Deploy criticism ho!
It’s hard to justify the limited stock of the NES Classic.
When retailers are getting stock numbering in the single digits, when prices for what was meant to be an affordable impulse-purchase retro machine at £50 are creeping steadily upwards to the £250 mark in some places (a price you can, in fact, buy a Wii U and get access to lots more retro content than the NES Classic will offer you), when a company isn’t meeting the demand that consumers have for a product in order to increase its desirability – yeah, that’s stupid, and there’s no getting away from it. Nintendo’s approach to the NES Classic has been typical of many companies in the run-up to the Holiday Season; artificial limited availability to increase consumer interest and generate headlines about how quickly the damned thing is selling in order to make people want it even more.
This isn’t some magical hardware concept that requires pixie dust and a hair plucked from a virgin unicorn, either. As we know, emulation has been a thing for the NES since the mid-90’s, and even the most rudimentary of emulators now can pretty much run every single NES game you can find a ROM of. Emulation of the NES – and that of the Super NES – has been a thriving arena for years now, and despite Nintendo’s best attempts, it has singularly failed to make any real kind of dent in it. The NES Classic is another example that typifies why I’m not keen on Nintendo’s approach to retro gaming; this shouldn’t be about limitation, but about plentiful quantity. If you’re going to do a retro-inspired machine, or even offer Virtual Console, limitations and selective processing isn’t the way to go about it. Sure, Emulation isn’t inherently legal – however, if you can’t find many of these games and the hardware has all but disappeared, then often the only recourse available to many is to dive into the dark and murky sea of ROM files and Emulators – and when they do, they find an ocean of content at their fingertips rather than the drip-drip feed that Nintendo likes to play out on the market.
That is, by the by, why Nintendo still can’t destroy the Emulation Scene. It offers no satisfactory legal alternative.
Nintendo is a good company, but like most – it can, when it wants to, be really freaking scummy. After all, can we take a moment to remind the world that the Nintendo Wii actually saw a retail price INCREASE – yes, Nintendo played the Wii Shortages to such aplomb that the retail price increased from £150 to £175, and then up closer to £200. That happened, and considering Nintendo was known to have been making a profit even on the £150 price point, that it saw a huge 33% price increase no doubt further lined the pockets of Nintendo. And it was a crummy thing to do as well; it’s impossible to defend Nintendo here, because it’s just so outrageously mean-spirited.
My problem is that many seem to entirely focus on Nintendo. Which is fair enough, because right now they’re doing something really horrible.
However, it misses the point that the games industry in particular has been doing this sort of stupid stuff for a long, long time – and we often forget how utterly ridiculous some of this stuff actually is until we remind ourselves, or someone reminds us, of the particularly scummy things the industry has done. Sure, Nintendo is being scummy… but it’s hardly alone, and picking on Nintendo for the NES Classic (when there is an alternative – Wii U, everyone. Or you can wait for a Nintendo Switch, of course) can come off as doing what the press and critical circles always do; amplify the crap Nintendo does whilst casually dismissing and excusing everyone else who does anything really, really scummy.
Sony is a classic example. The current market darlings, we’ve glossed over Sony’s involvement in No Man’s Sky (like it or not, they were involved here). We’ve excused the price-hike of PS Plus, despite the fact the service isn’t even close to as stable as Nintendo’s own online infrastructure – one that remains for the moment free, where Sony charges a monthly premium for it. We’ve excused the PS4 Pro – a strange mid-generational cycle refresh that reeks of the New Nintendo 3DS, and we still see plenty of critics nailing Nintendo’s junk to the wall for that particular affront when Sony is doing the same damn thing – and yet their variant costs even more than before, because Sony can clearly do no wrong can it? From the PS Now! service and its frankly pitiful allocation of games and bandwidth despite costing £12.99 a month extra on top of the whole PS Plus thing, to regular online service outages and even low-level server hacking, Sony has gotten away with far more rubbish and anti-consumer sentiment than Nintendo has done doing things slowly but correctly with the Wii U. It’s Nintendo who is wrong, see, because… uhh, because reasons, right. Oh, let’s not forget that most PS4 releases this generation have been either very broken on launch or just average in the long-run, with big name titles only seeding disappointment in the consumer mindset. Because Sony can, and does, get away with it because consumers let them get away with it.
Publishers too, get away with so much. Final Fantasy XV is now out; and the general consensus I’ve seen so far is… well, it’s alright but nothing special compared to The Witcher 3 or indeed, Xenoblade Chronicles X. But Square-Enix pushed out a limited edition collectors sets for Final Fantasy XV that cost £190 – making just 30,000 of them. And how, pray tell, did Square-Enix come to that number? No-one knows; making the figures and available parts and components for the edition could easily have been scaled up, but then, Square-Enix couldn’t have asked its most loyal customers to shell out just shy of £200 for a game that now seems like another victim of Gen-8’s “Meh Syndrome”. There wasn’t a good reason for the limited stock, nor the high price point, except that they could and they knew idiots out there would immediately make the damn thing sell out.
