Last updated on August 3rd, 2019 at 01:19 pm
To us, the NES Classic Edition was the symbol of a new Nintendo back when it was released in November 2016.
Gone was the company of yesterday with its novelty motion controls and poorly marketed WiiU. Nintendo was still riding the huge wave of nostalgia generated by Pokémon Go (and the 3DS Pokémon titles that followed), they had a stellar new console waiting in the wings, and a new president in the form of Tatsumi Kimishima who, while not being as public-facing as Iwata, seemed to be taking the company in a direction I approved of.
The NES Classic Edition was a statement to the world – a reminder that the history of Nintendo and gaming in general is deeply intertwined, and despite the failures of the last generation, Nintendo is a master of game design. It would take more than one failed generation to undo decades of phenomenal work.
The NES Classic Edition came out, and it was glorious. It offered thirty classic NES games, lovingly emulated, sold at a fraction of the price it would cost to buy them separately on the Nintendo eshop. It was almost too good to be true.
In fact, scrap that. It was too good to be true. Last night Nintendo announced they were discontinuing the NES Classic Edition in North America. Here are their exact words:
“Throughout April, [Nintendo of America] territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that, we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product.”
Shortly later, they announced shipments would also be halted to Australia.
But why? The consoles sold 200,000 units a month after it’s launch. People were going nuts for the machine, with supply far outstripping demand. Why didn’t Nintendo simply keep churning them out?
Well this being Nintendo, no one knows for sure. But after an evening ruminating here are a couple of possible reasons:
The NES Classic Edition Has Accomplished Its Goal
Cast your mind back to early last year. Nintendo wasn’t in a great state. the WiiU seemed to many to be an abject failure. The company was hemorrhaging money, was under huge pressure from its stock holders, and was still reeling from the tragic death of its beloved President Satora Iwata. Nintendo seemed lost, unable to win back the casual audience who had moved on since the Wii, but unable entice its hardcore fans.
The NES Classic Edition was more than just a console. It was part of a wider commercial strategy to remind people what a gaming powerhouse the Big N was. Along with Pokemon Go and the soon-to-be-released Mario Run, the NES Classic Edition‘s purpose was to once again kindle people’s passion for Nintendo, and convince their die hard fans that Nintendo still cared for them, and would be catering for them with their upcoming console.
The Console Was a Distraction
For people who aren’t hardcore gamers, it can be quite confusing getting their heads around the myriad of 3DS models out there, plus the Nintendo Switch, which is essentially another portable console to add to the pile.
Simply put, adding a third machine into the mix would confuse things even more for those that don’t understand it isn’t a ‘proper’ console. The Nintendo Switch is Nintendo’s future. Realistically, having a £50 periphery line hanging around that hardly makes any margin and which doesn’t make money from content (which is how Nintendo make the majority of profits anyway) is going to do nothing except cannibalise sales on Nintendo’s main offering.
This would especially be true if the consoles were released simultaneously around Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Breath of the Wild, but if I had a choice of waking up on Christmas morning to a £50 console with 30 classic games, or a £350 console with just one, I think I’d have to choose the former.
Nintendo Wants You Hyped
For better or worse, Nintendo loves hype. And one of the best ways to create hype is to make something unavailable.
I’ve been a Nintendo fan for many years. I was there to see how Super Mario RPG and Earthbound acquired a cult following in the UK because of their lack of a western release. I remember how the stock shortages for the Wii drove the public to hysteria, and even more recently I’ve seen the crazy prices people will pay on eBay for their favourite limited edition Amiibo.
Nintendo just seem to love keeping the public on their toes by maintaining an artificially high level of hype. I could be reading far too much into this, but if Nintendo decide to sell more of the NES Classic Edition later on down the line – even at an inflated price – the buzz and excitement they have generated through limited stock is sure to make it a success.
Nintendo Want You To Buy Retro Games On The Switch
The Nintendo Switch virtual console isn’t up and running yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the NES games there will be more expensive than their NES Classic Edition counterpart.
One of the great things about the NES Classic Edition is that it’s fantastic value for money. Game for game, Nintendo has never before offered so many classics for so small a price. Nintendo’s back catalogue isn’t a trivial thing for them. Despite the shortcomings of the WiiU virtual console, Nintendo knows that suckers like me will buy the same retro game over and over, so they at least make sure to have the big names on each system (I must own the original Zelda at least four times over).
Nintendo know they can get away with charging a lot more for their classic games, and so having such a huge pool of games readily available at such a modest prices is just not an attractive proposal for them. The Switch is their future, and that’s the console they want us to buy our games on.