I’m Over the Mini Console Fad

There’s a better way to sell classic games to players

Let’s face it: miniature consoles are the game industry’s fad du jour, and it’s starting to show. Nintendo has released two products so far, the NES and SNES Classic (and a possible third might be around the corner), Sony just announced its upcoming Playstation Classic, and SNK Playmore recently released the Neo Geo Mini. While the concept of small retro consoles is hardly new (Sega and Atari have been licensing to crappy mini console makers for years), it’s suddenly become hugely popular and it seems everyone wants a piece of the market. On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. People have fond memories of games they grew up- people who would surely pay to re-live those moments and share them with others.

But it has to be asked, isn’t there a better way of doing this? Is it possible that mini consoles are actually a bad idea?

The current crop of miniature consoles eager for shelf space in our homes.

Nostalgia-fuelled clutter

The most obvious problem with this trend is the additional clutter that game fans have to deal with now. Each new release brings a new device to hook up to your TV, with more cords and controllers to go along with it. I don’t know about all of you, but I have enough things in my entertainment center to keep track of, and I would rather not deal with the first-world-problem of “not enough HDMI ports.”

Of course, this isn’t really a problem for the manufacturers, since it’s not their TVs and living rooms that have to deal with the extra crap. And yes, there is a world of third-party products to help solve these problems, but the value they offer is more of a patch than a solution. Fundamentally, the mini consoles themselves are the problem. It’s a problem, however, that most hardware companies aren’t eager to solve. The truth is that video game companies are businesses, whose first obligation is to generate healthy profits.

That’s not cynicism, by the way.

While I believe that many businesses (game companies included) have genuinely good intentions for all of their stakeholders (customers included), they do have an obligation to the business itself. That means finding new ways to generate revenue and build up the brand whenever possible — two things that mini consoles do very well. That being said, I think there is a better approach to the demand for retro games: software-based compilations.

Compilations for the win

Again, this isn’t a new idea. As far as I’m aware, game compilations date back as far as the fourth console generation with titles like Super Mario All-Stars on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (a title which coincidentally, also shares some DNA with the recent game remaster trend). However, I believe software-based compilations are the best way to offer retro titles to consumers. All-Stars was the second most successful game on the SNES and it was available for purchase by itself or for free with the purchase of the console.

In my opinion, this is the superior way to distribute game collections. After all, most of us already have one of the three major game consoles sitting under our TV, each of which is more than capable of handling these relatively simple games. On the company’s side, software collections carry the added benefit of being cheap to manufacture since they could be distributed online or via existing media like discs and cartridges. It’s a characteristic that could potentially result in increased profits, and maybe even reduced prices. Plus, if you’re a hardware manufacturer like Sony or Nintendo, bundling these collections could help drive console sales which, while less profitable than cheap marked-up mini-consoles, has the greater benefit of bringing new customers into their respective ecosystems.

All-Stars is a great example of how game compilations should be distributed.

Follow the leader

Naturally, you might be wondering why these companies are jumping onto the bandwagon if it’s really such a bad idea. Well, I personally think there are several reasons for this.

Firstly, competing companies tend to copy the industry leader in hopes of acquiring market share or even remaining relevant. This is a practice we’ve seen before with hand-helds, disk add-ons, motion controls, and even VR/AR. The simple fact is that Nintendo released an incredibly successful product, showed that a potential market existed, and now others are following suit.

Where I think they are falling short, however, is in execution.

I think the NES and SNES Classic were part of a larger strategy involving the intentional death of the Virtual Console and the company’s paid online service. Ultimately, Nintendo felt that these devices were appropriate for their strategy, but that doesn’t mean that it works for others as well. Thankfully, other companies are starting to diversify their plans a bit. Both Sega and SNK/Playmore, while offering mini consoles of their own, are almost simultaneously releasing massive software-based collections on several platforms. Of course, they have the added benefit of being third-party publishers don’t make hardware (not anymore, at least), but it still shows an openness on their part that Nintendo and Sony should seriously consider.

In the end, I applaud Nintendo for being the savvy business that they are. They took advantage of their strong catalog of titles and partnerships and successfully left a crater in a previously dead market. Good for them.

Sony has jumped onto the mini console bandwagon with the recently-announced PlayStation Classic.

Personally, though, I feel the mini console thing is starting to outstay its welcome. Yes, many gamers want to play their old favorites and are even willing to pay to do it (despite what the emulation community might think). But if we’re being completely honest, miniature consoles are redundant; what we really want are the games, and we already have hyper-powered devices that are up to the task of playing them. Selling us proprietary, unwanted hardware for that purpose is a lot like having to buy a second residence in order to own a pet. Sure, I suppose there could be a market for luxury mini-dog-houses, but if our existing homes suffice, then that should be an option too.