What a difference a year makes.
Last November, just in advance of the holiday shopping crush, Nintendo released a much-anticipated new console without making nearly enough units available. Making matters worse, this was simply the latest in the company’s long history of failing to properly account for demand or, if you prefer the more sinister explanation, manufacturing scarcity to garner headlines and create buzz for that must-have holiday gift.
I argued that Nintendo was either underhanded or incompetent with the launch of the NES Classic, and I think that argument still holds up.
But this year is different. While buying an NES Classic Edition remained a shitshow for the entire lifespan of the product, culminating in Nintendo discontinuing the product entirely in April, the SNES Classic Edition has been wildly popular but still possible to acquire. Nintendo has threaded the needle of hype and long lines with ... what’s this? An actual supply chain that seemed built to accommodate the demand, if only just.
Sure, not everyone got one. I waited in line for just an hour this morning, and the same GameStop that had only five units last year (!) had 12 this year. I was number 11. There were a half-dozen people behind me who left disappointed. But just over the bridge in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a friend was at a Target with 50 units and no lines.
We saw this pattern repeated all over the Polygon newsroom today. A GameStop, Target and Best Buy in downtown Brooklyn all had walk-in inventory this morning, with Best Buy accommodating Allegra’s #31 spot in line. A Target in Austin, Texas, had just a few left right as they opened — score one for Griffin. Russ Frushtick saw the Amazon “Treasure Truck” in midtown Manhattan, and though he wasn’t planning on buying one, he couldn’t help himself. In Ohio, Ben found himself at a Walmart midnight opening with 30 units and, this morning, was able to just walk into a Target and find more.
The Toys ‘R’ Us in Times Square had no lines and plenty of inventory as late as noon ET, score one for Chelsea. The Nintendo Store at Rockefeller Plaza reportedly had hundreds of units, but was matched by people camping out. Less lucky was suburban Chicago, which had been entirely cleared out by lunchtime — sorry Charlie — as had most of the stores we lucked out on this morning.
Today’s pattern seems clear: While the online pre-order meltdown was stressful, frustrating and seemed almost actively hostile, the retail experience was anything but. If you wanted a system, and were willing to get to a store kind of early, you likely got one. It was oddly mellow and well-organized. While selling out of inventory on day one may not seem like a great win, try comparing today’s events to last year’s NES Classic release, during which almost nobody on staff was lucky, and there was no pre-order stock.
And the other two factors: First, Nintendo has “dramatically increased” production of the SNES Classic compared to its predecessor, and second, it’s not even October yet. Nintendo is a full six weeks ahead of where it was last year, which means more time to make more consoles at an already increased production rate, and more opportunities to play retail roulette.
The rollout wasn’t perfect. The online pre-orders were a mess — Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime says it was “outside our control” — and we don’t know when retailers will get more stock in, though they promise more throughout the holiday shopping season. But I’m still dizzy from the possibility that Nintendo has actually learned a lesson from last year’s disastrous rollout.
We’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m hopeful that Nintendo’s strategy for the SNES Classic has absorbed the anger of its most passionate fans. After all, the NES Classic Edition relaunches in 2018, and so many of you never did find one.