For all you gamers, the hottest item of the upcoming Christmas season will likely be Nintendo Switch. This year alone, Nintendo, the king of gaming, has posted worldwide sales of 4.37 billion dollars and the new Switch platform is a large part of the equation.
It’s not much to look at, gaming writers say the design is like an early generation Nintendo console shoved into a toaster. What makes it special is that it is the first gaming platform that functions as both a mobile device and a home tv console. There’s an easy access plug-in to your HD TV. Or, you can pull it out of the dock and play it on the subway to school. Brilliant concept!
Creating an attractive product is not Nintendo’s problem, the real issue is getting your hands on one and purchasing it. What devoted gamer can forget last year’s NES Classic handheld wonder with favorite games pre-loaded, for the amazing price of $60? In various reports, Nintendo claims they sorely underestimated the demand for the product. It was net to impossible to purchase.
Therefore, in the shadow of the famous Christmas tree, the flagship U.S. Nintendo Store in Rockefeller Center had a line around the block of locals and tourists hoping to find one, and mostly coming away disappointed.
The only way to have a prayer was to sign up for their random tweets of a new shipment, drop everything and dash out of school the moment you got the alert.
Presumably, you also needed to take an Uber and slip the driver a fiver to run a few red lights. Then, hope you were near the front of the line as the supply quickly disappeared. Grown men were said to weep when turned away after an hour’s wait in the cold. News alert: Nintendo says they’re bringing Classic back in 2018, due to the gaming community’s outcry.
Now, Nintendo promises us they’ll manufacture enough new Switch consoles so there won’t be a repeat of last year’s craziness.
So I was surprised, and not pleasantly, when I walked past the same Nintendo store over the summer and saw, wait for it, a line down the block of Switch buyers, an hour before opening.
Another puzzlement was that this line appeared to contain people from other lands who took their vacations in New York, just to purchase a Nintendo Switch.
Your intrepid gaming reporter looked into this and discovered yet another revelation: when you play a Nintendo game or use Nintendo gaming hardware, you are participating in an industry fraught with worldwide economic and political issues.
While the gamers of the world are brought together by their simple love of Nintendo products, a host of countries have either banned Nintendo outright, or placed trade restrictions that make a retail presence in that country economically difficult.
For example, I met Dario and his three teenage sons in line in front of the Nintendo store. They left Mom at home in Buenos Aires to watch the dog, so they could be the only ones in their neighborhood with a Switch. Dario tells me they have little chance of owning one without traveling outside of Argentina.
I investigated this and it turns out that Argentina is attempting to push their 30 national game makers on the public, with high import and export tariffs for outsiders like Nintendo. Most retailers don’t carry the consoles, and if you can find one online there, the starting prices are more than two and a half times the U.S retail price tag.
Ironically, one Argentine game maker is developing a title for the Switch; potentially his countrymen and women won’t get to play it while the worldwide community of Nintendo fans will.
Lily and Jeff, a millennial couple I met on the store line from Shanghai, say that the price of an international plane ticket makes the $300 Switch the most expensive video console ever, but Lily says it’s worth it.
“It’s something totally new. A kind of platform never made before. The console is not too small like the NES Classic but it’s not too big either. And it’s perfect for a family [because] kids can plug it into the T.V. and play.”
China had a 15 year ban on consoles of all video game makers until 2015, bowing to pressure from parents who claimed that game play of violent titles would have a poor effect on their children.
Said children then reverted to gaming on Smartphones and even after the prohibition of consoles was lifted, Nintendo never returned to China. Now, a newly announced game created by a Chinese video maker for Switch could potentially bring Nintendo back to China.. Or, this could wind up another situation where the worldwide gaming community can play a game made in a country that doesn’t have access to the title.
Prince and his middle-aged mother, from Morocco, were also online. He loves the idea of taking Mario gaming with him, wherever he goes.
“The game teaches you how to play it pretty quickly---but it’s complicated just enough when you get into it to still keep your interest.” says Prince.
His mother claims she is on this long line for one reason.
“I’m here to support Prince.”
Video game journalist Eamonn Dingman is suspicious of the stated reasons that these international families have for standing in line to purchase a Switch.
Given the scarcity of the popular Switch platform in certain countries, Dingmann explains that the “gray market” for buying and selling online to gamers, and also to international suppliers, makes for a lucrative opportunity.
According to Dingman, “Nintendo allows four units per customer, so if you bring along Mom and the kids, you can get enough units to resell at home to pay for your trip to New York and also turn a profit.”
Whatever the reason the families came out to stand on line, it was exciting to connect with gamers from around the globe and realize that we are all part of a fascinating interplay of gaming and international politics. I’ll think of them this holiday season when I am giving, and hopefully getting, Switch products.