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Why is Nintendo so bad at this?

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The SNES Classic pre-orders were a mess

SNES Classic Edition - right top angle view Samit Sarkar/Polygon

The first round of pre-orders for the SNES Classic Edition went just about as poorly as you can imagine. Or maybe they went as well as Nintendo had hoped.

Nintendo won, I guess, in that every unit it made available has been sold. Walmart had already sold units before it was supposed to, only to then cancel the pre-orders. But that was almost a month ago. Pre-orders went live today at the rest of the participating retailers, and many of the sites went down under the load of hungry Nintendo fans trying to get their hands on the system.

I was able to put the hardware in my cart, only to have Target’s system glitch out when I put in my payment information. I was then told I had too many items in my cart. Then I was told my cart was empty. Then I was told Target was sold out of the systems.

Walmart’s pre-orders, the real pre-orders, were sold out nearly as quickly as they were offered.

I jumped in my car and drove to a GameStop less than 3 miles away. They had eight units they could offer for physical pre-orders. I was the seventh person in line, and number eight walked in right behind. After that came a steady stream of fans who were instantly disappointed.

And this kind of demand means GameStop gets to cash in.

Thinkgeek is also offering expensive bundles.

Why is Nintendo so bad at this?

Nintendo may have been able to claim surprise at the success of the NES Classic Edition — though we still find that rather hard to swallow — but there's no spin in which Nintendo can possibly argue it failed to recognize the demand for the SNES Classic Edition.

We were told that more of the hardware would be manufactured, and they would be easier to track down. The fact that pre-orders existed at all is a step up from the first-day lines that existed with the NES Classic Edition.

There is no magic to the hardware Nintendo is selling; these systems are likely built with off-the-shelf innards running a SNES emulator and licensed copies of the games. The challenge for Nintendo lies in cranking out the custom cases and controllers.

Nintendo should hypothetically be able to crank out a nearly unlimited supply, and retailers shouldn’t be surprised when interest in the systems is so high it causes their websites to crash. Stoking demand with a little controlled shortage is one thing, but the madness of what we just experienced today is something else entirely.

It doesn’t help that Nintendo of Europe seemed to have things much more under control. Pre-orders were offered much closer to the hardware’s announcement, initial allocation was sold through, and that was that. Nintendo of America contributed to a situation that felt much more chaotic.

Nintendo is either inept or underhanded — the truth is likely a bit of both — but this behavior doesn’t change because there is no incentive to do better. Bots and resellers likely grabbed the majority of the systems, the publicity value of crashing this many websites is hard to calculate, and Nintendo gets another round of articles written about a piece of hardware that’s going to be impossible to find for Christmas. Everyone makes money, the fans are frustrated and annoyed, but the Nintendo 64 Classic Edition is bound to lead to the same situations.

Why change a formula that helps everyone except the people who want to pay money to play your games?

This pre-order situation feels like a calamity if you’re trying to buy one of these damned things, but it likely feels like a win for everyone else. Why is Nintendo so bad at this? Because being terrible at anticipating supply or helping customers buy hardware has only worked out in its favor so far. Until that changes, nothing else will.

And that sucks.