Posted on August 28 2017 by Alfred Tabaks
If you’re on this site, chances are you’re a fan of The Legend of Zelda, or at the very least, Nintendo. From the early days of the NES to the most recent Switch, Nintendo has been able to entice fans and give them what they want. Granted, they also have a history of giving fans things that they don’t want as well. At the end of the day, though. Nintendo gives fans reasons to come back. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be buying their games or consoles. But I think that, lately, Nintendo has been in a bit of a weird flux which I want to talk about.
Nintendo’s Rollercoaster Life of Sales
Let’s start with the Wii. As of this year, it’s about eleven years old. However, its effects can still be felt in the gaming industry today. Motion controls on triple-A gaming platforms were unheard of until the Wii hit the market. Once it did, it set off a revolution, prompting Sony and Microsoft to respond in kind. Wiis sold incredibly fast, making it near impossible to get them. I distinctly remember how difficult it was to get one; there were lines stretching as far as the eye could see and by the time you reached the end of the line, they were most likely sold out. Nintendo was not expecting this venture to be nearly as productive and lucrative as it was. The Wii was the must-have console for quite some time. It lasted a few years, actually and there is even a game currently being made for it. The waves it made are still being felt today and, for the longest time, were felt by Nintendo. And this is what set them up for failure.
They believed that they could ride the success of the Wii onto their next console, the Wii U. To say that the Wii U was a flop is an understatement. When it was first announced and demoed at E3, fans were confused, and rightly so, about the nature of the device. Was it a controller or was it console. This demo “showed off” the Wii U. For the most part, it showed off the Wii U (with a few features that were never actually released) as a “new controller.” When they brought it out to the floor, there was no console in sight. It appeared to just be a new peripheral for the Wii. Aside from the awkward reveal, no one outside of the core gamers and Nintendo fans were aware that it even existed. The name didn’t help it, either.
Nintendo’s naming strategy since the Wii has been pretty odd. The Wii was an understandable, albeit odd, name. The main tagline for it was “Wii would like to play,” emphasizing the fact that it was a console to be played by families and friends. The Wii U was a different story. Nintendo stated that the “U” at the end of the name was to emphasize that it was made for “U, the gamers.” In the end, though, all it did was add even more confusion to an already confusing console.
There was very little marketing for the device, and while it had some amazing games on it, for the most part, it did not even seem like Nintendo knew what the console was. Despite its main draw being the tablet-like controller, there was scarce a game that used it to its fullest extent. While games such as Zombi U appeared to be magnificent uses of it and games such as Wind Waker and Twilight Princess used the touchscreen as a map and menu, many did not even use the touch screen. Simple features such as touchscreen menu control in Super Smash Bros. Wii U were missing. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze just completely shut off the screen in general.
With the Wii U, Nintendo was missing on the publicity that it had during the Wii era. While yes, gaming journalist companies, such as IGN, Kotaku, Gamespot, and many more were discussing and hyping the Wii, even the mainstream news was talking about it, calling it a cultural phenomenon. Not only were gamers playing it, but everyone was playing it. Everyone talked about it and everyone wanted one. The Wii U was the complete opposite. Very few people were talking about it and very few people knew what it was, much less wanted one. Even I did not get it until it had been out for a year or so, mostly because I was skeptical of it.
Cue the Switch: Nintendo’s saving grace. While the Switch is nowhere the societal revolution that the Wii was, it has certainly become quite popular. Finding one is quite difficult as well. As soon as we get them in stock at Best Buy, they sell out pretty quickly. Nintendo’s marketing has seen quite the revamp. You can tell by the fact that there is actual marketing for the Switch. Though, I don’t think Nintendo even expected the Switch to gain the traction that it did. This is probably one of the reasons that they were short-stocked; Nintendo didn’t believe they would be in that high of demand, among other things. Still, I believe that the short supply that the Switch has been in is not necessarily all Nintendo’s fault. It’s based on part shortages and worries about underestimating the value of their product.
Nintendo’s Run at the Classics
Nintendo has quite the classics library. That’s the reason that they continued the Virtual Console from the Wii to the 3DS to the Wii U. They knew that people loved their nostalgic games and would pay for them, so they continued to shovel them out for people to buy. Odds are, most of you grew up on the NES or SNES like I did. A lot of those games have a special place in your memory for one reason or the other. The NES Classic and the SNES Classic are runs at cashing in on this nostalgia in a more physical way. If you haven’t heard of them, here’s a quick rundown: these two systems are Nintendo official plug-and-play systems containing a large amount of their respective system’s library, and, in the case of the SNES Classic, an unreleased game.
