The art of reboot

NES Classic

If there’s one lesson to take away from the successful reboot of the NES Classic gaming console and the Nokia 3310 mobile phone in recent months, it’s that a well-planned infusion of nostalgia is a recipe for success. The former, released in November 2016, has already sold a whopping 1.5 million units, and the latter, announced at the Mobile World Congress 2017 and planned to be made available in Q2, managed to steal the thunder from the flagships presented by the likes of Samsung, Sony, LG and Motorola.

But why would people turn away their attention from high-end devices to the resurrection of a 17-year-old feature phone and a 32-year-old gaming console?

Here’s what the NES Classic and the Nokia 3310 relaunch teach us about successful reboots.

The right dose of nostalgia and distraction

The NES, released in 1985, triggered a new era in the gaming industry and is deemed the most successful gaming console in history. To people like me, the relaunch brought back to life old childhood memories.

I had the same feeling as iJustine in this video when I saw the remake of the NES, the console that changed my life. I’ve been away from gaming for so long that I’ve forgotten that my initial decision to become a software engineer was to make games, a decision that was largely inspired by my fascination with the NES.

For the younger generation who have grown up to the tune of modern Internet-connected consoles, it will be a welcomed distraction that will provide them with a window to the stone age and a chance to get a taste of how their predecessors made history (and probably laugh at us while having fun playing the games).

As for the 3310, Nokia’s GSM mobile phone became one of the most iconic devices of the phone maker, selling over 126 million units since its release in 2000. Its reboot was a reminder of days where phones were simpler and less of a distraction, not constantly disturbing you with emails and app notifications, and not requiring constant battery recharges.

It’s now ten years since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and changed the mobile phone industry forever. After what seems like an age of tight competition over bigger screens and higher specs, a return to a good old classic seemed like a welcomed respite.

A distraction, not a replacement

Don’t expect consumers to throw away their XBox One in favor of the NES Classic. Neither should you think the 3310 reboot to compete with any of the cutting edge handsets that are leading the market.

So you can buy an NES Classic, play with it a few days (or weeks maybe) and put it aside and get back to your PlayStation 4. The same goes for the 3310: You buy one for a short trip, have fun with it for a few days while you’re on vacation, and then you come back home to your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.

And that’s what makes them a success. As mentioned earlier, a reboot should be a distraction, a reprieve from the norm, not a replacement. They should not conflict with critical functions and technologies we use to carry out daily life and business.

Therefore, for instance, a reboot of MS Office 1.0 would be a terrible idea, because it would hamper your work, though a reboot of its skin might work.

Nokia 3310

The right combination of past and present

Both the NES Classic and the Nokia 3310 reboot were a near replication of their original products. But at the same time they integrated enough new technology to enhance the experience while not breaking from the traditional look and feel.

The Nokia 3310 rebooted handset stayed true to the overall original design, though a bit slimmer and rounder in line with current trends in smartphones. The bundled software is also a revamp of what the original device offer, and the popular Snake game surely looks nicer while offering the same fun experience. No hi-res camera, no 4G internet or WiFi connection, no frills, no super additions. Just pure nostalgia, a la future.

The NES Classic was a super small replica of the original console, fitting in the palm of your hand. The buttons and controller feel exactly like their original counterparts. The video output is HDMI to fit with current tech and offers different display modes to enable gamers to adjust the balance between classic and up-to-date experience.

Good price

Again, extrapolating from the “distraction” argument, reboots shouldn’t require a hefty investment on the part of the buyer. The original NES, bundled with Mario Bros, was $100 in 1985. The NES Classic, bundled with 30 games, is $60, making it two bucks a game, a good bargain.

The original Nokia 3310 was circa $160. The reboot is more like $50, more than a burner phone but way less than a smartphone. Again, it’s an amount that most users can spare for something that won’t become a permanent part of your daily life and will be used for the duration of a trip.

Perfect timing

Nintendo released its tiny console right before the holiday shopping season, when consumers are more inclined to buy new products. And consumer electronics sales figures during the holiday shopping season have been steadily on the rise in the past years, which made the timing even more opportune.

Frankly I think given the success, a reboot of the NES would’ve worked at any time, and its $90 million sales is testament to the fact. But Nintendo released the Classic in time to get the gaming crowd all Nintendo-ee before the launch of its new Switch console.

The 3310 announcement was also well-thought, in time for the biggest mobile event of the year, a perfect PR stunt. How much the handset will sell and what Nokia plans to build upon its success is yet to be seen though.

What’s your perfect reboot

Reboots don’t always work. But the well-planned ones can certainly bring a dead company back to life (Nokia is about to find out how true this theory is). What are the ingredients for a perfect reboot? What would you like to see brought back from the pages of history? Share with us in the comments section.

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