Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

The Mini Console Craze and Why It Can’t Really Work Moving Forward

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Last week Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, aka the “SNES mini,” to the masses.  The launch went well and most people who either pre-ordered or who went out early on the morning of release were able to successfully get their hands on a console.  For those that didn’t, there’s still hope as Nintendo has now promised to keep producing them until the supply has met up with demand.  This comes on the coattails of the debacle that was the Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition (NES mini), which last year was nearly impossible for consumers to find on store shelves but countless quantities were available on eBay with a considerable markup.  This has caused both consumers and business to prove, yet again, that they understand nothing of the true demand that fueled these particular consoles and why their interest and value will drop considerably once they are available on store shelves.  Not only does the mainstream not get it, but clearly video game web sites – who should know better – continue fueling the fire by making waste of text articles about their hopes and dreams for future iterations.

Let me come out and say it: there’s little hope for more “mini” consoles in the future, especially if you want anything from the 32-bit era on and anything that used a CD-ROM or larger for its games.  Here’s why.

What The Nintendo Mini Consoles Actually Are and Why Demand Is High

Gamers like to talk as if they want video games to go mainstream.  This is actually not what they really want because in order to go mainstream you have to cater to a wide audience and have everyone in the world generally interested in what you have to offer.  The closest video games have ever come to being mainstream was with the Wii, which most gamers like to loathe the fact that there were so many minigame collections, licensed affairs, and random peeks of the console in movies.  Friends, that’s what going mainstream brings.  During Nintendo’s history of quite literally bringing video games back to life in the United States during the mid 80s, it was pretty safe to say the NES had gone mainstream.  There are plenty of people in their 30s and 40s today that think fondly back to an NES, and to that same extent an SNES, and get all gooey about their younger days.  My cousin has never been all that into gaming and she has not touched a game console in almost 20 years, but she did own an SNES in the mid 90s and seeing the mini version talked about on the news there was interest to pick it up.  At $80 it’s not even much of a money consideration and if it’s sitting on a Target shelf this holiday season it’s very possible she’ll pick it up even if she doesn’t intend to play it all that much.  The NES and SNES minis are mainstream, they are staples of a nostalgic America that are now adults with kids of their own.  It’s a novelty piece at $60 or $80 and there’s not much thought going into having one and whether or not they’ll actually use it.  I think to a certain extent even Nintendo knows that this is only possible with those two specific systems and I expect we won’t see any more “minis” out of the company anytime soon.  Just a thought: Nintendo already announced its plans to keep producing NES and SNES Classics in 2018, which I’m betting is because there won’t be another mini in the upcoming year.

This is also coupled with the fact that people just love rare items these days, especially when they have something others don’t.  That’s where the true demand for these NES and SNES minis come from: false demand.  People considered picking up these consoles when they first heard about it, but they went ravenous for it when the consoles started selling out all over the place.  I assure you that had Nintendo made tens of millions of the NES Classic Edition and distributed 20-100 units to big box retailers across the globe, none of this would have happened.  They would have eventually sold out over the course of 2016 and 2017, everyone who wanted one would get it, it would probably have been one of the “most popular holiday gifts of 2016” and all would be well.  No lines, no pre-orders, no $300 eBay price tags, and no Think Geek $150 bundles of garbage.  It would have been viewed as a cool and cute thing Nintendo did back in 2016.  This year they would have done the same with the SNES mini, the same would have happened and all would be well.  Due to the low quantity and ridiculous demand that only came to existence after the quantity was revealed to be so low, we got the stupidity and chaos you see today.  Also watch as Nintendo gets confused and frustrated when they re-issue the NES Classic Edition next year and sales are disappointingly low.  It’s because now that it’s on store shelves, no one wants it anymore.

