Oh, Nintendo. We love you, we care about you, but you do drive us crazy sometimes. We're too involved to break it off, but sometimes we need a bit of a cool-down from your shenanigans.
Here's how you turn hype for a hugely anticipated product into frustration, in some cases anger, and yes even mockery. You announce a thing lots of people want, then you don't tell them when pre-orders are going live. You then fail to sufficiently co-ordinate or communicate when retailers are going to open pre-orders, or you simply say nothing and the option to buy doesn't even come, leaving hundreds of thousands of fans in limbo.
Does Anyone Have a SNES Mini Pre-Order to Sell? HELLO?!
It's varied per country, so let's start with the UK. When the The Super NES Classic Edition (NA) / The Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL) was unveiled this week it was obvious right away that pre-orders would just 'happen'. Trying to keep track of it for our guide was pretty full on as we knew retailer listings would likely just appear, but had no idea when. Hours were spent watching Twitter and refreshing searches, then something magical happened - PRE-ORDERS OPENED.
This is a secondary Nintendo product though, so stock was a problem. On Amazon pre-orders closed within an hour, and then after a wait the Official Nintendo UK Store pre-orders went up and seemed to survive even less time. Amazon then randomly put more stock up for a little while which promptly got wiped out. None of this seemed to be particularly well planned, aside from the Official Nintendo UK Store having a 'register interest' page that didn't appear to work properly for me - some had no problems with it, however. Meanwhile other retailers also sold out, jacked up the price or bumped deposits, just because they knew consumers were desperate. It's a scalper's dream.
The lack of warning is a problem for one simple reason, real life. For a few of us in the Nintendo Life team our day job is covering Nintendo, so we were on pre-orders quickly to snag a unit, also sharing the news as promptly as we could. For many, though, they're at work, driving, at school, walking the dog. You could go for a 30 minute stroll and return to find out pre-orders went live and then sold out. We saw passionate Nintendo fans, former game writers and people of all kinds trying and failing to get a pre-order, because they'd go into a work meeting and emerge to discover they'd missed their chance.
It's a SNES Mini! Look, But Don't Touch
Now, I know, first-world problems. But still, it's a lowsy way to reward fans. Look at this fluff from an official statement Nintendo put out about the system, bold emphasis added.
Our long-term efforts are focused on delivering great games for the Nintendo Switch system and continuing to build momentum for that platform, as well as serving the more than 63 million owners of Nintendo 3DS family systems. We are offering Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition in special recognition of the fans who show tremendous interest our classic content.
It's pitched as a treat, a reward and 'recognition' for loyal fans that love Nintendo. It sure is, too, with Star Fox 2 on there and the fact the device looks lovely. But if you're going to reward us and pat us on the head, Nintendo, at least do it gently. Don't show us something then clip us over the ear when we dare to touch it.
Then we have the situation in other markets where, well, there is no situation. In the US, or example, retailers like Best Buy, Amazon and so on have gamely put up links where you can sign up for notifications. Here's a prediction, though - pre-orders will last less than an hour and then be sold out. Oh, and we have no clue at the time of writing when the listings will go live. Hopefully notifications will be sent advising of a go-time in advance, something we've seen from some NA outlets in the past with rare amiibo and also Switch hardware. Right now, though, there's no hint of when people can try and secure a unit.
That's led to problems in the UK, actually, if you want an example. As the PAL and NA systems have the same games (even the same 60Hz versions of the games) some in North America have been ordering on Amazon UK and gambling on International delivery. One member of our team has had their order cancelled on them as Amazon UK is stating it won't ship the product internationally; it all adds to the chaos.
Here's the bad business bit. Nintendo is also making concerning noises that, like NES Mini, this will be a limited-time product. It's not said this explicitly, but read between the lines (bold emphasis added).
We aren’t providing specific numbers, but we will produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year.
Now, it'd be tough for Nintendo to handle SNES Mini worse than the NES Mini, though it might give it a go. But a key question around limiting how many it makes and for how long is just one word - why?
It Prints Money! Meh, Discontinue It
Let me be blunt. Nintendo may be on a roll in terms of investor confidence, but it should not get complacent and think it's winning the world. Sales of products like amiibo are down, and 2016 was a tough year financially that was saved by factors like Pokémon GO profit shares, the sale of a stake in the Seattle Mariners and launch Switch sales. Nintendo isn't a company that should look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet it did just that with NES Mini, leaving sales on the floor as it struggled (in some countries) to even honour long-standing pre-orders. It needs to do a lot better with SNES Mini.
Why not keep selling the NES Mini, why ditch these products when demand is still high? There are logistics, yes, but can't Nintendo find a way? How does it make business sense to sell less units than a product's potential?
One theory that does the rounds is that it's a limited product to fill the wait for a Switch Virtual Console, for example. We have a fun idea for a way that could be true, in a sense, and are working on some mock-ups for a feature, but even if it is the case that's no real excuse. The NES Mini wasn't there to tide us over for retro games on Switch, as they're yet to arrive. Beside, we're talking about distinct audiences; some SNES Mini buyers will be Switch owners, but I would estimate a good number won't be. Products like this attract a whole different audience that wants nostalgia; stock shortages are a daft situation when there's such a rich untapped market for Nintendo in these sorts of systems.
Even before all of that that, coming back to pre-orders, there's been no need for the UK scene in particular to be so farcical. To be fair with the Switch there was a bit of common sense - it was public knowledge for those who looked when pre-orders were going live in January. Nintendo UK, Amazon, GAME etc made clear when pre-orders were opening, Nintendo retweeted and shared news and so on. It wasn't perfect, and meeting demand hasn't been smooth then or since, but it was better than what we've seen with the SNES Mini.
It's not hard to stop keen fans getting frustrated by pre-orders. First - communicate when pre-orders are going live, and where; let people know what is happening. The second one is also obvious, have bigger allocations. Plenty joke on social media about Nintendo bumping stock orders from 100 to 200 units, for example. Over-the-top jokes, yes, but the rate at which pre-orders appear and disappear makes them sound true.
The crux of all this, and the reason for this rant? None of this is good long-term business for Nintendo. There's the theory of deliberate scarcity, the hype it generates, the brand awareness, and that's valid - it's also the classic tactic of toy companies. But if that's a strategy here are the negatives - disgruntled fans, damage to company reputation, becoming a butt of jokes. We'll have all seen sarcastic remarks this week about Nintendo, pre-orders and how they manage supply and demand. That can't be 'good for business'.
Still, it's just a game system, life goes on. Here's hoping, regardless, that Nintendo doesn't turn the SNES Mini into another retail own goal like its predecessor.