I’ll be honest: I’m excited about the Nintendo Switch. Like most other gamers over the age of 25 or so, I hold a deep fondness in my heart for Nintendo: this is the company that defined many of my early gaming experiences, the only company that still cares about local multiplayer, the company with some of the most recognizable and reliable franchises in the industry. The central conceit of a hybrid console allows for real functionality without taking away from the core experience: it’s a place to play both Zelda and Pokémon, and that’s awesome. I was also excited about the Mini NES Classic Edition, for similar but different reasons. And yet I, and what seems like the vast majority of others, can’t get my hands on the thing and my interest is waning. It makes me worried: maybe Nintendo really can make an excellent console with games to match, but can it make enough of them?
We want to believe that things can change, but history is not really on Nintendo’s side here. Pretty much all of their major hardware sells out, whether it’s a brand-new console, the Pokémon GO Plus, or even just a plastic figurine with an NFC chip in it. Scouring retailers and waiting for new stock is a fact of life for anyone that hopes to get their hands on a physical object made by the Nintendo corporation, and it gets exhausting: even the Wii U saw sell outs, and almost nobody even knew what it was. That exhaustion matters for Nintendo too. We’re dealing with incomplete hypotheticals, but at a certain point, people are bound to stop trying to buy a thing and move on to something else.
The NES Classic Edition will be, I feel, a clean example of this. For many people this wasn’t the new piece of gaming hardware that they waited for over many months, but a neat thing that made a decent impulse buy and may have been a good gift for the lapsed gamer in their lives. Those people may have checked stock on launch day or imagined they would pick one up on Black Friday, but they won’t stick with it for a while. We’re living in a modern consumer world awash with distractions digital and otherwise, and it’s pretty easy to move on to something else. If the Switch sees Wii-style shortages for months on end, people may well just go back to playing iPad and PS4 games without missing out on much. Scarcity drives up demand to a certain degree, but eventually you’ve actually got to sell some product. If we’re seeing massive shortages on a simple machine like the NES Classic, can we really expect them to get their act together for something like a Switch?
The total shortage of the NES Classic Edition is also trouble for the Nintendo Switch in a much more direct way: this was a great way to remind millions of people that they loved Nintendo, and that they might think about buying a new console to augment their nostalgic one.
This is a big moment for Nintendo: the company has become one of the hottest brands in the holiday season for many reasons. And it could well take advantage of that, playing this thing forward into a revitalization of its main console business. Or it could just shoot itself in the foot.