The Nintendo Entertainment System was an 8 bit video game console originally released in Japan and called the Family Computer (Famicom) during 1983, it was released in the North American market in 1985, in Europe in 1986, and in Australia in 1987. The NES was the most popular and best selling video game console of the third generation and still holds a sweet spot in the hearts of many gamers yet today. In addition to being a top selling console of the industry the NES also served to help to American video game market recover from its crash during 1983 and in doing so became the new standard by which future consoles would come to be judged. In addition to assisting the American video game market to recover following 1983 the console paved the way to the industry standard of licensing third parties to develop games for consoles which often included clauses about when games can be released on a competing system. Another important fact about this console is that during 2009 IGN rated it the best console of all time in their list of 25 in part due to its incredible game library, its impact on the video game market, and its incredibly high number of units sold.
Development of the NES:
The NES was originally designed by Masayuki Uemura and was called the GameCom but was eventually changed to Famicom after a suggestion from Uemura’s wife. The Famicom was began its development in the 80’s and was designed as a cartridge based console but there was also consideration of it being built as a full fledged computer complete with a keyboard. The full computer considerations of the Famicom were eventually axed by Hiroshi Yamauchi in order to reduce production costs and to avoid scaring off less technologically inclined consumers. The original cartridges were expected to be the same size as a cassette tape, however as we know the actual cartridges turned out to be a bit larger because of the large number of connecting pins in order to help remove previous faulty connection problems. These advanced connectors were created by Nintendo rather than another third party. Another change from the early plans on the NES was switch from a joystick to a four directional pad due to questions of durability. Although the final controllers which were hard wired to the NES console due to cost reduction Nintendo did include a port to allow the use of a joystick if the player desired. Other features included an eject button for the game cartridge slot as well as a microphone on some controllers which had been planned to playback the players voices through the television.
The Famicom (Family Computer) was released during 1983 with three ports of the successful arcade games Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. The initial release was plagued by a faulty chip which spurred a recall and the introduction of a superior motherboard that allowed the console to quickly become the most popular game console on the market in Japan. After having such success in Japan Nintendo attempted to release their console in the U.S. and have it marketed by Atari as the Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System. Unfortunately for Atari these talks never amounted to an agreement and Nintendo decided to release the console on their own. By 1985 the Famicom had sold 2.5 million units in Japan and plans to release the console in the U.S. that year had been announced. When the console launched in the U.S. there were ten titles also released including 10 Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Duck Hunt, Donkey Kong Jr., Math, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider, Pinball, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew, and Super Mario Brothers. Though the console was scheduled for release in 1985 the actual release was pushed back for test marketing in New York city making the actual release come in early 1986. In order to help overcome the problems of the 1983 market crash Nintendo consoles clearly showed the game graphics, the genre of games, and their components came with a seal of authenticity and quality which read “This seal is your assurance that Nintendo has approved and guaranteed the quality of this product”. This seal was later changed to “Official Seal of Nintendo Quality” and to help insure this standard was held the console included a10NES lockout chip which deterred unlicensed versions of their games and accessories being created by third parties. The NES was primarily marketed to children and due to this Nintendo of America enforced a very strict content censorship on inappropriate material in games which had not been present in Japan. When the NES was released in the U.S. there were several package options to choose from which came at different costs. The different available packages included the Deluxe Set which was sold for $199.99 and included R.O.B. , a light zapper, two controllers, and the games Gyromite and Duck Hunt. The next set down was called The Control Deck and was initially sold for $89.99 and included no games and two controllers, however it was later switched to $99.99 and included Super Mario Brothers. The Action set was released in 1988 and came for $149.99 and included two controllers, a light zapper, and the games Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers. Another package was released in 1989 and was called the Power Set and included two controllers, a NES Zapper, a Power Pad controller, and the games World Class Track Meet, Super Mario Brothers, and Duck Hunt. In 1990 Nintendo released a package that was called the Sports Set. The Sports Set included a NES Satellite infrared wireless multitap adapter, four controllers, the Super Spike Volleyball/Nintendo World Cup game pak. In addition to these packages Nintendo released two more, the Challenger Set which came with two controllers and Super Mario Brothers 3 for $89.99 in 1990, and the Basic Set which came with just two controllers and a book called the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide for $49.99. Later the console would undergo a redesign and one final package release including the NES-101 console, one redesigned “dogbone” controller and was sold for $49.99 during 1993 until its discontinuation in 1995.
Although the NES did not perform very well outside of the U.S. and Japan the NES was still the most highly selling console in video game history. The NES even used the slogan “It Can’t Be Beaten” in a variety of advertisements. By the time 1990 rolled around however the console began to falter against the superior 16bit systems including Nintendo’s own Super Nintendo Entertainment System marking the end of the console’s dominance in the market. The console was discontinued in the U.S. in 1995 and in Japan in 2003.
Legacy of the Nintendo Entertainment System:
The NES/Famicom was the longest produced video game console to date with a production spanning 20 years before its discontinuation. The NES not only revitalized the nearly dead video game market of the U.S. but it also changed the relationship between console manufacturers and third party developers restricting the distribution of software without licensed approval. The NES was not only successful from a sales point but also innovative from a hardware perspective. The consoles front loading cartridge slot, and new controller design using a four directional pad made it stand out from other consoles of the time. Many famous game franchises were also started on the NES which continue today including Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest.
Third Party Licensing:
Nintendo saw huge success with the NES due to strict licensing agreements which allowed them to restrict the games which were released for other consoles if the game was released on the NES first. Using these agreements NES was able to control the games available for their competition and similar agreements would be used by all future console developers. To help prevent unlicensed copies of games being released nearly every console came with a 10NES authentication chip and Nintendo used an official seal of quality to ensure that their quality expectations were met. Due to the strict control of cartridge production Nintendo led to the FCC suing the company for violation of anti-trust laws.
Due to the success of the NES console in the U.S. many video stores began to purchase copies of the games in order to rent like they did with movies. Nintendo did eventually try to restrict the rentals when the sued Blockbuster but lost the suit only preventing the rental stores to rent the game instruction booklets. This practice became so successful that it continues today with services such as GameFly which operates similarly to Netflix by mailing subscribers copies of games in the mail.
The controllers for the NES was rectangular and included an A button, a B button, a start button, a select button, and a four directional game pad. The early model controllers for the Famicom used square button but this was changed due to the buttons getting stuck in the case, the early models were also hardwired into the console which would be changed with later releases. In addition to the standard controllers Nintendo also released a light zapper gun and a Power Pad floor mat similar to the ones used later in Dance Dance Revolution, and the R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) which was used to help attract children to the console. In addition to these controllers Nintendo also released turbo controllers called the NES Advantage and the NES Max which had turbo settings which allowed one button tap to represent multiple button taps for shooting games.
- The Famicom Turns 30 Today. Share Your NES Memories Here. (kotaku.com)
- How The NES Saved Video Games (arstechnica.com)
- Nintendo celebrates 30th anniversary of first console release (wjla.com)
- Nintendo in Crisis (hypercritical.co)
- Iwata Says He Doesn’t Think Nintendo Is Suffering (mynintendonews.com)
- Taking Steps (totallyimmersedblog.wordpress.com)
- [30 Years of the NES] The Nintendo Turns 30 Today, Feel Old Yet? (intomobile.com)
- Happy Birthday Nintendo Famicom! (nerdlikeyou.com)
- Nintendo’s Famicom turns 30: a look back at the console that saved gaming (engadget.com)