This is all important because it explains why the competition is not seeing similar sales numbers.  The Sega Genesis mini from AtGames, aside from being a terrible hunk of junk that sullies all of the magic from Sega’s 16-bit accomplishment, isn’t even talked about.  Most people either don’t know it exists or even that it’s bad because it straight isn’t interesting anyone.  Sega doesn’t quite have the love in America that it does elsewhere and frankly no Sega kid is dying for a Sega mini because those games have been issued and re-issued so many times there’s nothing left to want.  Same as the Atari mini consoles, the ColecoVision mini console, the Intellivision mini consoles, and of course the upcoming ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 minis.  These items are fun, they mostly work, and frankly they’re not a whole lot different than Nintendo’s fair.  Unfortunately they lack one thing: demand.  No one wants them.  In fact, as I said earlier, I don’t think anyone is even all that interested in the mini Nintendo consoles once there’s no value in reselling or possessing it.  If you aren’t unique for having one, we no longer care about it.  The mini console craze isn’t here, it’s just a false sense of business strategy fueled by Nintendo’s continued inability to adjust to the times.  Simple. As. That.

Here’s Why You Won’t See More Recent “Minis”

I’ve seen it all over the place, the desire for the coveted next generation minis.  Playstation 1 minis.  Saturn minis.  N64 minis.  Sorry all, I don’t think it’s going to happen.  It could, but it won’t.  There are very simple reasons for it, but instead of writing long drawn out diatribes, here’s a quick breakdown of why these minis can’t exist and probably won’t be manufactured.

  • Playstation Mini: It’s not really a hardware thing, the Playstation utilized smart engineering on more archaic hardware to achieve what it did.  Making Playstation games run properly was technically possible on Dreamcast, so it’s not hard to imagine one of these little emulator-on-a-chip mini consoles.  Unfortunately, the media and nature of the Playstation catalog makes this console hard to package.  First of all, the games are CD-ROMs that were 100s of MB apiece and in the case of multi-disc games, even over a gigabyte.  The average NES game was half a megabyte and SNES games were only about 2-3 times that size, so you can fit all the games in less storage space than a single PS1 game.  A Playstation mini would need several GBs of flash to store even 15 games, although I will concede that with 32 GB SD cards being $10 these days, it’s still totally possible.  The other problem is licensing.  The Playstation games most people love – Resident EvilFinal Fantasy VIIMetal Gear Solid – weren’t Sony 1st party so they’ll need licensing deals to get the games on the console.  At that point Sony is going to be giving away every penny the PS mini makes in licensing deals.  Sorry folks, a Playstation mini is not practical and quite improbable.  Even if it does come, expect the game list to be lackluster.
  • N64 Mini: The games are small, so storage isn’t an issue.  Did you know that Super Mario 64 is only 6 MB?  Yep, the storage space required for a cart console is nothing.  The real problem is the hardware.  Despite what you may think, the Nintendo 64 was an impressive work of 3D rendering.  It was so impressive, in fact, that emulating the console properly is not the easiest thing in the world.  It can be annoying on PC and it’s very hard on Raspberry Pi as well, often requiring overclocking and several tweaks.  The NES mini and SNES mini literally are the same chipset with a different emulator and set of roms on it, that’s why Nintendo was able to produce and release both so fast.  That wouldn’t be the case with the N64 mini, they would need to redesign hardware and put some strong Wii-like hardware in there.  It’d probably cost about $100 to manufacture and require at least a $120 price tag, not to mention the emulation woes of getting it to work right.  I highly doubt Nintendo has this one in mind, but who knows.
  • Sega Saturn mini: The Sega Saturn is hands down one of the toughest consoles of all time to emulate.  It uses co-processors for everything and is a mess to have software reproduce.  Saturn emulation on PC is getting there, but few games run properly and it’s easy to spot an emulated version over a console version of most games.  Couple that with the same problem of the Playstation – large size for games and beloved games are mostly third party – and you have a problem on top of a problem.  This console would be a headache to make, might even be impossible to properly implement, a licensing nightmare, and to top it all off demand would be low.  I can promise this will never happen.

Beyond that, later consoles run the same problem – size, hardware, and cost.  A Gamecube mini would need to basically be a rebuilt Gamecube with 10s of GB of space for even a 10 game console.  On top of that, who’s gonna pay $150+ for it?  Same with Dreamcast, etc.

