Nintendo Almost Caused a Riot When They Released the SNES

Image credit: Evan-Amos

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES to all you cool kids, was the second home video game console released by Nintendo. Despite the impressive sales of the console’s daddy, dubbed the NES, Nintendo only shipped a conservative 300,000 SNES’s to Japan for the console’s launch, which went about as well you’d expect when 3 million people wanted one.

If you’re not grasping how small of a number “300,000” units is in the grand scheme of things, Nintendo eventually ended up selling almost 50 million of these things over the course of the console’s life cycle. For comparison sake, Nintendo’s previous console effort before the SNES, the NES (short for: Nintendo Entertainment System) has shipped over 60 million units. What we’re trying to say is that Nintendo is a company with more money in the bank than the guy who does God’s taxes to the point that today, the company could theoretically lose a million dollars a day for 50 fucking years straight.

Moving back to the SNES, when the console was released in Japan in 1990, the 300,000 units Nintendo had set aside for its first shipment sold out within about an hour. These things were so popular that you literally couldn’t buy one 4 hours after it was first made available for sale. But Nintendo didn’t just make the mistake of underestimating how popular their console was going to be by only shipping 300,000 units when they had at least 1.5 million pre-orders, they doubly fucked up by telling the public that there were only 300,000 SNES consoles in the whole of Japan, effectively causing a mass panic when it dawned on customers that there were only enough consoles in the entire country for 20% of the people who’d already fucking paid for one, let alone the people hoping to just walk into a store and buy one off the shelf.

only letting 300,000 people play this game would be considered a crime today.
Only letting 300,000 people play this game would be considered a crime today.

Customers, terrified at the thought of not being able to get their hands on the hottest thing to land in Japan since un-pixelated pornography, bum-rushed every electronics store in the country with fistfuls of yen and hope. The rush practically ground Tokyo, one of the busiest cities on Earth, to a halt as tens of thousands of customers, many of which had driven to the city specifically to get their hands on a SNES fought to get one. It’s at this point we’d like to point out that the console was released on a Wednesday, meaning thousands of the people fighting to get the console had missed work to do so. This ended up costing the Japanese economy a couple of million dollars and probably caused at least few arguments when husbands who’d taken the day off work to get a SNES came home without one smelling like the aftermath of a fistfight.

After the dust settled and thousands of irate shoppers left store owners and workers to clean up after the busiest day of their lives, the Japanese government decided something needed to be done to prevent this from ever happening again. Which they did by politely requesting that Nintendo and indeed every video game company wishing to sell a console in Japan agreed to only do so on a weekend. While this wasn’t an official request by any means, Nintendo has honored it and then some with practically every major release of a Nintendo product taking place on a Sunday. However, they still apparently suck the absolute fat one at making enough of a product to satisfy demand. Something we say because the company literally had to tell customers not to buy a mini version of the SNES from scalpers after rumors began circulating that they hadn’t made enough earlier this year.