During the holiday season, families spend a lot of time together, and need to figure out how to use that time. One of the classic solutions is playing board games, and it's clear that the holidays are a great time for game publishers. The BBC has been reporting for years that board game sales experience a boom at Christmastime. And it's not just niche board gamers who are buying in: A quick Google search for family Christmas board games turns up pieces from several newspapers and even from Good Housekeeping. In other words, there is still a place in our society for board games, and family fun and nostalgia drive a sales boost every year—thus exposing another generation to the same positive board game memories.
This trend makes me think about how we grow up to have the interests that we have and choose the products that we buy. I was more open to modern board games as an adult because I have fond memories of playing the classics with my family as a kid. And the childhood purchases my parents made for my brother and me have also deeply influenced the video games I buy today: I have always and possibly will always be partial to Nintendo and Playstation (sorry, XBox).
Board games may have had another good holiday boost this year by capitalizing on family fun and nostalgia. Nintendo, however, missed just such an opportunity.
Although Nintendo is the gaming system of my childhood (and that of plenty of people around my age), Nintendo seems to be getting stuck on my demographic. As Polygon's Brian Crecente recently noted, NIntendo has been getting in its own way. When Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition—a mini-console with 30 classic Nintendo games pre-loaded onto it—in such tiny quantities, it made a huge mistake. Everyone viewed this console as a holiday must-have, but so few entered the marketplace that most of the buyers who got ahold of them were scalpers who turned around and put them on Ebay for huge markups. (Original MSRP: $60. Ebay price: About $200.) Nintendo had similar problems with its Amiibo toys back in 2015, and it seems they have not learned their lesson. When Nintendo does tiny print runs, regular consumers lose out to scalpers. As a result, Nintendo products don't always make it into the hands of the people who will keep the company alive.
Why is this such a problem for Nintendo? After all, Nintendo is completely selling out of many of the products it releases. That has to be a good thing, doesn't it? Maybe Nintendo's current stock holders are pleased with the numbers, but long-term, Nintendo is playing a very dangerous game.
People like me continue to feel an emotional attachment to Nintendo products because we have such strong memories of Mario, Kirby, Yoshi, and Link. We go back to Nintendo games again and again because they are both wonderfully designed and perfectly poised to bring us fond memories of simpler days. For similar reasons, board games see elevated sales around the holidays, and will continue to do so: People make purchases that trigger fond memories. Experiencing a game while you are young increases your changes of repurchasing that game or related games in the future.
Nintendo could have used the NES Classic Mini to reach an entire generation of young gamers whose parents would have purchased the console out of nostalgia. Those kids would have grown up with a stronger attachment to and interest in Nintendo products, which would make them more likely to play Nintendo games into adulthood—and to continue the cycle with their own children.
By making products that only seem to go to scalpers and hardcore collectors, Nintendo may be preserving its sales numbers in the present, but it is sacrificing its future. There are already reports that there may be shortages when Nintendo's new console, the Switch, is released this Spring. If I were a parent choosing a console for my child, I'd go for the company whose products were actually available—which means that I'd end up buying a Playstation or XBox. If Nintendo doesn't go back to satisfying a broader market, today's kids are going to leave it behind.