The NES Classic and Economics

We anarchists and libertarians are bothered by a great many things, but one of the things that bothers us most–and that is almost universal among anarchists and libertarians–is the general economic ignorance that pervades the United States. We wouldn’t tolerate this ignorance in any other subject, but it serves the state’s purpose to keep us ignorant of economics (the manner by which we turn energy into product), so it’s a field that is touched only briefly–if at all–in high schools. The average American knows only that there’s a thing called “demand” and a thing called “supply,” and then their eyes tend to glaze over and words like “derivatives” and “inflationary tyreni index G7P 14.7” run through their minds.

So, first of all, forget all of that. Forget about GDP, forget about inflationary indexes, and forget about all the shenanigans that we have come to associate with “economics” now that we have given over control of the entire economy to a coalition of privately owned banks that operate with no Congressional oversight. All of that crap is fiction. They are obfuscations designed to confuse us and distract us. They are smokescreens designed to keep us disinterested in the subject, to make us feel ignorant and stupid, and to make us blindly trust in these experts who seem to know what they’re talking about. In reality, they’re just talking nonsense, like this guy:

I’m not kidding. That’s the average state economist. That’s the Fed Chairperson. That’s the Secretary of the Treasury. For the most part, they have just completely made this shit up and invented rules that don’t have anything to do with reality. It’s a game of Monopoly that they’ve invented and tricked us into playing, and they keep us playing by using complicated language and nonsense to convince us that we need them being the game’s referee.

Now, I am not talking about the fact that Nintendo has ceased producing the NES Classic. For those unaware, Nintendo recently released a mini-console for $60, which contained 30 classic NES games like Mega Man 2, Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, and others–even some stupid ones like Balloon Fight that nobody wants. Naturally, the thing sold very well, but Nintendo notoriously has problems with supply and did the same thing with their Amiibos (which are little toys that interact with some of their games). Nintendo repeatedly failed to manufacture enough Amiibos to meet demand, which led to accusations that they were doing it on purpose (in fact, one can conclude nothing else, since they publicly addressed the problem and then did nothing to fix it).

This obviously created scalpers, and scalpers are getting a lot of criticism. Some enterprising individual pops into Wal-Mart, buys an NES Classic for $60, and then posts it on eBay for $100 (or whatever price), pocketing the profit. This is actually a good thing, economically, but it’s a band-aid to the situation. Realistically, Nintendo should be the ones directly increasing the price of the NES Classic, instead of continuing to sell them for $60. In fact, thanks to the scalpers, there is no shortage. Calling this a shortage is economically ignorant and incorrect.

A shortage is when consumers are unable to buy an item.

And there you go. What we have with the NES Classic clearly isn’t a shortage. In economic terms, a shortage exists when Demand exceeds Supply–when more people want to buy a thing, and there aren’t enough of those things to go around. In fact, scalpers have ensured that there isn’t a shortage. Rather than condemning them, we should be thanking them.

The people complaining about a “shortage” don’t really mean that they are unable to buy the item, do they? Clearly, they don’t. What they mean is “I’m not willing to pay that much for one.” This is a critical element of economic understanding: price is not some arbitrary thing. Prices are supposed to increase like this, as the increase in price offsets Demand. Again, this is obvious. Many people were willing to pay $60 for an NES Classic. Fewer people are willing to pay $110 for an NES Classic.

This means that, quite literally, supply exceeds demand, not the other way around. In reality, what we have is a surplus, not a shortage. A shortage exists when demand exceeds supply; a surplus exists when supply exceeds demand. Thanks to the increased price, the supply persists today, and the demand has been lowered.

There is a character in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time who sells Magic Beans to the player, and each purchase increased the cost by 10 rupees. The first costs 10 rupees, the second costs 20 rupees, the third costs 30 rupees, and so on. An increase in price because of high demand is a normal, expected, and beneficial part of economics, as it ensures that we never experience a shortage.

During the 1980s, the United States saw pretty severe gas shortages. Gas stations attempted to raise the price as the supply of gas decreased, but the Federal Government put a Price Ceiling on it and forbade them increasing the price beyond that. So, naturally, everyone immediately set their price at the ceiling (even if they weren’t yet that low on supply). As the cost of something increases, people’s willingness to do it or acquire it decreases, which drives them to seek alternatives. Few people would have been willing to pay $100 for a gallon of gasoline, and so they might have taken that money and bought bicycles instead. Is it ideal? No, the ideal solution is to also increase Supply to re-lower the price, which will be necessary because some people have already chosen to go without because of the increased price. “No, we’re not going to go to grandma’s house this week, not for $20 per gallon. We’ll just not buy the gas at all.”

