The game industry was a very different place back in the early 80's, teetering just on the edge of extinction. Market saturation and poor quality games were major contributing factors to this, leading many to believe that video games were just another passing fad that would vanish as quickly as they appeared. It got to the point where Atari literally buried all of its surplus stock of consoles and ET game cartridges in a hole in New Mexico. Just when it seemed that video games were truly going to disappear, a little grey console called the Nintendo Entertainment System launched and gave the industry a much needed shot in the arm.
Masayuki Uemura – one of the lead designers of the NES – recently gave a lecture at New York University on the conditions that led up to the console's arrival in North America. He started out by talking about the Famicom and the struggles Nintendo went through just to get the console released in their homeland. Companies didn't want to manufacture the primary graphics chip Nintendo needed and many thought it was absurd that Nintendo wanted a dedicated sound chip. At the time, sound chips were deemed unnecessary due to the noisiness of arcades, but Nintendo insisted that one be included because the Famicom would be played in a quieter environment. The console failed to meet sales expectations in Japan, but this opened the door to it being released in North America.
The strong success of Donkey Kong and other arcade games got Nintendo a foot in the door and primed audiences to be more receptive to a home console system. To make the system more attractive, the cartridge slot was designed to be frontloading, so as to distance the NES from earlier consoles - like Atari - and to resemble VHS players that were extremely popular at the time. The light zapper was bundled with every console due to the notion that Americans love guns. Finally, the console was called the Nintendo Entertainment System, so it wouldn't be initially perceived as a video game console.
R.O.B. was another major contributing factor to the console's success, as many consumers saw it as a key innovation that was an improvement the NES was making over its precursors. It also was a great way for Nintendo to stealthily market the NES as a novelty toy rather than a console. Japanese executives were taken by surprise by how well R.O.B. was received, as one of the launch games that he was to be played with – Gyromite - was received rather poorly by Japanese gamers.
What do you think? Where would the industry be today if it weren't for the NES? What was your favorite NES game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks to Benson for the tip