I have a pre-order for a Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Classic Edition. I may have have missed its predecessor, the now-defunct NES: Classic Edition, but this time I'm at least on the good side of the 50/50 chance of getting one. Sure, the pre-order may be cancelled, but at least I got in there. Other folks weren't as lucky.
Yesterday morning at 1:12 AM Eastern Time, the SNES Classic went up for pre-order at Best Buy. If you happened to be awake, you had a good 20 minutes of availability before the pre-order page showed an out-of-stock notice. Another pre-order page went up on Amazon at around 4:36AM Eastern time, this time under a completely new and random listing than the standard Amazon SNES Classic page. The Amazon listing dropped off around 5AM; the longer availability times were likely because folks were asleep.
Nintendo also updated the official SNES Classic website, noting that pre-orders would be available in the United States from six retailers: Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Toys R Us, and Walmart. Two retailers down, four to go; the hope is kindled.
Walmart offered its pre-orders at 1PM ET the same day. The system was listed as out-of-stock a minute later. Target offered their pre-order stock at 1:15PM. Target went out-of-stock fairly quick, but it didn't really go out-of-stock. Instead, folks have found that randomly checking the SNES Classic listing will occasionally let you pre-order the system. Those lucky enough to add a pre-order unit to their cart have reported a better than likely chance that the system will be removed from your cart during the process of inputting your payment method and address. Just to have the chance to reach the cart phase, some have installed autoclickers on their PC to hit the Pre-Order button over and over again.
GameStop announced at around the same time that it was offering SNES Classic systems online and in-store. Online, the rush actually killed the official GameStop website. (As of this writing, the site is still down.) The dead website redirect to ThinkGeek, which also sold SNES Classics, but primarily in exorbitant bundles. If you wanted an SNES Classic with ThinkGeek's cast-off tchotchkes, you could expect an upgrade of $60 at minimum, with the most expensive bundle offering the system and Breath of the Wild canvas art for $329.99.
GameStop in-store became a brief crush of people leaving jobs and school midday for the mere chance of getting a pre-order. Some on Reddit, NeoGAF, and other places noted waiting for 30 minutes to an hour to grab available pre-orders. And despite what Nintendo's official website says, Toys R Us announced that it wouldn't be offering pre-orders at all. If you want one, you have to go to a store on launch day, September 29, 2017.
The SNES Mini will be available in our stores on 9/29. There will be no pre-orders for this item. TY!— ToysRUs (@ToysRUs) August 22, 2017
If this all seems like a lot of work, that's because it is. A friend asked me if was even worth him looking for one as a casual consumer. I told him, "probably not", as to even get a hint of a SNES Classic I had to be watching the internet most of the day.
In contrast, the Xbox One X pre-orders went live at most major retailers at the same time, following Microsoft's Gamescom 2017 streaming event. The special Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition is the launch unit and that is running out-of-stock at many retailers, but once it's gone, you'll be able to still purchase the Xbox One X. There was a unified start time for Xbox One X pre-orders, making pre-ordering a relatively straightforward affair. Before you go "Well no one wants an Xbox One X," the same was true for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Sony and Microsoft can make it work, so why is it so hard for Nintendo?
I've written this article before. I did it for Amiibo stock, where I noted that the combination of low stock, poor communication, and scalpers meant folks were having an impossible time finding the little figures. (This is still somewhat of a problem by the way; if you want to unlock Fusion Mode in Metroid: Samus Returns, you need the Metroid Amiibo, which is currently out-of-stock in many places.) I wrote about how Nintendo's conservative stock for the NES Classic might be good for Nintendo, but it's bad for consumers.
"NES Classic Edition wasn't intended to be an ongoing, long-term product. However, due to high demand, we did add extra shipments to our original plans," a Nintendo spokesperson said at the time.
Outside of that statement on its own, the problem is this changed expectations for the SNES Classic. So not only did folks expect it to be hard to find, but the NES Classic being discontinued meant the same short shelf life for this system. Nintendo has said there will be a "significant amount of additional systems will be shipped to stores for launch day" and the calendar year, but Nintendo's view of what "significant" constitutes isn't all that clear. Especially since the "extra shipments" of NES Classic systems were nowhere near enough.
So why does Nintendo fall prey to these problems time-and-time again? It's quite easy to surmise that they don't care. The average person's lack of ability to buy an NES Classic doesn't factor as a Nintendo problem; they sold their allotment of systems and they're moving on. The same will be true of SNES Classic. They don't have to coordinate with retailers for a single pre-order date and time, because we'll all scramble to buy one regardless. Nintendo won't be harmed in the process and they don't particularly care about you and I.
Nintendo could solve many of the issues here by simply stating, "We'll continue to produce the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Classic Edition until demand has subsided." That simple statement alleviates a number of issues. Sure, you might not get one at launch, but like the Nintendo Switch itself, if you wait, further shipments will take care of your need.
It also lowers the rush of scalpers a bit, because the system isn't seen as immediately hard to get; the more available a product becomes, the less profitable it is for scalpers. And once scalpers enter the picture eh masse, they have bots and other ways to get stock before the average person can.
Yes, there are parts of this entire enterprise that are out of Nintendo's control. But much of it is firmly within the company's hands. They could and should produce the system in sufficient quantities so that the average consumer can buy the SNES Classic without becoming a system hunter online. They should communicate the ability to offer up more of the system for consumers. And they need to get onboard with retail partners to coordinate something approaching a single open set of pre-orders, instead of the random grab bag of different circumstances.
I doubt anything will change though, because as I said before, it doesn't have to. Nintendo will produce as many as it needs to hit internal estimates and handily sell all of them. Maybe the company will learn from previous errors and be a bit more consumer friendly in the future. I'm not holding my breath though.