In July 2016, we first covered the Mini Classic NES, later officially called the NES Classic Edition. It was a tiny Nintendo with original controllers, 30 preloaded games, and an original controller. As information leaked out, it became clear this thing was really going to be something special, with excellent game reproduction and multiple graphics modes, plus some saved game options that didn’t exist when the NES first launched.
My significant other is a fan of classic Nintendo and I never got to play most of the games from the NES generation, since my family didn’t think that was an appropriate use of time when I was growing up. So when Nintendo announced the platform, I planned to snap one up immediately. Once the Classic NES launched, I parked myself on websites like BrickSeek and NowInStock, visited local stores, and promised to get a console in time for Christmas. Once it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I promised to snag one after the holiday, when I was certain demand would fall.
I was still waiting earlier this week, when Nintendo announced they wouldn’t stock anymore. Having consistently watched trackers and stores, I can confidently say that yes, I missed a few ordering windows — windows that were typically open for less than an hour as supplies of the Classic NES sold out as quickly as the device could hit store shelves. Some people had more success with Amazon Prime Now, but since I don’t live in a major metropolitan area where that service is offered, I couldn’t take advantage of it.
19 minutes on April 5. Twelve minutes at Walmart on March 31, eight of which occurred from 3:00 – 3:08 AM. Best Buy having stock from 1:08 – 1:51 PM on March 29 is practically a record.
There is no indication demand for the NES Classic had slumped. As NowInStock records show, the console continued to sell out nearly instantly, every single time stock hit store shelves. But Nintendo, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to pull the product altogether. Consumers always like to talk about how companies artificially restrict scarcity to drive up demand for their hardware, as if any company ever made money by not manufacturing products. I don’t blame Nintendo for building a limited inventory for an uncertain product, but I do blame them for leaving those of us who wanted one waiting for months while a few dozen units trickled into stores, only to leap off the shelves within seconds as soon as they were available to buy.
Now, don’t mistake me. Not being able to buy a $ 60 recreation of a nostalgia-fueled childhood toy is definitionally a first-world problem. Nintendo, of course, has the right to manufacture or cease manufacturing anything they want, for any reason, at any time. But while I don’t normally buy into the false scarcity argument, I also don’t really care, at this point, whether the company was manipulating availability or just didn’t make enough consoles. I’ve spent a non-trivial amount of time searching for a product that Nintendo ostensibly wanted to sell me, and I’m not going to play that game two years in a row. As far as I’m concerned, the NES Classic Edition was either a marketing attempt to drum up excitement around Nintendo products before the Switch could launch, or a cynical attempt to create buzz around a product Nintendo never intended to manufacture in volume. Neither is acceptable and I won’t participate in whatever buzz Nintendo thinks it’s going to build around next Christmas’ console.
There are alternatives to an NES or SNES “classic edition” that range from rolling your own solution with a Raspberry Pi, to buying some PC peripherals and using emulation (emulators are legal but ROMs themselves aren’t, and Nintendo has made it clear it views such projects as IP theft). There’s also dedicated retro consoles, like the Retron 5. None of these are perfect solutions, but if Nintendo isn’t going to sell its own hardware, other companies or individuals will step into the gap. As for me, the old adage “Once burned, twice shy,” definitely applies.