You Can't Compete With Free Meets Its Ultimate Counterexample In The NES Classic
from the the-end dept
Of all the frustration-causing mantras of stupidity we here at Techdirt have combated over the years, none is quite as annoyingly wrong as: “You can’t compete with free!” There are many reasons why it’s so frustrating, but basic economics essentially shows that this is a loser’s argument for an inability to compete. Given that there are many examples of competing with free, and the fact that the response to these counterfactuals is generally, “nuh uh, you doody head!” it’s time that the myth of not being able to compete with free be put to rest. For years, we’ve highlighted folks pretty easily competing with free versions of their products, typically by either connecting with their fans in a way that causes them to want to buy the authentic version, or else competing by offering something free versions can’t, be it convenience, authenticity, or included options for purchase. But what we’ve always needed to finally put this stupid mantra to rest is a completely pure counterexample showing that it is flatly, plainly, painfully not true.
Allow me to paint you a picture of the world as it exists today. You will recognize this world, because it is reality. It’s a world in which for thirty years, video gaming has become a staple of our entertainment culture. Those of us that have reached middle age will tell you that gaming has essentially always been a part of our lives. We love it, and we particularly love going back to the olden days of gaming and re-enjoying the games we played in our youth. It’s also a world in which emulators of early game systems are widely available, as are ROMs for the games we played long ago. We can get them literally any time we want, on everything from our personal computers, to our mobile devices, or on cheap computer systems that come fully stocked with these emulators and games. This is all insanely cheap or, more commonly, completely free.
And it’s also a world in which Nintendo’s NES Classic retro console was the best selling console for the month.
That’s the word from retail analyst NPD Group, which reports that “the NES Classic was June 2018’s highest unit-selling hardware platform, while the PlayStation 4 led the market in dollar sales” for the period between June 3 and July 7.
The NES Classic, which costs $60 and emulates 30 games from Nintendo’s first home console, launched in November 2016 to mass shortages as Nintendo underestimated demand. Although the publisher announced that it was discontinuing the device, it later committed to bringing the NES Classic back to stores in 2018. Starting on June 29, the system returned. And then it beat up all the other consoles.
We talked about that shortage ourselves as an indication that the kind of convenience and retro-feel Nintendo could offer with its console competed well with the various free versions online. But even this writer read in shock that this NES Classic was outselling the current iteration of gaming consoles.
Let’s put this plainly: if the “You can’t compete with free!” mantra had even a shred of validity, then we could not live in this reality. It would be impossible. The NES Classic offering from Nintendo is actually in some ways inferior to the free options, given the smaller number of games it offers and its lack of portability and modability. But it offers something the free versions don’t. It offers nostalgia in having a console. It offers having that NES Classic sitting in your entertainment center, serving as a conversation piece along with being a gaming console. It lets fans of Nintendo reward the company for serving them well. It offers legitimacy.
It competes with free and is apparently doing so in record numbers. Whenever someone shouts “You can’t compete with free!” at you, it should henceforth be a simple matter of replying “But the NES Classic,” and walking away. Because this is as good of an example of how dumb that mantra has always been as we could have hoped for.