In the real world, some money is better than no money, and this is why producers can be counted upon to increase supply to meet the demand. Otherwise, they’re just leaving money on the table, and that money will go to someone else. This all has to do with diminishing returns, as well–at a certain point, because all goods are scare and finite, the cost of furnishing the supply gets too high, so the price of the good increases beyond the demand, and producers have to come up with alternative solutions for consumers. This is why we don’t have to actually worry about running out of gasoline: once we get up to $17 a gallon, so many alternatives will be cheaper that gasoline will be phased out all by itself.

While it’s certainly bad to have gasoline at $100 per gallon, especially during the 80s, it’s preferable to not having gasoline available at all. If some family had to take their sick child to the emergency room, it’s infinitely better for them to be able to buy gasoline at $100 a gallon than to not be able to buy it. High prices are always preferred to shortages. Those people out there who really, really want an NES Classic can buy one, which is obviously better than their being totally unable to buy one.

Scalpers have performed the critical service of increasing the Price of the good, which in turn lowered Demand so that Supply exceeded it. I was just talking with someone at Jim Sterling’s website about it, and I’d pointed out that marking the item as “Limited Edition” would have made the “shortage” worse. This was before I’d thought about the situation enough to realize that there isn’t a shortage. Sure, one can’t buy one at Target or Wal-Mart, but one can buy one, and that is unequivocally not the case in a shortage.

The only real point of contention is that the thing costs more than they’re willing to pay. Hey, that’s not a problem. There’s a “shortage” of $10 ones, too, and $10 is my price point for one. Every single person out there has their own price point–has their own amount that they’d be willing to pay. Evidently, for most people that number is around $60. For some people, it’s around $120. For me, it’s around $10. The fact that there aren’t any available at my price point doesn’t mean there is a shortage, though. It means that I don’t want one of the things as much as other people do*. These people who want to buy one for $60 are talking about “shortages,” but there isn’t a shortage–their price point simply isn’t as high as other people, and because of the low supply the price of the good has increased beyond the price point as determined by their personal demand.

So scalpers are good. They have performed the critical function of providing the NES Classic to the diehard fans who want them most, and we can say that pretty definitively, as one’s personal price point is determined almost entirely by one’s own demand. It follows that people willing to pay $110 obviously want one more than someone who is only willing to pay $60 for one. This means objectively and measurably that the scalpers have ensured that people who wanted the NES Classic most were able to acquire one.

It becomes little more than a whine when looked at economically. “I wanted one, but he got it because he wanted it more than I did! It’s not fair! Fucking scalpers!”

But, again, all the scalpers have done is ensure that people who are bigger fans of Nintendo and NES games were able to acquire an NES Classic, while people who weren’t as big fans and didn’t want one as badly as those other people weren’t able to, because they weren’t willing to fork over that much cash for one. I can’t even pretend to think it’s a bad thing that people who are bigger fans of Nintendo are able to purchase a Nintendo product that they want, as opposed to people who aren’t as big of fans being able to acquire the product. Clearly, it doesn’t matter as much to them, and the role of currency is precisely to allow us to measure value. That’s literally what currency does. The USD is a unit of measurement for value, and we use it to gauge how much a person wants something. If Person A wants a thing more than Person B, then Person A will be willing to pay more. If Person B can’t get it because he’s not willing to pay as much as, or more, than Person A, then the good should go to Person A, because Person A measurably wants it more.

I try not to tweet much at Jim Sterling, but I think I’m going to tweet this one at him, because he’s been pretty hard on scalpers in the past, and I don’t think that’s fair. Looked at economically, all they do is separate the Diehard Fans from the Casual Fans and ensure that the Diehard Fans are able to acquire the things that they are Diehard Fans of. I agree that this sucks for the Casual Fans, but that’s a problem of Supply, not the scalpers. It’s Nintendo’s fault that someone went without an NES Classic. The scalpers only ensured that it was the Casual Fans who went without, and that the Diehard fans didn’t have to.

I think that’s a good thing. I think that if Person A is a bigger fan of This Thing than Person B and is willing to pay more for it than Person B, then Person A should be the one who gets it.

* Actually, I don’t think I’d even pay that. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’d want one if it was free.

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Switching Zelda Up

I love Zelda. But you probably know that already, and, if you have followed me for a while, then you also know that I’m exhausted and exasperated by the Zelda series and Nintendo’s lamentable tendency to just keep re-releasing Ocarina of Time with modified dungeons and a different title. I very badly want to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but I simply can’t right now, because I don’t currently own a Wii U, and there is no chance whatsoever that I’m about to go out and buy a Nintendo Switch.

Do You Got the Power?

