The name Nintendo is synonymous with video games. Characters like Mario and Donkey Kong are some of the most recognizable in the world, rivaling Disney for their ubiquitous presence. Almost everyone has some fond memory of playing games on a Nintendo system, whether that console was an original NES, or this year’s Switch. Most people you ask will have nothing but love to give to the company that spawned some of their favorite gaming experiences.
When I was growing up, my next-door-neighbor owned a SNES. I have vivid memories of going to his house and playing Super Mario World on the TV in his bedroom. When I finally got old enough to ask for a game console of my own for Christmas, I begged for a Nintendo 64 (I ended up getting a PlayStation, but that’s another story). The big N has been part of my gaming DNA since the beginning, and through the years, I’ve loved their franchises and the games they’ve lovingly created for them. Sadly, in my experience, Nintendo rarely has love to give back.
Yesterday, the company announced that they will be making a Super Nintendo Classic Edition, a micro-console emulator of what might be my favorite system of all time. I should be excited about it- I should be the first one in line on September 29th, but instead, all I feel is anger and suspicion at the company that has done nothing but screw its fans over for years. Why am I so nervous about what should be a slam dunk for the company? Because Nintendo has shown time-and-again that they are never on the side of the consumer, their biggest advocate.
Roll back a few months to the beginning of 2017. Nintendo is selling the NES Classic edition, the progenitor to the upcoming SNES Classic, and a bone-fide sales success. The consoles are impossible to keep in stock, and going for hundreds of dollars on eBay, despite a retail MSRP of just $60. Seeing the rabid demand of gamers who want an easy, legal way to relive their days growing up with the Nintendo Entertainment System, what does the company do? Cancel the product, citing “limited resources.” This is a company with a valuation higher than Sony (whose product lineup is far wider and more diverse than simple game systems). They should have no problem culling the funds to manufacture more units, especially in light of the substantial demand.
This isn’t the first example of business bone-headedness getting in the way of giving gamers what they want, either. They famously debuted the Nintendo 3DS at $250, and later dropped the price to $169 after it didn’t sell. What did they do to appease early adopters (who bought into Nintendo’s glasses-free handheld, despite a paltry launch lineup)? Gave them a handful of classic games for the NES and Gameboy advance. Ones they’d already likely bought on the Wii Virtual Console before.
The Virtual Console is a mess, too. Despite having the ability to track your purchases with a universal Nintendo Network account, the company has seen fit to charge you for the privilege of downloading them again on new hardware. They’ll even give you a discount if you already shelled out once, showing definitively that they could offer these games for free to those who already paid. I’ve no doubt that the delay in introducing Virtual Console on Switch is an attempt by Nintendo to eek out an extra dollar for those who might scoop up an SNES Classic instead.
There are those out there who will argue that Nintendo is a business, and this is true. But they’re also a business that is built upon the the goodwill of fans. We’ve seen how fan response can make or break a console before: take a look at the Xbox One’s tepid performance in comparison I’d also point out that catering a bit more to their most hardcore supporters could net Nintendo even fiercer profits than exploiting their diehard fans; customers who have had great experiences tend to come back time and again. It doesn’t seem like Nintendo has learned from their past mistakes, either; they’ve already said they only plan to produce the SNES Classic through the end of December, making it another win for resellers, and a nightmare for the fans who want to get one at a regular price.
It’s a shame, too, because the SNES Classic seems like a great value at its MSRP of $80. The number of quality titles on board, from Earthbound to Super Mario Kart, is impressive. They’ve even included Starfox 2, a game never released before, despite being fully complete since the mid 90’s. The system is good as it stands, but could be a home run for the company with some slight tweaks.
Foremost, they should make as many of these things as people want to buy. The SNES Classic is a perfect impulse purchase for gamers who want to relive the past, and Nintendo will sell boatloads more as the holidays roll around and the microconsole becomes a favorite stocking-stuffer. Second, they should let the SNES Classic connect to the internet and purchase more games. The people who really want to add titles will find a way to do it anyway, and Nintendo might as well profit while allowing their fans to fill out the system’s catalogue with the few missing titles like Chrono Trigger. It’s easy to see ways the company can improve their strategy, while still turning a profit and garnering more goodwill from fans, which is what makes this situation so frustrating.
I love Nintendo as a developer. Despite its underpowered hardware and poor 3rd-party support, the WiiU has given me some of my favorite gaming experiences of the last 10 years. But their continued anti-consumer business practices have kept me from jumping on board with the Switch. I know that buying the console now will likely result in me getting burned with a slimmer revision, price drop, or better features down the road. Nintendo has also yet to fully get behind the Switch, hedging with still more releases on the 3DS and showing a lack of confidence in their new portable system (despite dropping the WiiU like a hot potato).
Which brings me back to the uncertainty I feel with the SNES Classic. I want this thing to be a success. The games lineup it includes certainly seems like the console will be knocking things out of the park from a content standpoint. I just can’t shake the feeling that I won’t be able to find one, and in 6 months, I’ll be looking for another discontinued system that’s only provided enjoyment to the scalpers who are selling it at a 300% markup on eBay. Nintendo, you can do better.