A Non-Gamer on retro consoles, and Nintendo's recent announcement
On Monday, September 11, 2017, Nintendo announced that they are increasing production on the highly-sought after SNES Mini retro console due at the end of the month. After pre-order debacles and countless articles decrying the process (including ours), the company made bold statements about the availability of the SNES Mini and encouraged consumers to buy at legit vendors and pay no more than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $79.99. Additionally, the company announced that a new production run on 2016’s NES MINI was coming in 2018, which would allow buyers to find last year’s hard-to-get system back at retail as early as summer of next year. (our thoughts on the NES MINI here and here)
This was all excellent news for the many fans who felt that getting both (or either) of these consoles was never going to be a reality. Of course, the whole controversy surrounding these mini retro systems raises an interesting question. Why are these particular systems so highly demanded? Let’s be honest, these are the consoles of the cartridge era of the 1990’s, and the folks who grew up with these games likely either moved onto better games, became collectors who own not only original systems but vintage carts as well, or became disinterested in gaming altogether. Granted, the spectrum of persons that fall into the above groups is fairly wide and multi-faceted, but the reality is that the NES and SNES Minis must offer something particularly unique and special to have garnered this level of demand. Of course, it could be just the opposite; perhaps it’s not that these consoles offer anything specifically enticing but, rather, that they happen to offer the right things in the right way.
And this concept bears some exploration not just for gamers and non-gamers alike but for businesses in general. What has Nintendo packaged to make these old gems into new jewelry? Retro games have been available in numerous forms via reissued downloads or emulators, but they’ve never captured the cultural zeitgeist like these two. Why?
Here’s something to consider: The Nintendo retro consoles have hit an almost perfect blend of nostalgia, novelty, price, and convenience. If any of these items had been missing, demand likely plummets, for it is the combination of these elements that make these two specific consoles so highly sought.
1) Nostalgia. Now is the time to celebrate yesterday. Or something like that. Adultalescence, arrested development, or whatever you want to call it has made adults today enamored with their childhoods, and companies have continued to drive truckloads of money to the bank by exploiting this cultural quirk, and these retro consoles offer it in spades. These items capture a piece of what made their childhood so wonderful; perhaps sharing it with their children will affect the reminiscing of the next generation as well.
2) Novelty. This is actually a big point where a lot of nostalgic items separate the die hards from the casual observers. Tons of nostalgic merchandise is marketed to the current adults of America, but most of the items are either too specific, too gimmicky, or too useless. They make fine gag gifts or stocking stuffers, but so many nostalgic items are simply nonsense. The Mini Consoles aren’t. Here’s what they are offer: hundreds of hours, literally, of potential fun that could recapture that awe and wonder of childhood that has slowly and surely been eroded from life. And this offer is no small thing. Plus, the systems fascinatingly appeal to nostalgic tendencies while also boasting of how far things have come. This tactic was a move in the toy industry thanks to Hasbro’s 25th Anniversary G.I. JOE figures in 2007, which put modern action figures boasting all the latest in sculpting and articulation onto the same card art available when the official figures were first released. The enterprise took G.I. Joe from a nearly forgotten property available only via direct to market and exclusive vendors to the lines being in nearly every major toy department in America again. The line allowed Hasbro to exploit Star Wars in the same way, to the satisfaction of retailers and consumers alike. The Nintendo retro consoles do a similar thing: they offer the prior programming with brighter sprites that are all in a single unit as opposed to a sea of cartridges taking up far too much space in the smaller homes of today’s middle class adult. It’s almost as if they are saying, “Remember back in the day, how you needed a console and a whole shelf to hold all your games? Well, technology has advanced so much you can fit that entire collection in the palm of your hand!” And that’s pretty exciting for casual fans. For those in the gaming scene, it’s no big deal. Emulators made this concept a reality years ago…but it couldn’t package the concept into a cute and nifty mini-console with official licensing stamped on it. That’s novelty, and one for which many folks are willing to pay.
3) Price. Let’s be honest. The prices of these retro consoles are incredibly alluring. Anyone who remotely enjoyed a Nintendo growing up would gladly pay $59.99 for the loaded console with a single controller to recapture their old joy or share it with a child. And the same principle applies for that $79.99 price tag offered for an even more loaded SNES with two controllers. Gaming With Swag ran a story on the true value of the SNES based on its gaming selection HERE if you were to try to compile physical versions of all the games, and it’s pretty clear that these consoles, legitimately offered from their parent company, are a great value for those looking to legally acquire all of these games.
4) Convenience. This lays the icing on the cake. And it’s a thick icing. Bottom line: these retro consoles are incredibly convenient. Well, in theory anyway. They provide hours of versatile, various types of gameplay in a single self-contained unit that doesn’t require an internet connection or ongoing downloadable content. Plus the system is small, easy to store, and easy to plug-and-play. And most importantly, the system does the hard work of collecting a library of games for you. Many casual gamers would love to play the games they remember while growing up, but few have the resolve to track down the console and the tested cartridges. Frankly, I have an SNES, but I’ve been too lazy to really hunt for all the games I want. But Nintendo basically has done this for me. They’ve put together top-notch collections that any casual gamer would recognize and, probably, wouldn’t mind having. This makes the system not only a cool collectible but a great gift idea—had it been readily available. In fairness, I am reaching with this last point, because the reality for both consoles is that acquiring them was the opposite of convenience, but let’s pretend that they were as available as EVERY OTHER GAME SYSTEM they are a casual gamer's dream. They hit the chord of nostalgia, novelty, affordability, and convenience with such perfect harmony that the real question should not be “Why do so many people want this?” but, “How in the world did they not think to do this on the tenth or fifteenth anniversaries, or really anytime before now?”
And for those who already have their collections intact, this console gives them alternate copies, and doesn’t entirely undo the value of their collection, as only a select number of games are included. This is a major point of interest on the SNES, specifically, as that console had dozens of great games, and many collectors will still have a number of treasured, vintage games in their respective libraries outside of this many-in-one collection.
If the systems are produced enough that people can buy them without sleeping outside, downloading purchasing bots to jump on resupplies online, or paying scalper prices Nintendo may even bring back some of the goodwill they set on fire over the past few months. Maybe Dean will even forgive them.
Editor's Note - If they produce both sets enough that they don't require "Jingle All the Way" style hi jinks to get them I will cool my hatred of Nintendo who have earned a reputation for purposely short supplying their products. I still wish they made games for all the systems and gave up their gimmick driven systems, but the retro gimmick I dig,