The Super NES Classic, Nintendo’s latest nostalgia-powered mini console, became available for preorder across half a dozen retailers last week after months of anticipation. Nearly every supplier sold out within seconds of listing the console on their website, despite some of them going up in the dark hours of the morning without preemptive notice. What followed amidst the day-long, internet-wide flurry of clicks, F5-mashings and rumor swapping, was anger. Twitter feeds, Facebook walls, and message boards were lit with fury towards everything from Nintendo to scalpers to poor internet connections–all external, uncontrollable forces that conspired to keep Nintendo fans from reliving part of their childhood when the system releases next month. There’s little doubt that the Super NES Classic preorder day was a trainwreck in just about every way, but where should we direct our collective enmity? Into which of the festering single-stream receptacles before us do we unload? There is a strong case for just about every player in the fiasco, so let’s break down the big ones.
‘Fuck Nintendo’ was probably the phrase I saw most frequently that day, and it’s not hard to see why. When the predecessor to the Super NES Classic, the NES Classic Mini, was released last year, Nintendo had famously underestimated the frothing demand that would come with it. Almost immediately, the collective wail of empty-handed shoppers went up and spread like a DDoS attack. As demand reached critical mass, Nintendo responded by increasing shipments and extending the production run beyond its original scope. But they also stated definitively that the console would remain a limited release and production would soon come to a permanent end.
Okay, yes, that wasn’t an ideal situation for anyone, but maybe it’s at least forgivable. Maybe Nintendo simply misread its market after the disappointing performance of the Wii U and didn’t want to take any chances with the Switch around the corner, right? So once the Super NES Classic was announced a few months later, we could rest assured they had learned their lesson and would implement a more robust production line to satisfy the demand already beginning to boil around their feet. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Not if last Tuesday’s events are any indication. Despite Nintendo’s promises to ship far more units of the SNES Classic, some anonymous retailer sources suggested that they may have shipped a very similar quantity to that of the NES Classic. After the dust settled on Tuesday, Nintendo, seeking to cool tempers and reassure its public, promised that production would continue throughout the rest of the year with many more shipments to follow. Though the announcement was positive, it sounded all-too similar to what we heard the last time around, inspiring little reassurance for those who were unable to secure a preorder last week.
Nintendo is probably the easiest target in this blame game. They’re a huge company sitting on massive coffers from previously hard-to-find wildly successful consoles. The notion that they would artificially constrict supply so as to drive demand through the roof, whether true or not, is over a decade old and still bearing fruit. They doubtless have the capability to produce tens of millions more NES and Super NES Classics. Yet they simply seem to choose not to, and it’s hard to imagine a very good reason for that.
Retailers and Scalpers
Next on the chopping block are the retailers: the massive companies we all interacted with directly in our desperate searches last week, and by whom most of us were summarily denied. They are the gatekeepers, the holders of the stock, the ones who ultimately decide who gets to take home Super Nintendo and who doesn’t. So why aren’t they doing more to prevent their stock from ending up in abusive second-hand markets? The complaint against retailers often goes hand-in-hand with the complaint against scalpers: that retailers allow them to do their dirty deeds, thus robbing well-meaning consumers of a fair chance. ‘Why am I being sent away with nothing, when Scalper McScalperface over here checked out with 27 units?’ When demand outpaces supply this much, markets tend to open a wide space for scalpers to slither their way in. It’s a deplorable act to be sure, but it could be reduced if retailers only restricted checkout quantities… but they wouldn’t have to if supply weren’t so tight… and then we’re right back to ‘Fuck Nintendo.’
Of course not all retailers are created equal. Some go beyond indifference and fly head-first into bundles. Within minutes of selling out its supply of the SNES Classic, GameStop had expensive bundles listed on its ThinkGeek storefront. For a mere $200 USD, you could be the proud owner of a Super NES Classic! (…and also $1.50 worth of hot garbage). This is a company that had far more stock than they listed on their website at MSRP and held a substantial portion back to take advantage of those desperate enough to pay obscenely inflated prices. This is corporate scalping, one of the many reasons why ‘Fuck GameStop’ is practically a friendly greeting among gamers.
But on the flip side, let’s give credit where it’s due. A few days after the preorders ended on Tuesday and retail supplies were as dry as our tears, Wal-Mart blipped back up on the radar with fresh stock. This time the console was listed on a new URL, seemingly to throw automated scalper bots, camping on the usual product page spawn point, off the scent. For the first time, it took over a minute for a retailer to sell out. More than 10 minutes, in fact. Such a simple, low-energy gesture afforded many more human shoppers a fair shot. So why can’t others follow suit? Most big box stores probably either don’t care enough to, so long as their bottom line is satisfied, or are looking to take a slice of the scalper pie for themselves.
The situation is hardly new. We’ve been through it all before and we’ll go through it all again. Though the product and players change, the roles and effects are the same: when there isn’t enough of something to go around for everyone who wants it, we get a shitshow. As the demanders we blame the suppliers. We blame every stage of the supply process and even other demanders who demand for the wrong reasons. We just want things to be fair. When there are robots buying up what little supply there is in fractions of a second, how can we win? It isn’t easy, but getting angry and throwing blame around is. Though let’s remember there are two axes on the supply and demand curve. When demand outstrips supply by several orders of magnitude, we should simply want it less, right? This way scalpers are neutered, retailers won’t need to fix their checkout process, Nintendo can focus on making Switch games, and there’s no one to blame. The answer is obvious: everyone cancel their preorders. Maybe we were better off before this thing came into our lives.
Or maybe just ‘Fuck Nintendo.’