The Nintendo Switch is officially the best-selling console today, beating out its more graphically advanced but more expensive competitors from Microsoft and Sony. Yet many Nintendo fans are pining after a much less advanced but harder-to-find console: the 16-bit SNES Classic.
The console is the second reboot from Nintendo of a classic console. Last year it released the NES Classic for $60. The SNES Classic retails for $80. Yet both have sold for hundreds of dollars from resellers on sites like eBay, tapping into what some are referring to as the “nostalgia economy.”
In October, behavioral economist Ben Ho published an article about the nostalgia economy in Quartz. He attributes many parts of the modern economy to nostalgia, including popular movie properties like Marvel films, Star Wars and Jurassic Park.
There’s nothing new about using old intellectual property for new gains. Journalist Chris Anderson wrote a book on it called “The Long Tail.” The book delves into how the internet has enabled consumers to more easily find less popular content that they have an interest in, which once again makes that content profitable for publishers and distributors.
The difference today is the magnitude of success that some IP finds in a contemporary market. Marvel is seeing immense success in Hollywood, but it might not be fair to attribute that completely to nostalgia. Comic book properties have waxed and waned in popularity over the decades. Marvel has more recently been able to turn lesser-known properties like “Guardians of the Galaxy” into huge hits at the cinema.
Some new content certainly seems like a pure appeal to nostalgia. There probably aren’t many children today looking forward to the next season of “Fuller House.”
The Nintendo classic consoles also seem to fit into this category. Kids already have access to new consoles with new Mario and Zelda games. Are any of them really clamoring to play the 8-bit originals? If they are, it’s probably on the suggestion of their parents.
This kind of nostalgia economy has proven profitable even for makers and entrepreneurs not associated with the companies that own the IP. One popular DIY project involves software called RetroPie.
RetroPie is a Linux-based operating system for the Raspberry Pi that integrates popular console emulators and supports USB controllers in the style of the originals. There are even Raspberry Pi cases designed to look like old consoles. There is no practical reason for not going with a cheaper case that works just as well, so the nostalgia kick from these designs is clearly real.
The nostalgia economy reached the Startup Launchpad show this year when 52pi exhibited its Raspberry Pi gaming kits, complete with retro-style cases and accessories. These included cases designed to look like the NES and an arcade console.
Licensing IP that already has a fan base can clearly be profitable for a startup. This isn’t always related to nostalgia, though. Sphero’s BB-8 robot was based on a Star Wars droid from 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” No one is nostalgic about BB-8.
There are ways to make money off nostalgia without licensing IP, though. This can be seen with 52pi, but also with anything that mimics a style that reminds people of a simpler time. Consider 8-bit-style art or images in the style of 80s rock posters, as Marvel Studios did with the “Thor: Ragnarok” posters.
Memories of a better past that never really existed are always waiting to be exploited. If you go down this path, though, use your powers responsibly. Also, it’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.
Perhaps it will inspire you.
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