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Nintendo continues to defy expectations (and sense), discontinues NES Classic

Nintendo continues to defy expectations (and sense), discontinues NES Classic

If you are one of the lucky few that was able to get your hands on the NES Classic this holiday season, be sure to hang onto it as that system may soon be a collector’s item. According to a report from IGN, Nintendo is planning to discontinue production of the NES Classic. There will be one more shipment to retailers in April, then you’ll have to head to eBay or turn to a life of crime if you really want one.

While it might seem illogical and even counterproductive for a company to cancel a hit product months after its release, at least Nintendo’s initial explanation was properly ridiculous. “NES Classic Edition wasn’t intended to be an ongoing, long-term product. However, due to high demand, we did add extra shipments to our original plans.” So basically, Nintendo knows it has a hit product, and yet it is completely unwilling to alter its initial plans to accommodate what by every measure is a successful release.

So basically, Nintendo knows it has a hit product, and yet it is completely unwilling to alter its initial plans to accommodate what, by every measure, is a successful release.

In short, it is very Nintendo.

“Throughout April, NOA territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability,” Nintendo said in a follow-up statement to IGN. “We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product.

I added the emphasis on the last part of that statement to point out just how bizarre this whole situation is.

Nintendo knows it has a profitable product, one that cost next to nothing in R&D, featuring software that is 30+ years old. Not only could it easily continue to manufacture and sell more units, it could release additional games in packs and continue to mine its archives for huge profits for months, if not years to come. So far the NES Classic has sold at least 1.5 million units worldwide (with over 200,000 sold in the US in December alone), and that number is limited by its availability, not demand. If Nintendo wanted to release a Super Nintendo retro system, it would probably have another huge hit too.

So why is Nintendo doing this? There’s no official answer other than the one above, but the smart money (so to speak) is the Switch.

Nintendo tends to get more than a little myopic when it comes to releasing Nintendo-branded products. For years it refused to release anything on mobile platforms (not to be confused with handheld platforms), claiming that it didn’t want to dilute its brand. If you wanted to play a new Mario game, you needed to buy a new Nintendo system, no exceptions. Eventually, the company’s profits dropped so low that it finally changed its policy and Super Mario Run was born. It instantly became the most-downloaded iOS game in history with over 50 million downloads in a week.

With the NES Classic, you can make an argument that it takes away from the Switch on two fronts. To begin with, the NES retro games can also be downloaded onto the Switch through Nintendo’s online store. That’s not a new feature for Nintendo consoles, but if you are swayed by the idea of playing NES games, the NES Classic may be enough to convince someone on the fence about buying a Switch to save the $300-400 and instead pay half that for just the retro games. Sure, the Switch has a lot more going for it than just old NES games, but you can almost see the warped logic there.

 

It’s also possible that Nintendo is concerned that every time an outlet reports how in demand the NES Classic is, it casts a shadow over the Switch. When people think new Nintendo products, they should be thinking about the  Switch, not a retro console, or so the idea goes.

Granted, as a business model killing one successful unrelated project to bolster another is insane, but it is a likely explanation given Nintendo’s marketing history.

Another possibility is that Nintendo is deliberately keeping the demand on the NES Classic up, and it will relaunch the system next holiday season, hoping that people will once again be excited. It could also be that Nintendo may hope to distance itself from its past to avoid the impression that it is simply coasting on products developed decades ago, but that too would be a ridiculous business move (although not necessarily a bad one for branding).

Alternatively, there could be a very sensible and very logical explanation for Nintendo electing not to continue to make more of a product that is arguably one of its most talked about in years. If so, it isn’t telling anyone.

So if you were planning on buying a NES Classic, your window of opportunity is closing. Good luck!

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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.