Nintendo Power used to be an institution of gaming. I don’t know anyone who didn’t have a friend or family member, or themselves, subscribed to the magazine, and for good reason: Nintendo was the gaming company. It’s not hard to navigate to a certain bay of pirates and find the first fifty issues of Nintendo Power and browse them, and I’d highly recommend everyone do it. Something will immediately strike you, though, as you piece together why Nintendo shut down the magazine.

Each issue was filled to the brim with previews and reviews, of course. At one point, Nintendo was running a TopĀ  30 NES games section, and even though most of the top ten were games made by Nintendo, they had more than enough games to on the system to fill a Top 500. In fact, at the end of its life, more than seven hundred titles had been released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, from developers like Capcom, Bethesda, Konami, and others.

The Super Nintendo reached similar acclaim and had more than 700 titles at the end of its life, but then things went awry. Fewer than three hundred titles were released for the Nintendo 64, and a shockingly large chunk of them were first or second party titles. The Gamecube, with more than six hundred titles, at first seems successful–compared to its predecessors, it certainly was. However, this is when gaming really broke into the mainstream, and a whopping 1,850 games landed on its competition, the Sony PlayStation 2. Compared to its competitors, the GameCube was found wanting.

Things only got worse from there, with the Nintendo Wii having a mere 317 exclusive titles. If there’s any reason to continue, the Wii U saw fewer than 300. And, just as was the case with the Wii, the bulk of the Wii U’s library was total bullshit. The GameCube, Wii, and Wii U left no doubt whatsoever that, while Nintendo themselves still made excellent first party games, there simply was not enough third party support to justify purchasing the console. No gamer owned just a Wii, or just a Wii U. Everyone who owned one also owned one of the other two consoles, or a PC.

None of the hit, new games being previewed in Nintendo Power really captured the public’s attention. Players who wanted to read about the latest in RPGs, strategy games, and other genres had to go to a different publication; only players who wanted to read about the new Zelda and Mario continued with Nintendo Power and, let’s face it, there just aren’t enough new Zelda and Mario games to justify a console.

So unsurprisingly the magazine was dropped. The early days of Nintendo Power saw most of its issues filled with talk about third party games. Castlevania 2, Dragon Warrior 2, and so many others. Only rarely was an issue fixed primarily on a first party title, and never was an issue fixed only on a first party title.

The Wii

I made the mistake of buying a Wii. After reaching the second world in New Super Mario Bros., my wife and I were so bored with it that we didn’t anticipate that either of us would ever play it again. In fact, we didn’t. After one night of mandatory bowling and boxing, we took the stupid thing back. Even hacking it didn’t seem very appealing, since we each had a PC capable of running anything we wanted to play.

It wasn’t until the price of the Wii dropped to $40 that I purchased another one, and that was primarily for the purpose of hacking it and playing some of the GameCube games that I still had. It didn’t make sense to try to find a replacement GameCube since the Wii ran them, and I’m pretty sure the Wii was cheaper. Despite my frequent requests, my sister regularly left it on, and it predictably fried the disc drive, exactly as the Wii was prone to doing when left on.

She eventually bought a Wii U, and I borrowed it for a while when she was bored with it, but I never purchased one myself. Mario Kart 8 was a suitable distraction here and there, but it certainly wasn’t enough to command my attention long–just another Mario Kart game, really, with no evolution and only negligible changes to the gameplay. Just as Zelda has been, the Mario Kart series has been stalled since the N64. The only changes have been gimmicks: Oh, now you can have two drivers! Now you can drive upside down!

Nintendo sure loves their gimmicks.

Super Smash Bros. 4 was an enticing and enjoyable game, but extremely lacking in content. I readily admit that I played probably thousands of hours in Smash back on the GameCube, with my wife and friends in Melee, and Nintendo seemed to be under the impression that they could just do that. In fact, it seems they forgot to put an actual game in there. I’d love to play Sm4sh, but… there’s nothing to do.

The HD remaster of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were neat, but I don’t see much of an improvement over the original WW, and I can’t fucking stand Twilight Princess. It is easily the worst Zelda game ever made. I have no idea how anyone can tolerate that trite, inane, and repetitious crap that was little more than a remake of Ocarina of Time in the first place.

Ocarina of Time… Ah, there’s a classic. Except… it isn’t. Because Nintendo won’t let it become a classic, because they won’t let it age. I’m not referring to Ocarina of Time 3D or the Zelda Collector’s Edition or even the GameCube OOT/Master Quest disc. I’m referring to Twilight Princess, which was pretty much exactly the same as Ocarina. I don’t see any noteworthy difference between the two.

