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Four reasons why Nintendo may have discontinued the NES Classic

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A baffling move from the gaming giant

NES Classic Edition photos Michael McWhertor/Polygon

Nintendo made the baffling move of discontinuing the NES Classic Edition today, and the company didn’t give much of a reason as to why it would pull a massively popular product from store shelves when it was barely able to meet the unexpected demand to begin with. The price for the systems is likely to skyrocket on the secondary market, making the NES Classic Edition a collector’s item.

But unless Nintendo hates money — which sometimes seems to explain the company’s decisions — why on earth would it cancel one of its best products? We’re not just confused here at Polygon, we’re upset: The NES Classic Edition was a great product that we either loved or, even now, were unable to find.

Here are a few theories about why Nintendo may have done this.

Nintendo hates piracy THAT much

The NES Classic Edition has been hacked to hell and back, and it’s a trivial thing to crack the system with software found online to add downloaded NES ROMs. It’s possible that Nintendo is willing to cut off its nose to spite its face by discontinuing the product just to avoid piracy, although it didn’t seem like piracy was that big of a deal to us.

But Nintendo did lose control over its own product, and that might be reason enough to discontinue it. Although the hack was months ago; why make this drastic move now?

There just wasn’t enough profit in it

Nintendo isn’t going to continue to support a product if the price of creating that product, licensing the games and shipping units to retailers exceeds the amount of profit the company can expect to take in from selling it.

This seems unlikely — the hardware required to emulate an NES is easy to find, and should be inexpensive to mass-produce — but if the licensing agreements became too costly, it might make sense for Nintendo to cease production to avoid losses or even breaking even when the logistics could be a distraction for the company during the success of the Switch, another Nintendo console that is so far unable to meet demand.

There was a licensing issue with one of the games

The NES Classic Edition was preloaded with 30 games, and they weren’t all Nintendo first-party releases. It’s possible, although unlikely, that one of the publishers that owns the rights to one of the games got pissy about the success of the product and wriggled out of its licensing agreement before telling Nintendo the game couldn’t be sold with the hardware anymore.

This would explain the sudden decision, kind of, but we’re skeptical that Nintendo wouldn’t have locked down these games with ironclad contracts. Once the console got this popular, however, it’s possible someone decided to play hardball for a bigger cut of the profit, and Nintendo decided to pull the plug entirely instead.

Something new is coming

Nintendo may be playing with artificial scarcity by yanking the console at the height of its popularity, only to replace it with another system later this year with a new color scheme, design or selection of games.

Nintendo has the ability to release a series of emulated consoles on an ongoing basis with different games or limited-edition shells to drive consumers into a frenzy with every version, especially once people realize that each one is limited in its availability.

Disney does the same thing with the Disney Vault by only allowing some movies to be sold every few years, creating artificial scarcity and making each release seem like a bigger deal than it may otherwise be.

Still: What the hell, Nintendo?

None of these theories are perfect, and it’s surprising that Nintendo killed the hardware with so little warning and without giving a clear reason why the NES Classic Edition is being discontinued when it’s still impossible to find it on store shelves.

If you have thoughts on why this may have happened, please share in the comments. One thing is clear, however: We’re hanging onto our personal units for dear life.