Nintendo Artificial Scarcity

The SNES Classic’s artificial scarcity hurts the ones who deserve it the least.


Look, I’m a huge Nintendo fan. I’ve found ways to defend their systems and their products for decades now. But when I look at the way the SNES Classic is being handled right now, how could I not be upset by the cynical artificial scarcity going on here?

To catch new folks up to speed, Nintendo announced the collectible SNES Classic system in August. It comes packed with a lot of beloved games from the 16 bit era, including the never-before-released of Star Fox 2. Naturally, this generated a lot of hype. However, the system is also the follow up to last year’s NES Classic system, which was woefully under supplied compared to the demand. Scalpers swooped in like vultures and pre-orders were canceled left and right. There just weren’t enough NES Classic systems to go around, and a lot of fans were extremely unhappy. Critics were concerned this situation would be repeated with the SNES Classic, but Nintendo tried to offer some assurance that this time, things would be different.

Well, so far, this time is not different. So of course, discussion of artificial scarcity rears its ugly head once again.

Amiibo

Nintendo has long been accused of practicing artificial scarcity. That is, the practice of purposefully producing limited amounts of a product to retain its value and inflate the demand for it. That said, in the past with many Nintendo products, you could explain away their limited stock with numerous valid explanations. Amiibo, for example, were tragically understocked for a long time. But at the same time, you could argue that Nintendo was branching out with a new type of collectible and didn’t want too many lingering on store shelves. Similarly, Nintendo Switch consoles have faced some harsh scarcity, but hey, this was the follow up console to the commercially unsuccessful Wii U. Maybe they don’t want to overshoot their supply and instead are banking on producing systems gradually to meet consumers needs.

I can’t think of a reasonable excuse for the SNES Classic.

SNES Classic

The thing isn’t even out yet. Yet people are still having trouble just pre-ordering the system. Seriously, can we take a second to think about how ridiculous that is? People pre-order things to avoid making a 40 hour work week out of finding a product, yet here we are. Already, we have scalpers reselling their pre-orders for an over 500% markup on second hand markets like eBay. Yes, this $79.99 console is being sold for $499.99 by some sellers. And it’s not even out yet.

Here’s the thing: Nintendo saw this happen with the NES Classic system. There’s no way they couldn’t have known this would happen. If they just had an appropriate stock of consoles, we wouldn’t be dealing with these insane scalping issues (which Nintendo does not profit off of, by the way). While some might wonder why Nintendo would willingly not make more money by matching the system’s demand with appropriate supply, there’s unfortunately a very cynical reason that is appearing more likely to be the case as time goes by. Nintendo literally doesn’t want you to own one.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

According to vendors who leaked the existence of the system early, the SNES Classic exists for two reasons: to increase foot traffic, and to make headlines. As you can see, the SNES Classic has already succeeded at making headlines. As the system sells out and more outlets cover the corresponding news (like we have been), it’s Nintendo as a whole that gets “free” publicity. Sure, you can’t buy that cool new SNES Classic console you were interested in, but now you’re looking at the Nintendo Switch and all those other great Nintendo games you might have missed. Hey, since the SNES Classic is going for $499.99 right now, why not use that money to buy a new Nintendo Switch and some games to go along with it?

Yes, I’m being serious here. Nintendo’s apparent endgame really, truly seems to be for people to not buy the SNES Classic. The system is a vehicle to exploit deeply embedded nostalgia to perhaps coerce buyers into getting new Nintendo products and consoles. I know that sounds like a conspiracy theory, but what else are we left to think at this rate? Either they’re doing this on purpose, or some team at Nintendo is either grossly incompetent or completely unable to learn from their mistakes.

Yet at the end of it all, who are the people who are suffering most from Nintendo’s business practices right now? Collectors. Let’s face it, gamers interested in just checking out the titles included on the SNES Classic have long had the ability to do so for, how do we say, less money. Even Star Fox 2 has been available to play for anyone who was determined enough to look for it. I’m not necessarily condoning these things, but that’s the reality of the situation. That leaves the loyal enthusiasts who love Nintendo games and memorabilia and already go the extra mile to get physical copies and rare collectibles. These are the fans who should be getting the best treatment, but instead they’re getting exploited for what appears to be a cynical marketing scheme.

All cards on the table here, I don’t really want an SNES Classic myself. I own the original physical carts of all the games that interest me, after all. But geez, maybe if I could easily buy one, this would have made a great Christmas gift for anyone I’d love to share my love of retro gaming with. That said, we still have a month to go before the system is officially released. Things could change in that time. I’m doubting it will, but it could. So please Nintendo, prove all of us Internet naysayers wrong. We’ll forgive you for your occasional missteps, just treat us with respect and let us give you our money already.

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Written by TimM
Tim is a video game aficionado who is fascinated by pop culture. He built his first collection in 1999 by catching all 151 monsters in Pokemon Red, and he hasn't stopped collecting since. His work has been featured multiple times on Destructoid.com.