Funny To A Point – Dear Nintendo: You're Blowing It

by Jeff Marchiafava on Apr 21, 2017 at 04:06 PM

Look, here's the thing: I don't want to write about Nintendo again. I've already recounted my lifelong frustration with Nintendo being Nintendo, and just a few weeks ago I roasted the entire 1-2-Switch "game" library because as far as first impressions for a new system go, it's the equivalent of wearing a tuxedo shirt to a funeral. I simply don't want to devote the mental energy to another what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Nintendo rant, and while such a column would certainly be right at home on the Internet, that's not what Funny To A Point is supposed to be.

If you've ever made it all the way through one of these long-winded columns (or just scrolled to the bottom to leave an angry comment), you may have noticed that the banner at the end states Funny To A Point "celebrates the random, humorous, and downright stupid things that make gaming so much fun." Believe it or not, I really try to achieve that tone; a lighthearted read to wrap up your week on Friday afternoon, whether that's when your office shuts down, or just your brain. Sure, I may compare a developer to Satan every now and then, but it's all in good fun, and I hope even fans of the topic can laugh along with the rest of us.

I'd love nothing more than to write some dumb column about what video game characters' farts sound like this week, but the recent NES Classic cancellation and subsequent SNES Classic rumors are impossible to ignore, and equally impossible to celebrate. When it comes to "random, humorous, and downright stupid," Nintendo's handling of the coveted retro consoles only qualifies as two out of three – though I guess you could throw in "humorous" too if you look at all the disappointed gamers as the punchline to the decades-old joke that is Nintendo's distribution line. Regardless, if today's column seems angrier than usual, my apologies – check out these adorable dogs playing video games if you need a proper pick-me-up.

Part of the reason I'm so upset about Nintendo killing off the NES Classic is that I thought I had successfully inoculated myself against the company's inexplicable decisions. Whenever the company starts teasing a new system, I just assume it was designed by a Magic 8-Ball.

"Should we start charging money for an online network even though we don't know how to make one of those things?"
*shake shake shake*
"It is decidedly so"
"Surely we should include a hard drive that can hold more than one modern game...right?"
*shake shake shake*
"Outlook not so good."*

And that's fine! "Nintendo being Nintendo" isn't just a joke explanation; it's a psychological safeguard against disappointment. You can't suffer dashed expectations if your expectation is that Nintendo is going to pull a boner that defies all logic.**

But the NES Classic was different. For once, Nintendo actually did everything right! Not only is a mini plug-and-play NES a genius idea, Nintendo nailed the selection of classic games, the authenticity of the controllers, and even the price tag. Sure, the rattail of a controller cord practically requires you to sit on top of the console while you're playing it, but as far as nostalgia goes, the NES Classic hit me right in my orange-glowing weak spot.

And I can't help but feel I'm the target audience Nintendo was aiming for, not the Amiibo-collecting Splatoonies that make up their modern fan base. For them, the NES Classic is an archaeological artifact of a bygone era – but I lived through that era! Playing old NES games is a stroll down memory lane for me, not the obligatory history lesson you make Arya Stark suffer through. I stopped dropping cash on Nintendo systems generations ago – but as soon as I saw the NES Classic, my wallet levitated out of my pocket at started projectile-vomiting money at my computer screen.

I was going to buy one for myself. I was going to buy one for a friend. I was even contemplating getting one for my nieces and nephew, so I could force them to play it while droning on about how cool those games were back in the day. I was so excited about the prospect of the NES Classic that I momentarily forgot one key fact: I live on planet earth. Of course Nintendo isn't going to make enough of them. I could practically hear Angela Lansbury singing to me when I realized my folly.

Look at all these great games you won't get to play!

That revelation wasn't as obvious to my wife, however. She's not a gamer***, but she still has a few fond memories of the NES, and thought it would make a good Christmas gift for one of her friends (that's Wii levels of mass appeal, Nintendo! You did it again!). So she logged into Amazon at 4:00 p.m. on launch day to order one the minute they went on sale. I got a flurry of angry texts from her 10 minutes later complaining that they were instantly sold out. My utter lack of surprise only seemed to upset her more. "What do you mean they always do this?"

While trying to explain the problem to her, I realized Nintendo treats its consumers like the awful advice a sh--bag jock always gives the protagonist in a teen comedy. "Of course they want you, and you want to give it to them – but you can't let them know that! First you gotta treat them like crap to show how cool you are...string them along for a couple months until they start wondering whether they're cool enough for you."

And that's how our NES Classic hunt went through the holidays. So long perfect gift, hello socks with puppies stitched on them! Nintendo eventually apologized for the shortages, though it felt less than sincere since the company was simultaneously boasting about selling out, and framing the shortage as "as an opportunity to draw consumers' attention to our latest game system, Nintendo Switch." Sure, why not! I mean, you still don't have the virtual console up and running on the Switch, so it's actually an awful substitute for the NES Classic, but I'll spend five times the amount for something completely different. Oh, you're sold out of the Switch too? PERFECT.

Included in the apology was a vow to increase production of the NES Classic. Of course as we now know, by "increase production" Nintendo actually meant "wait two and a half months and then kill the console entirely."  Why? Nintendo isn't saying why, silly!

