Imagine one day you wake up to find out your favorite snack is gone from your local store, forever. Never again will you be able to taste its delicious contents, feel its soft exterior or smell its intoxicating aroma. Now replace snacks with Nintendo games and you can deduce two things: that I was hungry when I wrote this, and that Nintendo has been absent from the land of green and yellow for a while now. It’s about time somebody spoke up about it.
Nintendo’s withdrawal from the market was swift and out of the blue. Sometime around February of 2015, the company announced over Twitter they were pulling out. Back then, the reason given was the high taxes over videogames (they are really high, something around 70%) and the lack of a local manufacturing service. The former is understandable but it’s a problem that is automatically solved (or at the very least, lessened) with the fix of the latter: Having a local manufacturing that produces both the software and the hardware means cutting down on many taxes, including the biggest of them all—imported goods tax that constitutes 30% of the final value. Sony, Microsoft and even SEGA were once in the position Nintendo was back in 2015, and they all solved the issue the same way. For comparison sake, the PS4 used to cost more than double its current value, and even though games still cost relatively the same, they’re now sold by official channels and have local support, including official Brazilian stores and servers for online play.
It’s a big investment that pays off in the long run as the consoles and games become more popular with time. And that’s exactly where Nintendo went full Catch 22 and shot itself in the foot.
To sell games you need to have a consumer base, but you can’t have consumers if your games are too expensive. Yet the games are only expensive, because you don’t have said consumers—you see where this is going. Around the world you can see the difference in popularity from Nintendo compared to its competition: the Wii U in its entire lifespan sold less than the PS4 in a year. And if that is the reality in the world, you can imagine just how low Nintendo was on the radar of the average Brazilian gamer, especially after the advent of the original PlayStation. With its extensive library of games, Playstation supplanted both SEGA and Nintendo, especially when it came to sports video games (because of course we love soccer. It also helped that they were incredibly mod friendly).
SEGA managed to stay relevant thanks to its partnership with TecToy, but Nintendo pretty much gave up on our market. Even worse, since the Nintendo 64, there was no official way to get your hands on their consoles, meaning you have to buy them from alternate markets like Mercado Livre (Our version of EBay, if you will). Like a nuclear plant without coolant, that combination of high priced software with a hard to obtain hardware, eventually led to a meltdown of their business here. For the longest time, it seemed like nothing would change. Until this year.
Two years went by in a flash. Nintendo kept their silence on the matter, and the orphaned fans were forced to resort on the alternative methods to keep playing their games, either by using an American Nintendo account, or by buying imported physical copies that, almost without exception, were more expensive. Things started to change after the release of the Switch, but even that has been botched.
As its tradition with all new consoles released, the hardware found its way into Brazil costing an arm, a leg and your soul, with the lowest price reaching something around R$3000 at first (Something around USD $1000 at the current exchange rates). Then it dropped to a more affordable R$2000 (USD$660), but still more expensive than the PS4 is currently (Around R$1600 or USD$530). So far so normal (unfortunately). However, two months after the console’s launch, Nintendo raised our hopes and then dashed them in a move so unbelievable that it makes Half-Life 3 believers look like the sanest people on the planet (Sorry guys, it’s never going to happen).
First, the hopeful part: A company by the name of NC Games announced a deal with Nintendo to sell Switch and 3DS games in the country again. Seems great right? Then the prices were announced: the cheapest Switch game is nearly 50% more expensive than a PS4 game on launch (R$300 for Mario Kart 8 against Horizon: Zero Dawn’s initial price of R$200-230).
The justification? These games are imported and sold on demand only, so we’re being taxed even more for them. On top of that, the current catalog is laughably small: a pitiful seven titles for Switch, and maybe ten for 3DS if we’re lucky. Sadly, this train wreck doesn’t end here.
A few weeks later, news started to surface that accounts selling Nintendo products on Mercado Livre (referred to as ML from now on) were being shut down, in particular, the ones selling the Switch and 3DS. What was thought as a rumor soon turned out to be reality when NC Games explained the reason for that: namely that the law doesn’t allow a person to sell a good that is not officially released on the country, either by the maker or an authorized third party. And while that is not untrue, it has never once stopped someone from buying the new iPhone or the PS4 Pro, even the X One S. There was hope of this meaning that Nintendo was also going to sell the hardware officially, but as of the moment of the writing, that remains a dream.
While I couldn’t find any news regarding a lift on that ban, things are currently normal for the sellers on ML, with people selling the Switch for the more affordable USD$660, but the question of who instigated the ban, NC Games or Nintendo, remains unanswered. Even if the latter is more likely to be responsible, there’s evidence suggesting otherwise (Sources indicate that the Nintendo representatives were the ones to reach out to ML asking for the removal of the accounts, but NC Games is the one making all the announcements and interviews with the media), and so until definitive evidence is presented your guess is as good as mine.
It’s hard to wrap my head around Nintendo’s plan here, if there ever was one to begin with. They come back with expensive games, no local virtual store, a ridiculously small catalog, and then they try to get rid of the only seller of their consoles. Their current position is even worse than the one that made them abandon ship in the first place.
There’s just so much work to be done if they wish to stand a chance in the market, but there is definitely a place for Nintendo here. Just sell the new consoles! Bring the NES/SNES Classic. Stock our stores with Amiibos! Put commercials on TV like in the past! As a small glimmer of hope, right when I was about to publish this, Nintendo’s online services came back to Brazil (less than 48 hours ago), including that Switch app and support to use Brazilian accounts for online features (such as sharing). The EShop is still not available and the whole thing is not localized, but this is a small victory nonetheless.
I said earlier that Nintendo was low on our radar, but that is only because they allowed themselves to get there. That can be reversed. We grew up with Nintendo consoles, we love their franchises, and even if sometimes (okay, most of the time) they are a cruel, clueless mistress, we miss them a lot.
At this rate, I’m expecting to read another sad tweet very soon. I don’t want that. So prove us wrong, Nintendo. Your Brazilian fans are waiting.