Greets once again, boys and girls. Now, if you’ve spent any time around here at all, you know that I’ve been a huge fan of games for longer than most of you have probably been alive – and if you count starting ACTUAL wars as “war games” then for CENTURIES longer than you’ve been alive. And in all that time, I can honestly say one thing – I’ve never, ever, EVER fallen prey to the fanboy console wars. I’ve played every single home console available since the Atari 2600, and most of them at some point as well. Each one has had their strong suits and weak points, and I’ve enjoyed them all to one degree or another. So this is not an attack on Nintendo as a console maker or game developer – I dearly love Nintendo and all of the many memories it has given me.
Nor is this an attack in on the Nintendo Switch hardware itself, or it’s killer app, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time playing it courtesy of a friend, and I can say that the Switch itself more than lives up to its billing as a true merging of home console power with portable gaming convenience, and BotW is not just one of the finest Zelda games, or open world games, I’ve ever played, but simply one of the most beautiful and masterfully crafted video games of all time.
No, my gripe today is with Nintendo as a company, as a business entity. This is not sour grapes because I am playing BotW on my friend’s Switch rather than on one of my own – rather, it’s the reason behind why that is. Nintendo has made a disturbing habit over the several console generations of intentional, manufactured hardware shortages – as a business and marketing strategy – and I feel that the time has finally arrived for them to overcome their stubborn pride and admit it for the costly long-term mistake that it is.
Let’s face it – ever since the days of the Gamecube, Nintendo has made no secret of the fact that they have not even tried to stay on the bleeding edge of console hardware capability. Instead, they have focused on two other things – innovation and marketing. As with all things in life, they’ve experienced some tremendous successes as well as some setbacks. There can be no argument that the Wii was a tremendously successful piece of console hardware, nor that the Wii U that followed failed to recapture that success. But neither device was in any way a high-powered gaming console when compared to its contemporaries. And yet, the launch of both consoles – and in the case of the Wii U, throughout its life cycle – were marked by a virtual absence from store shelves, with units arriving in minuscule trickles, snapped up within moments, and with never any real idea of when the next may arrive.
These shortages could be nothing short of intentional. The simple fact is that the components required to manufacture those consoles was not difficult to fabricate nor to acquire. There was literally no viable reason why Nintendo couldn’t produce significantly more product than they did – which means that they simply chose not to. Now, there are reasons why a company may do this. If they are unsure as to what the market demand for their product will be, it is often wise to reduce the quantity of the initial product run while running an aggressive marketing campaign. This has the effect to stoke market appetite, and then to drive it even further by making the product seem artificially more desirable by virtue of scarcity. With a paradigm-shifting console like the Wii, which was the true advent of mass market motion-controlled gaming, this approach made some sense, as even with focus testing and aggressive marketing, Nintendo couldn’t be positive that this radically different experience would be universally received well.
Such is not the case with the Switch. The Switch is less a revolution, an more of an evolution. It represents the culmination of what gamers have dreamed of for years – a true hybrid of home and portable gaming. But while this is a fantastic achievement, it was done utilizing fairly pedestrian technical specs. The Switch is essentially a tablet with a charging dock – none of which is even remotely new technology. And Nintendo’s Switch marketing blitz did an absolutely phenomenal job of priming the market for the console’s debut – so why the market shortages? This wasn’t a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan longshot, it was a traditional home console/traditional portable hybrid, with an absolutely killer launch game in BotW. Nintendo knew this. And they knew that the aftermarket sales – the Switch’s thrown onto ebay for 2x-3x the retail value – didn’t benefit them in any way. So in the end, Nintendo’s entrenched policy of intentional hardware shortages, and their stubborn corporate pride in refusing to admit the mistake, as shown with the NES Classic, is resulting not in additional hype, but in a very real and dangerous chance of loss of consumer goodwill. Let’s face it – this was not a holiday counsel launch. There are not going to be customers lined up day after day, parents trolling auction sites willing to pay hundreds of dollars above retail so that they can see their kids smiling on Christmas morning. This was a March launch, and with only one physical game on store shelves that was a must-play. Sure there are some other fantastic launch games – I Am Setsuna and Shovel Knight come to mind – but those are both digital releases and both available on other platforms. And BotW, for that matter, is as well – any Wii U owner could play it without finding a Switch. So rather than setting the stage for a bright Nintendo future, instead this could backfire – customers could quickly grow tired of searching stores and websites for one of the few Switch’s that Nintendo deigns to send to market, and decide that they simply don’t need it. And Nintendo simply cannot afford that. After the flop of the Wii U, they need every single person who is inclined to buy a Switch to be ABLE TO BUY A SWITCH. If that means deviating from previous strategy, they need to do so.
After all, Nintendo was once a playing card and toy company, and they deviated wildly from their traditional strategy and took a major chance on a completely untamed market. You may know that chance as the NES. – EWE