And let’s not forget other stupid things; Capcom asking people to shell out $60 for Street Fighter V on launch, a game with only the bare minimum of content and characters that could have been gotten away with. UbiSoft splitting DLC and additional content across multiple limited editions to the point that people need a spreadsheet in order to work out which will give them the stuff they actually want, rather than you know, just giving it to them straight-up. From Evolve’s dumb season passing through to EA’s scummy customer service with Origin, from Warner Bros. Interactive sticking two fingers up to the PC Market with Mortal Kombat X and Batman: Arkham Knight (and now trying desperately to make amends now that it’s clear it needs those PC Sales – grovel, WB Interactive! On your knees and beg!) and Tony Hawk shipping with… well, a disc that had literally no content on it, meaning that even though you bought the game at retail you still had to download the whole freaking game when you got home…
Oh, and let’s not forget the XBox One reveal debacle. Or Valve’s blind eye to unregulated gambling on its Steam service. Or any number of very serious and problematic games and services that have made Generation 8 an unequivocal failure of a hardware span, making us more jaded, cynical and apathetic about what we buy and why we buy it than at any other point in the history of video games. Hell, when the gaming market crashed in the early 80’s, it was for way, WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY less than what the industry is now expecting us to bend over and take without complaining.
It’s not the first time Nintendo has pulled a dickish move. Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, and Amiibo in general, have demonstrated Nintendo’s ability to be a bunch of utter dingleberries when the mood takes them. But it’s not alone, or unique, and in many regards I wouldn’t even consider Nintendo to be pulling the worst stunt on the market. That current distinction goes to PSVR, selling lots of tech demos for a hardware package that surpasses £800 and no real idea where to go next. Because, you know, it’s not like the PS4 or Wii U or XBox One had issues at the start of this generation for their woeful lack of content, is it?
The NES Classic is just the latest example of a piece of consumer hardware getting traction for reasons that utterly mystify me. Sure, it’s kinda cool to have a Mini-NES, but it’s not a Mini-NES, is it? It’s just a big case with some flash memory and a rudimentary emulator that plays a handful of retro games that Nintendo deigned to include on the thing. The Wii, and Wii U, have a broader range of content (and I’d argue, a better range of content!). It’s just another ‘thing’; a thing people want to give as a present, or to put on a shelf and admire it without ever actually using the thing. And like so many trends and crazes throughout the years at this time of the year – it will fizzle out, and we’ll forget about it when next year a new must-have thing takes hold and people go into a frenzy over that. Heck, as I said – it may not be legal, but most retro fans have been emulating for years now. It’s not as if there aren’t alternatives out there on the black (and grey) markets for people to get into.
And of course, Nintendo could make more. That it met demand with more than 10 million copies of Pokémon Sun and Moon shipped in its opening week – Nintendo’s biggest game launch in, well, a long time if indeed ever – is evidence that when its necessary and indeed, profitable to do so, Nintendo can and will bump production up to meet expected demands.
So sure, Nintendo is being a dick. And hate them for that. But don’t be a hypocrite. Nintendo is hardly alone – or special – in this regard. Sony, Microsoft, EA, Capcom, Sega… heck, the whole industry is getting away with being unrepentant sodwicks. Nintendo is, in actuality, a relatively minor player in the scheme of outrageously horrible treatment of its consumers. That’s not an excuse – merely to say that for their own cock-ups, I can show you bigger ones by Sony, Microsoft or publishers. They still cocked up, of course. And I’m not going to expect you to really forgive and forget these infractions by Nintendo. You don’t have to. I like Nintendo and I’m certainly not forgetting any of the ream of cock-ups Nintendo has dumped out in recent years.
But expect me to call you out when you don’t hold others to the same standard. If you spend your time praising Sony – well, you’re a fanboy, and you’re an idiot. Microsoft? Fanboy. Idiot. EA, Capcom, Square-Enix? Yup, and yes. Nintendo is screwing up. Let’s not pretend for a second there’s any justification for it. However, this is far more widespread than Nintendo. Take a step back and see the bigger picture – the wreakage that is Gen-8, in all its smouldering glory. The whole damn thing is on fire and you’re focused on one glowing ember in the corner, whilst everything around you is being incinerated and charred.
Please stop expecting Nintendo to change because you demand it to. It will change when the industry, as a whole, can no longer get away with being such unbridled knobjockeys. When it is clear that it cannot get away with it, and that attempts to do so would make it more of a pariah than it already is. Maybe that will come in the next few years; maybe the press will stop chiding gamers for their choice of games and actually start turning the screws on an industry that genuinely needs to stop taking its audience for granted, and to stop treating them like semi-sentient bags of cash you can kick in the crotch for some loose change. Maybe falling pre-order figures will spark a few publishers into making their games stand on their own merits on launch, rather than rely on strip-mining consumers of their cash before you give them whatever half-arsed thing you knocked up in your last tea break.
Nintendo will change when it’s clear everyone needs to change – which one can argue was several years ago, but it’s clear we’re not yet at the bottom of the barrel yet. And that we aren’t is actually pretty terrifying; I mean, what dark and unspeakable horrors await us in the cavernous recesses of this hellscape? What further indignities are we to be subjected to between now and the next market crash?
And now I’m getting off topic. Anyway, please, do go ahead and give Nintendo heat over the NES Classic. You won’t hear me defending it. It’s dumb. But apply that critical eye liberally across the industry. There are plenty of terrible things to see…
edit; As a brief aside – why is the NES Classic even a thing? What exactly makes it desirable – if it’s just the notion that it’s a cutesy little NES-lookie-likey, then surely Nintendo could offer non-Retro Gaming versions of it and people would be perfectly happy. Before people get really cross at Nintendo for the NES Classic, stop. Pause. Snuggle into the printed Anime blankey I promised to never bring up.
If the only reason you can think of wanting one is the exclusivity, then Nintendo wins and your anger is completely hypocritical.