My brother has more foresight than I do and decided to put no less than three Nintendo Switch consoles on layaway at Walmart immediately following the big Nintendo Direct presentation. “Nintendo can’t possibly pull their usual manufactured scarcity bullshit this time.” I thought to myself, and Reggie Fils-Aime put my mind at further ease when he announced in an interview with Wired “Our focus is making sure that the consumer who wants to buy a Nintendo Switch can buy a Nintendo Switch.” This, of course, (as is always the case with Nintendo) turned out to be total and utter bullshit.
So my brother, being the great guy he is, has one of those three Switches he purchased on its way to my home in Chicago as we speak. The other? Well, we sold it on Amazon for $420. Now, you might find that reprehensible, scalping a high-tech toy that another gamer could have enjoyed without having to pay the premium, and (under ordinary circumstances) I would be inclined to agree with you. The problem is that Nintendo isn’t an ordinary company and, frankly, they’re outright encouraging this kind of behavior.
It’s a well-known trope in the industry, by now, that if you want a Nintendo product on day one you have to place an order months in advance. This has been true for everything they have produced since the Gamecube but I think it was right around the time of the Wii that everyone began to suspect they might be doing it on purpose. There were long lines at game stores during the winter months, whole websites dedicated to tracking inventory, and article after article was written about how Nintendo’s new console was in higher demand than expected and production simply couldn’t keep up. This went on for months and months and the Wii eventually went on to be one of the best selling home consoles of all time, beating its predecessors (the Xbox One and PlayStation 3) by a handy margin.
And you know what? Fair enough. The Wii was underpowered from a hardware standpoint and contained a central gimmick that Nintendo may have been unsure would resonate with consumers, so maybe it undercut supply to keep from having to discount product too quickly. The problem is that in the last 10 years Nintendo has released three new consoles (one handheld and two home units) along with multiple re-designs of existing systems and every single time their supply chain has run well short of demand. Even their ridiculous little Amiibos proved to be far too commercially successful for Nintendo to keep pace, not to mention the NES Classic which has been out of stock since its release in November.
A company as old and storied as Nintendo shouldn’t be getting worse at targeting the center of a supply/demand curve but that’s certainly the impression they’re giving the general public.
This is stupid, it’s just stupid. And this isn’t me speaking as a consumer advocate either; manufactured scarcity is a dumb, dumb, stupid-head thing for a company to do from an economic standpoint. Why on Earth would you want to willfully create a parallel market where scalpers have control of your supply chain and set their own price well in excess of the MSRP? I mean, sure, it can drive word of mouth in the short-term but Nintendo just came off a well-publicized commercial failure in the Wii U so assuming that consumers will stick around for the three to six months it will take for stock to actually begin appearing on shelves while scalpers eat up hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have lined Nintendo’s pockets betrays either a total lack of business acumen or a confidence that simply should not be on display yet.
Or maybe, just maybe, Nintendo understands that we’re all a little strapped for cash right now and it’s willing to take the hit (both financially and in the court of public opinion) so that a bunch of rando arm-chair e-scalpers can make a few extra bucks moving their intellectual property from a store shelf to someone’s PO box, and if that’s the case I have just one thing to say: thanks, Nintendo. You keep on screwing up those business fundamentals and maybe we can get this sagging global economy back on track.
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