessary most of the time. Really, when was the last time you can recall not being able to buy a new video game the day it launched, or not see a movie at a theater because it was sold out everywhere? Comics themselves are the epitome of pre-order culture because Diamond has been around since dinosaurs roamed, and in all honesty, I’ve never needed to be on a pull list to get any particular comic I ever coveted. But getting back to the subject at hand. The one time its fans should pre-order something and Nintendo still can’t get away from fucking this up.
Consider this. The SNES Classic isn’t made of some space age limited in existence adamantium or contains any sort of new technology only recently developed by NASA. It’s a well-presented version of USB drive and cell phone duct taped together. For a company that has enough reserve cash to take losses over the next decade and still be in business, the manufacturing of the SNES should be child’s play. You can only get away with the excuse of “we didn’t count on such a high demand” once and Nintendo has used that with the NES Mini last year.
There are only two options for Nintendo’s optics on this latest failure. Either the company is creating a shortage on purpose to punish consumers over people rejecting the Wii U or it’s simply incompetent. Nintendo has to realize the only people who benefit from the almost defcon one levels of product scarcity are scalpers who do nothing but devote time and resource to beat the average consumer to the punch, then sell things like the SNES classic for an outrageous markup. In some cases well over 1000%. It isn’t an illegal practice, maybe one that sits in an ethical gray area, but it’s definitely a sleazy one.
You can’t take away the hard work involved from talented artists, coders, and creative teams who’ve made the games preloaded in the SNES Classic years ago. It isn’t through any fault of their own a publisher like Nintendo executed poor strategy with this highly sought after piece of hardware. Without putting it out in a direct press release, the company is essentially saying “what’s your problem? We’re just a middle man for the people who gouge you on eBay, but here’s Splatoon. You like Spaltoon don’t you?” At a certain point, you have to look at what Nintendo is doing and say ok you don’t want my money, fair enough.
What can you do? If we’re being completely honest, nothing. We as consumers are at the mercy of Nintendo on this. They’re the ones who know the inventory numbers and set the terms with retailers on pre-orders. If you’ve attempted to hand Nintendo $79.99 for an SNES Classic and the company has essentially told you, we don’t want your money then you as said consumer should not feel the least bit guilty about being forced to acquire that entertainment through other systems be they licensed or not. If you’ve ever taken a look on the internet or at those small stands in the middle of a shopping mall, you know there exists other ways to get old Super Nintendo games most of which aren’t illegal.
Today’s digital marketplace carries a new form of social contract. A consumer should not resort to pirated or unlicensed forms of entertainment if the avenue to enjoy a particular form of it exists in accessible and legitimate means. Nintendo has definitely violated such an unspoken agreement and shown contempt for its own audience by allowing failed Kickstarter/shark tank trailer park business levels of inventory to speak for the company.
In an age where a million iPhones can be produced for the Apple Store in Santa Monica alone, there’s simply no excuse for the inability of Nintendo to make enough tiny plastic boxes containing old video games that fit on a 2gb thumbdrive for anyone willing to pay $79.99.
For anyone simply chalking this up to sour grapes. I was lucky enough to be able to order an SNES Classic. Many of the people in my circle weren’t. This is about parents whose kids will be disappointed for birthdays and holidays because they couldn’t get their hands on one, retail employees having to answer the endless barrage of calls or getting blamed for people not being able to buy one, not to mention delivery drivers who have to be cautious because you don’t know if that person creeping on your delivery to a GameStop is just a kid looking to be the first to score or someone dangerous. What about the rabid Nintendo fanboy/girl whose shrine to Bowser and Zelda will have an empty spot because they don’t have half a gold brick to buy the SNES Classic on eBay? You can be damn sure this is about Nintendo faining ignorance at its possible complicity in consumer price gouging. Because unless you ensure every person who wants an SNES Classic gets the opportunity to purchase one for the MSRP of $79.99 then the blame rests solely on the company’s shoulders.
None of this should make you any less excited for stuff like Super Mario Odessey and Telltale games series coming to Nintendo’s other hot commodity, the Switch. All I’m saying is it’s now okay to be critical, skeptical, and flat out call bullshit whenever the company “reassures” you about something. There is such a thing as good will for corporations and Nintendo’s tank is blinking empty.
Last year, during a panel I moderated at a convention, I gave away the NES Mini which I was given for review. It didn’t particularly interest me and morally it wouldn’t have felt right to sell it. It doesn’t look like media lightning will strike twice with the SNES but if it does I wouldn’t mind making someone’s Xmas again this year. Should my panel moderating be done for the year, then I think giving it away on The Beat would be the next best thing. A girl can dream right?