Things That Really Matter #6: Analyzing the NES and its competitors

Hey, I know what you’re thinking: “Please stop posting about video games.  You bore me.  And you are stupid.”  But I ask you this – what would Tony Meier do?

So here it is, the history of the Nintendo systems of the past.

nintendo entertainment system console 

NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (aka Nintendo Family Computer)                                              Released: 1983 (USA release 1985)

The 1981 release of Donkey Kong in arcades was the beginning of Nintendo’s ascension to greatness and the 1983 release of the Family Computer console in Japan was completion.  The Famicom, as it came to be known, was the first Japanese console to be released and was actually a very advanced machine for its release time.  It was much more powerful than the machines that were available on the US market at the time (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Intellivision, Colecovision).  Unfortunately, the US video game market was in an incredible recession caused largely by quality control issues and Nintendo was not prepared to enter those murky and costly waters. 

A couple of years later, the recession became a great depression, having killed off the 5200 and the Colecovision and sending the Intellivision to the Intensive Care Unit.  With so little in the way of competition, Nintendo decided to test the waters by contacting Atari.  Yes, that’s right.  The great NES was quite close to being released in the US as an Atari machine.  Thankfully, Atari got their panties twisted up and left the deal, ensuring their incredibly slow but sure descent into console obscurity. 

Nintendo decided to go it alone but by 1985 found that stores were still unwilling to carry video game consoles.  So Nintendo decided to sell the market their system as a toy.  First, they completely redesigned the shell of the console so that it bore a passing resemblence to a VCR, a very popular product at the time.  Every NES was packaged with a light gun AND with R.O.B. the robot, a dumbass toy robot that could kind of help you play a couple of games.  The plan worked – the package was a big hit in its test market of NYC.  Soon the NES was released nationally and R.O.B. was dropped from the package.  Shipping with each NES was an incredible game: Super Mario Bros.  This game was, of course, a phenomenon and blah blah blah.

Nintendo adopted a release strategy that is now the norm in the industry – licensing out releases to 3rd party companies, addressing the issue that killed Atari, Mattel and Coleco.  YOU SEE, as it turned out, there was nothing patentable in the Atari 2600.  As such, ANYBODY could release their own 2600 games and release them any way they wanted.  So there was a huge market of crappy and sometimes offensive games from garbage companies.  Nintendo developed and published their own games just like Atari but they also allowed other companies to release games for the NES – with Nintendo’s permission. 

The NES was so popular in the US that it basically had a monopoly and companies were falling over themselves to release games for it.  To further assure quality control, Nintendo of America restricted each publisher to 5 games a year.  NOA also enforced very strict censorship and forbade basically any material that could offend anyone’s religion.  Finally, in order to cement their near monopoly status, they created a rule that no game released for a Nintendo system could be released for a competitor’s system.  What became of this rule?  Find out in a future post omg!

So the NES ruled the roost and had an absolute ton of great games for it – all exclusives thanks to monopolistic polices. 


SEGA actually test marketed a system called the SG-1000 in 1981, two years before the Famicom was released.  For some reason they decided to basically sit on the system and only released it commercially after the Famicom became an instant hit in Japan.  The SG-1000 failed to make an impact and SEGA rushed to release a follow-up in 1985, known as the Mark III.  This machine used the SG-1000 frame and bulked it up in every way.  What resulted was a system with superior graphics compared to the NES. 

SEGA decided to go global with their new system and released it abroad as the MASTER SYSTEM.  It failed to make much of an impact in the US but it was a sizeable hit in Europe.  Yep!  The Master System was the NES of Europe.  For some reason, Nintendo made very little effort to establish itself in that region, leaving it wide open for SEGA to take over.  Unfortunately, Nintendo’s policies still really hurt the Master System’s library in my sensational opinion.  Even though it was somewhat successful, I don’t really think the system is worth tracking down as I have difficulty coming up with a solid top ten list for it.

Meanwhile, back in 1984, Atari built a new system known as the 7800 but, like SEGA with the SG-1000, test marketed it and sat on it.  After the massive US success of the NES in 1985, Atari released the 7800 in 1986.  Even though it was last out of the gate the 7800 was crappier than the NES and Master System and failed to make an impact.

atari 7800 system

So, clearly, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the system to own of its generation.  It wasn’t the most powerful but it had by far the best library.  The Master System was more powerful but had a poor library while the Atari 7800 was crappy and had a small, garbage library.


One response to “Things That Really Matter #6: Analyzing the NES and its competitors

  1. this is the only video game post i’ve cared about…
    keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s