Nintendo dropped the ball with the launch of the NES Mini last year, with retailers making the pre-order process more testing that it needed to be and the volume of stock needed to meet demand being woefully underestimated. We had every hope the Big N would have learned from the bad feeling caused by this and put measures in place to ensure that Super NES Classic Edition pre-orders went smoothly and that more units would be produced in order to meet demand, but as many fans are finding out, that doesn't seem to be the case.
First thing first, the SNES Mini looks absolutely fantastic. It contains 20 classic games and the previously unreleased Star Fox 2. With two controllers in the box and pixel-perfect emulation delivered to your TV via HDMI, this mini console is a love letter to those who lived through the 16-bit era. It's just a shame that you can't easily buy one.
Recognising that pre-ordering a SNES Mini might be a test in human endurance, we put together a SNES Mini pre-order guide to keep you up to date, so we've closely being following proceedings over the past few weeks. Needless to say, it hasn't gone very smoothly so far.
UK SNES Mini Pre-orders
In the UK pretty much all of the major online retailers put their pre-order pages live at roughly the same time on 26th June. Which is fine, but if you were unlucky enough to be online at around 6PM that evening, you would have been out of luck within around 20 minutes.
The Official UK Nintendo Store did helpfully release their pre-order on the following day and Argos had an additional injection of stock. So all in all it wasn't a complete disaster, but since that time there haven't really been any significant restocks for UK retailers, so we've ended up with the situation that pre-orders worth £69.99 were selling like hot-cakes on eBay priced at £199.99 quite soon after.
But hey! It could have been worse. You could have been living in North America!
The US Super NES Classic debacle
After the UK pre-orders went live in such quick succession, we were poised to update our pre-order guide and keep you lovely readers up to date on social media so you could slap down that pre-order.
We waited, and waited, then waited some more...
Then finally a ray of light shone as Walmart unveiled their pre-order page on 22nd July. The excitement in the air was palpable as eager US customers raced to place an order at the supermarket giant. Then a few days later all the pre-orders were cancelled, with the retailer stating that the page shouldn't have gone live. It was all just a technical glitch. Back to the drawing board!
For the next month other than the occasional "register interest" page being put live, there was complete radio silence from US retailers. Large gaming US media such as IGN, Kotaku and Polygon excitedly showed off their hands-on impressions of the Super NES Classic, whetting potential customers appetites, but could you pre-order one? No sir-ee!
The big day: 22nd August
It turned out that the big day for US retailers to go live with their Super NES Classic pre-orders was Tuesday 22nd August. An otherwise unremarkable day in many ways, but it would prove to be quite chaotic for anyone in North America who hoped to acquire a SNES Mini.
Night owls were rewarded as Amazon US and Best Buy went live with their pre-orders at around 3AM Pacific, randomly. Many of our readers registered their interest, but the emails didn't appear to go out. Naturally the pre-orders sold out almost instantly.
Walmart went live with their pre-orders at 10AM Pacific with no prior warning at all. Reports say these sold out in around two minutes. Ouch!
Target pre-orders went live just shortly after, except many readers noticed that the website buckled under the pressure and not everyone was able to checkout successfully despite having the SNES Mini in their virtual basket. Doh!
GameStop also appeared to go live at around 10AM Pacific, but the website really wasn't responsive. Some readers were "lucky" enough to be able to buy bundles priced at $200 online from GameStop. If you wanted the vanilla $79.99 offering you would have to physically go into one of their stores to pre-order in person. The horror!
We were keeping our eyes on Toys R Us so we could add their listing to our guide, but at the last minute they tweeted to say they wouldn't be offering online pre-orders. You'll just have to go into your local branch on the 29th September and hope for the best. Egads!
With all the US based retailer options exhausted, many of our readers were forced to turn to the overpriced bundles from ThinkGeek as a last resort. Won't somebody think of the children?
Why Nintendo, why?
So what went wrong this time? On the whole, the UK situation wasn't quite as disastrous as the pre-ordering window lasted for around 20 minutes, rather than the 2 minutes it took for US orders to be snapped up. Also, with some UK retailers putting their pre-orders live on the following days, that did give some folks a second chance. None of them went live in the middle of the night too, which was helpful.
There is no sugar coating it, the situation in the US has been nothing short of a farce. The 6 major retailers who Nintendo had partnered with to distribute the Super NES all did a pretty awful job of notifying their customers about what was happening, and in some cases even their websites flaked out under the pressure.
Last year's understocking of the NES Mini left a bad taste in lots of people's throats and even NOA president Reggie Fils-Aime later apologised for this situation:
We had originally planned for this to be a product for last holiday. We just didn't anticipate how incredible the response would be. Once we saw that response, we added shipments and extended the product for as long as we could to meet more of that consumer demand.
Even with that extraordinary level of performance, we understand that people are frustrated about not being able to find the system, and for that we really do apologize, but from our perspective, it's important to recognize where our future is and the key areas that we need to drive. We've got a lot going on right now and we don't have unlimited resources.
So we had every hope that Nintendo would have learnt its lesson this time. The NES Mini was a unexpected hit and Nintendo didn't anticipate how many units they would need to produce in order to fulfil demand. Not even close.
It's not looking like anything has changed this year with the SNES Mini pre-orders, despite Nintendo's assurance that more units are being produced. This is undoubtably the case, but it's clearly still nowhere near enough to meet demand. It's true the US retailers could have done things better on their end to pre-warn eager customers when to expect the orders to go live - something which isn't Nintendo's fault - but with stock that sells out in 2 minutes, the chances of securing one were always going to be slim.
Of course, Reggie is correct - Nintendo doesn't have unlimited resources and can't magic millions of SNES Classics out of thin air; these items have to be ordered in advance then mass-produced with manufacturing partners, and it's never a case of simply tapping a button and ordering a million more units for tomorrow. Production takes time and Nintendo - just like any other company - will have to work around variables such as component demand and manufacturing timetables.
Still, given the rather basic internal tech used in these machines, we'd imagine that it wouldn't be too difficult to increase orders with suppliers, especially when you're forewarned of how popular the product will be. Nintendo is hardly a cash-poor company, and it's not like placing orders for additional units is going to sink the firm - especially as evidence would suggest that demand vastly outstripping the pre-order quotas given to retailers.
We hope that Nintendo takes note of all this and tries to help longstanding fans who missed out be able to buy a SNES Mini without resorting to lining scalper's pockets. Many Nintendo fans are now feeling very disappointed, and rightly so. When you've got a product that has clear and obvious demand the obvious thing would be to ramp up production dramatically to ensure you please as many customers as possible; there's a real danger that having been burned badly by the NES Mini fiasco, some potential SNES Classic customers may simply give up entirely.
Have you been able to secure a pre-order? Do you think the blame for this sorry situation lies solely with Nintendo, or are we being too harsh here? Leave a comment to let us know your feelings on this matter.