The NES Classic came out of left field and was received with much rejoicing and excitement. Everyone wanted to get their hands on one. From the get-go, it was clear that this was another homerun for Nintendo. Thirty classic games on one console for $60? Sign me up– or so everyone thought. The thing sold ridiculously fast, as everyone thought it would but it was unclear on how to get them. Not in the sense of simply buying them, but some places took pre-orders, some cancelled them, and some didn’t take them at all. There were scalpers, as there are with many of Nintendo’s more… exclusive products that prevented people from obtaining one. But of course, Nintendo would make more, right? They wouldn’t miss our on this chance to make some cash!
If you’ve ever listened to me on the podcast, then you know how I feel about Nintendo’s strategy behind artificial demand. The first case we saw of this was with Nintendo’s Amiibo and how hard it was to obtain some of the more “rare” ones. Finding a Dark Pit, Villager, Palutena, or some of the others with “unicorn rarity” was part and parcel of them being collectibles. It was frustrating, yea, but that’s part of collecting. So in retrospect, it makes sense. But what doesn’t is how Nintendo has created the demand for the NES and the SNES classics.
If the consoles themselves were hard to make and costly, then I’d understand only doing a limited run of them. But that’s not the case. You can even make a NES Classic for yourself for around the same price as buying one. They’re not expensive to make, so it doesn’t make sense as to why they would discontinue it. There are people that have made justifications for this limited run: it takes too much of their resources, they want you to focus on their other commercial products such as the Switch and 3DS, or that it was meant to be a collector’s item with a limited run. Only, we were given no indication that it was going to be a limited run. We were under the impression that this would be a new product that would run alongside the other systems. Furthermore, the concern that the NES would detract from the Switch of 3DS family of systems is ridiculous. There’s no way that the NES could replace the Switch; they’re two completely different consoles with two very distinct purposes.
Further, if they were going to be a limited-time product, why not just say that? Why would Nintendo insist that they would do everything they could to meet demand, and then cancel the run of the systems? There’s a joke that Nintendo is allergic to money, namely because they do things like this and it really doesn’t make any sense. Everyone thought that Nintendo would then release their classics on a Virtual Console for the Switch, which would make sense, but that’s still not the case (well, not exactly).
In the Now
With such a high demand for the NES, and such a big letdown with demand, Nintendo said that, while the SNES Classic won’t be in stores past 2017, but they will be making significantly more. You can imagine that people were excited not only for the SNES Classic, but for the prospect that they would be able to get one. What followed after the announcement was a massive debacle. The SNES was revealed, but a release date/pre-order date was not. When a pre-order was opened, it turned out to be a “technical glitch” and they were cancelled, prompting a lot of frustration. But then as time wore on, people began to accept it and realized that whenever the pre-orders went online, there would be an announcement so that people would be prepared, right? Otherwise, how would they know when to try to get their hands on it?
The pre-orders went up around 1:00AM PT and were sold out within minutes, leaving a lot of people blissfully unaware until they woke up they had missed their opportunity. It was an odd situation as not even people that worked for the company were told that the pre-orders were going live. Very few people, including managers, knew that they would be going up with they did, which made this all the more difficult. Not only was the stock just as seemingly limited as last time, but this time, most people weren’t even awake when the pre-orders went up. I managed to grab one solely because I saw NintendoLife post about it right when they went live. It was complete luck. But none of the notifications went live. Anyone who signed up to be on the email list was out of luck, as there was no email. For some, there was a feeling of elation that they managed to snag one. For most everyone else, it was pure frustration.
I don’t really know what to say about this. There are people who will defend Nintendo’s business decisions like this. They will chalk it up and say “well, that’s Nintendo!” But that’s not good enough anymore.
Not All Press is Good Press
The phrase “any press is good press” is something that gets tossed around a lot, especially right now. The idea is that, supposedly, just to have people talking about you is a good thing. It puts you at the forefront of peoples’ minds and keeps you there for the moment. A few controversies every now and then keep your company in the news. That’s not always a bad thing, but people can only forgive so much.
Nintendo is going strong, yes, but there are a lot of people leaving Nintendo in droves. They can only put up with so much before they leave. Fans felt burned by the Wii U, and, as such, were hesitant to jump onto the Switch. Even after the press conference and reveal of the system, people were still skeptical and rightly so. When Nintendo announced the SNES Classic, people were excited, but, yet again, they were skeptical. There were people saying that they wouldn’t even try to get one; that it was no use.
And they were proven right. Because unless luck was on your side or unless you were clairvoyant (or one of those people willing to pay for a bot), there was no chance for them to get a SNES. And that’s bad press. That’s bad faith. And ultimately, that’s bad business. People–fans–are angry, and rightly so. Nintendo is being talked about, but people are yet again frustrated with their business decisions. While I’m not saying that everyone should go out and boycott Nintendo, but it is important to let Nintendo know how you feel. They are a company “for the fans” and they can’t survive without us. It needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship, not a symbiotic one.
Alfred Tabaks is a Senior Editor at Zelda Informer. Follow him on Twitter, if you want. Don’t feel like you have to or anything, it’s not like his self-worth is directly tired to the recognition people give him on social media: @fullmetalalfie