It's a popular perception that NES swept all before it when it was released, dominating sales and 8-bit popular culture in the late 1980s. While that's probably true in North America and Japan, Nintendo's debut home console actually had a slow and rather unsuccessful start in the UK, with distribution via Mattel not bringing significant success. The reliance on third-party distributors wasn't going particularly well.
The situation did improve once distributor San Serif, which had also owned rights to Nintendo since 1980, took over UK distribution and made a particularly clever marketing move. Former SEGA CEO, Mike Hayes, was working for San Serif at the time and has explained (via edge-online.com) how bundling a famous franchise with the system changed NES, and Nintendo, momentum in the UK.
Nintendo at the time was a failing brand, treated as a toy by Mattel and never really securing the phenomenal success that it had enjoyed in Japan and North America. Dusty boxes of the NES Deluxe Edition would languish on the shelves of the only major stockist, Boots the chemist - which is quite hard to believe in hindsight. What I learned from an early stage however was that while a good product would sell regardless, a good product marketed excellently would sell brilliantly. Lady Fortune was around at the time in the shape of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (the word Ninja was banned in the UK). Against Nintendo of America’s wishes we bundled the Nintendo Entertainment System with Konami’s TNHT and created the Mutant Machine. Sales soared 2,000 per cent in the Christmas of 1990 and Nintendo was established successfully in the UK market. We overtook the Master System as the number one console, then launched Game Boy (on a budget of no more than £200,000) and dominated the handheld sector, seeing off the Atari Lynx and Sega's Game Gear.
SNES launched in April 1992 but we thought that being on shelves a year after Sega’s Mega Drive launched would be a hard marketing challenge, and it was. However, great titles were produced and proved to be extremely popular. Among them was Super Street Fighter II from Capcom which we sold at an incredible retail price of £64.99! Consider that development costs were a fraction of today’s behemoths - no wonder Nintendo was the golden chalice.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hero Turtles in the UK, was an enormously successful franchise, and perhaps this shows an early example of the 'games sell systems' philosophy in the industry. Also, considering we occasionally complain about game prices nowadays, perhaps the idea of titles such as Super Street Fighter II selling for £64.99, in the early 1990s, provides some context.
Did you buy the Mutant Machine back in the day?