My wife wasn't satisfied with my "Nintendo being Nintendo" explanation during the holidays, and the truth is no one should be. Nowadays companies face more scrutiny than ever before. Pepsi was blasted by...well, just about everyone for its recent I-can't-believe-this-exists ad, and when United Airlines pulled off the PR equivalent of flying straight up its own ass, even Japan's prime minister was lining up to throw epic shade at the company.

So what does Nintendo get for consistently forcing its customers to jump through hoops just to buy their products, scrambling to their computers on launch day like they've got the abort codes to our nation's nukes? What does Nintendo get for abandoning its promise to increase production, and instead discontinuing a highly in-demand product without any explanation whatsoever? An army of apologists positing their own explanations and excuses for Nintendo's actions. Here are just a few of the hypothetical justifications I've read over the past week, while my insides came to a slow boil:

Maybe Nintendo is trying to curb piracy, they say, in wake of the news that modders found a way to add more ROMs to the system. But the ROMs are already out there, and playable for free on virtually any device that's got a computer chip in it.**** At least Nintendo still gets paid if someone chooses to play them on an NES Classic. Modders have also hacked every other Nintendo system, so if piracy is really the problem, maybe Nintendo should stop making consoles altogether.

Maybe Nintendo is making an NES Classic 2.0 with different games, they say. If that's the case, they should've announced it when they pulled the plug – it's not like it would step on the sales of the old NES Classic, because NO ONE CAN BUY IT.

Maybe Nintendo is getting ready to launch the Switch's virtual console, they say. In other words, Nintendo is screwing over fans interested in the NES Classic in hopes they'll buy the same games on Switch? You're really cool with that?

Maybe Nintendo wants it to be a rare collectible, they say – the fact that not everyone can get their hands on it adds to the mystique. I even read one op-ed suggesting that making an extremely limited quantity was actually a genius business move. You know what's an even more genius business move? Selling 10 million of them for half a billion dollars.

Maybe Nintendo is gearing up for an SNES Classic, they say – and bingo, we have a winner! But before you succumb to the fever dream of flipping between Super Metroid, Mario Kart, and all your other beloved SNES titles, ask yourself: What's the point? You're not going to get one of those either! These consoles may as well be a thought experiment for most gamers. Nintendo will launch it right before Christmas again, only make enough to meet a fraction of the demand (which will be even greater since some of the aforementioned Splatoonies were actually alive in the '90s), and scalpers will once again buy them all to sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Hell, a scalper could make a career out of just selling Nintendo products – I'm surprised Nintendo hasn't been forced to offer them health insurance at this point. And let's not skip past the biggest flaw of this argument: How the hell does an SNES Classic preclude Nintendo from selling more NES Classics? Why hasn't Nintendo upgraded its manufacturing capabilities yet? Is some factory owner blackmailing Miyamoto with naked pictures?

Imagine playing Super Metroid on your SNES Classic – because that's as close as you're getting to it.

And while I'm asking a series of questions that have no good answers, let me throw out one more: Why are there so many Nintendo apologists in the first place? Why aren't there EA apologists? Or Ubisoft apologists? Most of the time gamers are falling over themselves to rail on game companies and franchises that don't make half the mistakes Nintendo does – Kendall Jenner ain't got sh-- on Bobby Kotick.

Oh, you don't like that Call of Duty was set in space again? Well tell me this: Could you actually buy it? Did you have to wait three months after launch before you could find a copy to play? Why is Nintendo the only company we're willing to brainstorm excuses for?

Because here's the thing: When we demand more from game companies, they typically listen. Remember how much online passes sucked? Publishers didn't abandon them because they developed a sudden aversion to making more money – they stopped because we wouldn't stop saying how much we hated them. The same thing is starting to happen with season passes – hell, everything about the Battlefront II reveal was designed to address the criticisms of its predecessor.

No company epitomizes the holy-crap-they-actually-listened phenomenon more than Microsoft's Xbox One 180. Can you imagine what the console would be now if gamers hadn't revolted against the always-online, second-hand-game-blocking, entertainment-center approach that MS had originally envisioned? Instead, consumers demanded – with their words and their wallets – a more open, game-focused system, and that's what they got.

Without that kind of pressure, Nintendo has no reason change. It's clearly happy with the money it made from the NES Classic, so why should it do anything different for the next one? Nintendo can keep going from one manufactured shortage to the next like a dog that won't stop trying to walk when it's taking a crap. How long are Nintendo fans going to keep silently holding the bag?

So Nintendo, if you are reading this, here's the experience my wife had trying to buy one of your products last November, as told through the angry text messages she sent me:

Your customers deserve better than dejected-sweaty-emoji-guy, Nintendo. Your die-hard fans definitely deserve better – they're the ones getting burned by every stupid collector's edition and Amiibo you don't make enough of, not me. So please, DO BETTER. Because right now you're blowing it, even if your biggest fans aren't willing to say it.

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*If you're thinking right now that you're not supposed to shake a Magic 8-Ball, you're correct, and god bless you. (back to top)
**Look, it's a real saying, alright? (back to top)
***Though the hundreds of hours she's spent playing Bust-A-Move clones on our tablet suggests otherwise. (back to top)
****Well, not including your dog. (back to top)