I finally, finished Co-opetition by Brandenburger and Nalebuff (some of you may have noticed it was up on the library list for quite some time). It wasn’t for lack of interest – I’ve just been reading so many great books of late.
One item in the book that stuck me was the example of Nintendo and the launch of it’s Nintendo Entertains System (NES) back in the mid-80s. This wasn’t because, as a kid, I was denied an NES by my parents, but because it lent credence to the accusations that Nintendo has purposefully created scarcity in the supply of its current machine – the Nintendo Wii – as well as some of its games – like the Wii Fit.
Certainly the following paragraphs out of Brandenburger and Nalebuff suggest there is a strong precedent in Nintendo’s actions. My friend Andrew M. has long argued that Nintendo has being artificially creating scarcity, but I’ve also thought it was just that the company hadn’t anticipated its success and so production had lagged demand. Now I’m inclined to think Andrew has been correct. If Brandenburger and Nalebuff are correct, then it looks like scarcity has been a Nintendo strategy for over 30 years. Check out these tidbits:
Even as demand took off, Nintendo remained cautious about flooding the market. It strictly controlled how many copies of games were produced, and pulled its own games off the market as soon as interest declined. Over half of Nintendo’s game library was inactive. Sometimes, severe shortages resulted…
…Somewhat paradoxically, the shortages may have helped create even more consumer demand. There were at least three different effects going on. First, shortages made the game cartridges even more desirable in the eyes of consumers, actually boosting demand. Trendy restaurants play the same game. For example, the long lines outside K-Paul’s in New Orleans made it even more fashionable, further increasing the lines…
…Second, shortages made headlines; filling demand would not have. “Tonight’s top story: Nintendo sold game cartridges to all those who wanted them. Details at Eleven” We don’t think so. The shortages generated tremendous free publicity for Nintendo, a company known to be rather stingy on advertising (spending only 2 percent of sales).
Third, shortages helped retailers move slower-selling Nintendo games, because parents would buy a lower-selling title if the the kid wanted was sold out. Of course, this was only a temporary solution, what we call the “Band-Aid” effect. The substitution might tie the kid over from Christmas to New Year’s, but kids tend to remember these sorts of things. So parents would have to return for the sold out title once fresh supplies come in. Nintendo made two sales instead of one.
(Page 113-114 of the paperback edition)
This time around, rather than making the game cartridges scarce – something hard to do since Wii games or printed on CDs, which are abundant – Nintendo made the games console itself scarce. I’m not sure about the last effect, but there is ample evidence of the first and second effecit. Nintendo has earned endless free media as a result of the Wii’s scarcity. Plus the scarcity has peaked interest – especially among non-traditional gamers.
I’m not sure if Nintendo is control the flow of video games in general – but certainly it is near impossible to buy a Wii Fit in Vancouver. So it would be interesting to know if this strategy is being used on its games as well.
Also interesting is to read how other parts of Nintendo’s strategy have also remained intact. When the Wii was first released I remember Sony and Microsoft deriding it for being little more than a generic graphics card attached to a hard drive. Well – the accusation was actually pretty accurage. But then, this was true of the NES as well:
In truth, the Famicom (renamed Nintendo Entertainment System in the North America) was hardly a computer at all-everything was dedictated to a single purpose, game playing. In order to keep the costs down, Nintendo deliberately used a commodity chip, an 8-bit microprocessor dating back to the 1970s. Personal computers at that time-such as the IBM AT or the original Apple Macintosh-were selling for between $2500-$4000. Nintendo’s machine was priced at $100. The Famicom’s price radically undercut the competition, its price so low that many people believed it to be below cost.
Back then it was Nintendo’s creative games that drove demand – not cutting edge graphics. This time, it was again creativity – the motion sensitive wiimote – that has driven demand.