So in the end, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think the mini craze is nearly over, if it even existed at all.  I suspect we won’t see much more from Nintendo and I feel confident that both Sony and Sega have no interest in walking this same path, especially since it offers whole new barriers that Nintendo never had to deal with.  For now, if you have a mini console and like it, enjoy it.  I personally really dig my Atari Flashback 2 and ColecoVision mini, but also keep in mind its a passing fad.  We don’t need mini versions of every console that ever came out, and if we do (sorry to sound like a broken record) it’s called a Raspberry Pi or a Personal Computer.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. I agree that the artificial scarcity tactic that Nintendo always uses is a big part of the reason people have gone crazy over the Nintendo minis (and I also get frustrated at how people complain about it, but then support those business practices by “playing the game” anyway), but, to be brutally honest, I don’t think you really made the argument that there’s no “real” demand for these systems. You mentioned that they likely would have sold out anyway and be a huge success…so doesn’t that mean the demand is real, even if it isn’t as large as the scarcity is playing it up to be? Also, to say that the Atari and Sega systems have no demand just doesn’t seem to be backed up by the history of those products. There’s been at least two Sega systems that I’m aware of (TV and portable) and there’s been eight (!) Atari systems, as well as a portable version. There’s clearly some kind of demand for these systems, or they wouldn’t keep producing them (see also: Neo Geo X). I agree gamers don’t know about them, but that’s because they aren’t really “for” gamers; they’re for people who remember these games from their childhood and want an easy way to play them and relive those memories for a bit. Is there some crossover with “gamers” buying them too? Sure, but I don’t believe they’re the intended audience, hence the reason they’re often of low quality (since the people buying these are likely getting them as impulse buys at the Targets and Walmarts of the world and probably aren’t going to watch a Youtube review online before buying them) and a higher price point would scare them off immediately (again: Neo Geo X). Have the Sega/Atari systems reached the level of demand of the Nintendo systems? Certainly not, and a big part of that is definitely due to the artificial scarcity, but I don’t think it can all be pinned on that, especially considering how much people tend to go nuts over Nintendo’s stuff anyway (justifiably or not; that’s a different debate, haha). These plug and play systems have existed for a really long time now in various different forms and, although I believe they’ll keep evolving, I personally think they’re here to stay.

    No offense intended and hopefully none taken; just offering my…well, it’s really about 27 cents or so, let’s be honest. That’s a monster of a paragraph right there. :O

    Strip Mahjong

    October 9, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    • All great points made here and I have to say I can agree with most of them. The Sega/Atari consoles have never really sold all that well and I don’t think have mainstream appeal, but they are super cheap to make. I think they make them for like $20-$30 and sell them for $50-$70, but that doesn’t stop them from being on shelves. As for the NES/SNES Classic, you’re right, if they sell then they sell. I think my point was not that these items are new, clearly they are not, but that they’ve never been a huge success. AtGames makes so many more products and you never see any of those mini consoles sell out. Nintendo was basically the first to do it successfully and I’m claiming it’s due to scarcity, not a demand for mini consoles. What I mean by passing fad is not that there won’t be more, there very much will be, but that they won’t be very successful. In fact, I presume even Nintendo’s won’t be once they’re in stock. You may disagree, and I thank you for all the thoughtful counterpoints, but I’m skeptical.

      Fred Rojas

      October 9, 2017 at 6:45 pm

  2. Fair enough! Apologies for any incorrect assumptions on my part. I am curious to see how things go moving forward with these systems. I’d also be really interested in seeing the production costs of these things and how many units they really have to sell to make it all worthwhile. I have no idea how much this kind of stuff costs to make, but I honestly would have guessed it was even less than 20-30 based on how cheap they seem (full disclosure: the only one of these that I’ve actually touched is the Atari portable). Again though, I’m completely ignorant on that topic.

    Actually, random aside to the random aside: I wonder what kind of a licensing agreement AtGames has for these systems and how the profits are divided up? Have you got any sources you’ve heard anything from on this that you can share? I promise not to tell. It’ll just be between you, me and the internet. 😀

    Strip Mahjong

    October 9, 2017 at 9:18 pm

  3. I remember when Sony made a smaller, slimmer version of the PS2.

    That was bad decision.

    Andrew

    October 11, 2017 at 10:03 am


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