News Article

Meet The Man Who Brought Nintendo To America

Posted by Damien McFerran

Howard Phillips' amazing journey from warehouse to boardroom

Although it's hard to imagine it now, Nintendo wasn't always a dead cert in North America. Back in the early '80s, before the company had launched the super-successful NES system in the States, it was just one of many Japanese coin-op manufacturers attempting to muscle in on the flagging US arcade industry.

Then Donkey Kong happened, and overnight Nintendo became the hottest ticket in video gaming.

One man who has a unique perspective on this defining moment in the company's history is Howard Phillips. Employed by Nintendo to handle the shipping of new arcade units freshly arrived from Japan, he would eventually rise up through the ranks to become one of the most influential figures in the industry, even going as far as to use his expertise to decide which games were released on the NES in North America.

Speaking to Kotaku, Phillips had this to say about the early days of Nintendo of America:

In the early ‘80s Nintendo was a small company (6 staff in the USA!) trying to develop its historically weak arcade business in the US and I was hired by a school friend to manage the warehouse and shipping. I really love games of all types so every day was really fun.

Then Mr. Miyamoto designed the arcade hit Donkey Kong which got things rolling and made me, at 24, the largest volume shipping manager for the entire Port of Seattle, having over 100 40' shipping containers full of games arrive every day and needing to be shipped out by late in the night. My personal record for unloading 11,000lbs of 44 arcade games using a hand-truck was around 9min 30 seconds – I was pretty proud until my skinny assistant Duane bested me by more than 30 seconds.

Elsewhere in the interview, Phillips recounts his reasons for leaving Nintendo in 1991. Interestingly, he was also heavily involved with the inception of Nintendo Power magazine - which recently closed its doors. It's a fascinating read, so be sure to check it out.

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User Comments (21)



NintyMan said:

I thank that man for bringing back the video game industry once again after the terrible crash of 1983. At first glance, you wouldn't think a game like Donkey Kong would sell. I mean, what exactly is a "Donkey Kong" anyway? But it pulled through, and Nintendo finally saved the industry in the states and started a lasting impact.

If Phillips really was involved in the start of Nintendo Power, that just goes to show how big of a disappointment the end of the magazine is. It was started by big minds like him, but while many dispute that the quality turned down after 2007, I think it's always been entertaining at least. It might not have comics anymore, but I still enjoy reading the magazine.



Lunapplebloom said:

Cool! Sadly, I didn't even really know this guy existed till now, and to learn he helped to make the Nintendo Power magazine as well speaks volumes. He sounds like he was a hard worker and very enthusiastic about what he did. No wonder he was one of the head honchos eventually. Thanks Philips.



hYdeks said:

hey it's NESTER!!!! Yup, I remember him, and yay, he brought Nintendo to the masses over here. I keep hoping Reggie can do the same as he did with making Nintendo popular, but than Nintendo didn't have to deal with competition at that time lol



Tasuki said:

For me Howard WAS the spokesperson for Nintendo. IMO no one can top him not even Reggie.

I remember flipping to the Howard and Nester comics every time I got a new NP those were the days. I say they should bring back Howard and Nester to give NP a proper send off.



Raghav said:

I love you but Japan still has more games can you tell them to bring those games to North America please.



Capt_N said:

Youtube's "transcribe audio" always makes things interesting, & often hilarious.

Seems like a nice guy. Man, the good ol' days of calling your friends by phone to tell them you found the secret warp whistle in SMB3.

Edit: @1:01 you can make out a nice small handful of Nes titles on the wall. Looks like Excitebike, Fester's Quest, Super Mario Bros / & 2, Golf, Pipe Dream, Pinball, Hogan's Alley, etc.



Marakuto said:

I watched this back in early 2010, he was such a great help and he is now working with Epic Games subdivision - Chair Entertainment.



shinpichu said:

I thought Donkey Kong happened because Nintendo needed to repurpose unwanted Radar Scope machines that had been shipped to the US.



Rapadash6 said:

For the record, Reggie doesn't hold a candle to Phillips. In everything he did for Nintendo, you could tell it was out of love. He clearly enjoyed the products his company was selling, interacting with the fans of those products, and representing the culture that had been created from it all. He wasn't just a corporate figurehead towing the company line; he was himself a dedicated fan, and it was a huge loss to Nintendo when he left in the early 90s. While I feel the software coming from the company is better than ever, the image of Nintendo has declined drastically in recent times. While Reggie is cool in his own, "executive with a fake interest in games" kind of way, he is not doing enough to make Nintendo relevant in the same way.



Neram said:

Considering how important this guy apparently was, I'm surprised I've never heard of him.



Spoony_Tech said:

I remember him very well. He was the face of Nintendo here in American before we even heard of anyone from Japan. I remember getting my first Nintendo news letter at the time and thought that was cool. Then I couldn't wait to get it every quarter I believe. I remember my mom putting my first nes on layaway way back in 84. I remember the first 35$ game at the time was castlevaina and my mom was not happy with the price. I remember the Legend of Zelda gold cartridge and playing that for the first time. So many great memories and now my love fest is over!



Capt_N said:

@Tech101: I almost thoroughly remember stores selling games for generally $35-44 tops, $50 for a high-tech game, &/or one that came w/ a peripheral like Mario Paint($56.00 I believe).

@Neram: I don't think he was a name you'd be too familiar w/, unless you were old enough to have been in the know (particularly about Nintendo), in the mid-late 80's. I'm an example of this, since I was born in the mid-80's. Aside from playing Nintendo, I didn't really get into following Nintendo news, & updates until the mid-90's, & then it was just upcoming games, & few various other smaller things. I only started getting into (the) greater video game (industry) news around the late 90's-early 2000's.

@Rapadash6: I, too feel that unfortunately, Nintendo has lost some of it's good image. I don't think Reggie will act/be more enthused, until his superiors decide the security of his job hinges on his enthusiasm. Granted, this is a/n (retro) interview, but Phillips did seem legitimately interested in playing the games, & "having fun".



grumblegrumble said:

Wasn't it Howard Phillips who had cartoons in the early days in Nintendo Fun Club News and in the early issues of Nintendo Power? I remember those as a kid, he was featured prominently in Fun Club News (every issue) and in the first year or so of NP. It's sad that magazine is expiring in just a few short months ;/

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