The only truly great game that hit the Wii U was Super Mario 3D World, which is an absolute masterpiece of platform gaming. Goddamn, that game is good. I came very close to 100%ing it–and would have, if my sister hadn’t reclaimed the Wii U so that she could sell it for more Lego Dimensions character sets. The only thing I had left to do was beat the first seven worlds with Toad and Luigi, two characters that I never used. I loved that game.

This game is a masterpiece.

The New Zelda

Nintendo would have been crucified if they hadn’t released Breath of the Wild on the Wii U, so I understand their decision to do it. However, that decision is also the reason that I’m not going to buy a Switch. A Nintendo console gets one, maybe two, Zelda games–HD remasters don’t count. I have to commend Nintendo on putting a great deal of time and care into a product, and I’m not saying they need to release more Zelda and Mario games, but I am saying that… it’s not very likely that the Switch is going to get another Zelda game.

The NES received two. The SNS received one. The N64 received two. The GameCube received two. The Wii received one. Oh, yeah. Skyward Sword. I’d forgotten about its miserable existence. It’s also a remake of Ocarina of Time. The Wii U received three, technically, but really just one. Hell, the Wii U came really close to not even getting a new Zelda game, to be honest.

This decision of Nintendo’s–a pro-consumer decision all the way–to release a new Zelda game on two consoles is not good for them. I never owned Twilight Princess on the Wii. I had it on GameCube. Why on Earth would I buy the tedious, motion-control nightmare that was the Wii version? Why would I have bought a Wii to play it, when I could play it on the GameCube?

Today I’m faced with essentially the same decision that I was faced with back then, when I giddily purchased Twilight Princess at Wal-Mart for the GameCube. Goddamn, I was so excited! I couldn’t wait. And then… Ugh. By the time I completed the second dungeon, I was so bored with it that I purchased a strategy guide and just followed its instructions through the rest of the game. In effect, I remember very little about Twilight Princess. I played it on Auto Pilot, following a guide, because it was so extraordinarily boring. I’ve tried several times to replay it, but always get bored before reaching the lake temple. I honestly don’t understand how anyone who has played more than 2 or 3 Zelda games finds any enjoyment whatsoever in Twilight Princess.

Excitement

While I’m probably going to find a Wii U from a pawn shop–I’m on excellent terms with one of them [they’re a client] and can probably get it for less than a hundred books, and I’ve no qualms about trading in a few laptops or something that I have lying around–and am going to get the new Zelda, I’m not particularly excited for it.

I’ve avoided most of the hype and trailers, just as I always do for a game that I’m interested in, but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t leave me particularly excited. Zelder Scrolls sounds more and more appropriate, but learning that it borrowed Assassin’s Creed “climb the tower, reveal the map” shit really lessened my interest, because I know exactly what to expect. A bunch of meaningless collectibles, a set of items that we’ve all seen before, and a meaningless return to the series’ origins.

I’m judging the game before I’ve played it, and off of very little information about it, but that’s the problem. Even if I didn’t have the personal mandate to avoid all spoilers and information, I’m not interested in information about it. I already know what to expect. It’s another Zelda game. It will have Zelda items and Zelda dungeons set in an Assassin’s Creed overworld and with Elder Scrolls type side quests.

I’ve put off the decision to buy a new graphics card in favor of buying a Wii U, but it’s not really the new Zelda that I’m most excited about–it’s Super Mario 3D World that I’m looking forward to. In fact, it may be a few weeks before I even buy the new Zelda game. It just doesn’t seem appealing, and very few people have more experience and history with the Zelda series than I do.

People are raving about it, and lunatics are criticizing reviewers for only giving it a 9/10. Predictably, some people are saying that Ocarina of Time has finally been dethroned. By a paint-by-numbers Zelda game with an Assassin’s Creed overworld. I’m going to play the game, and these criticisms of it aren’t even fair since I haven’t, but, again, that’s the point. These people praised Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Final Fantasy XIII received extremely high scores, and it’s also one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning got a 7 in Game Informer. These same people are giving the new Zelda a 9 and 10. It doesn’t mean anything to me, because they watched the latest superhero movie and came all over themselves, even though it was exactly like every other superhero movie. So I don’t exactly trust their ability to recognize crap when they’re consuming it.

I should be excited. It’s a new Zelda game! Unlike JP in Grandma’s Boy, I didn’t beat The Legend of Zelda before I could walk, but I had beaten it before I entered kindergarten. This is a series I’ve been playing my entire life. It may even be my favorite series. Other than some of the handheld titles, I’ve never missed one of them, and never failed to get one near its release day. Even Twilight Princess had me excited.

But this?

It’s just “Oh, look. They made another one.”