Game consoles are always evolving, and what you’re using today will most likely be outdated by next year. It’s pretty much how the cycle goes every year. A new model comes out during the holidays, which then coexists with the older one for a year or so. Then, before you know it, the new console replaces the older one and becomes the current offering, only to be eventually replaced by a newer model.
But, that’s exactly what keeps gaming alive. You have console manufacturers churning out new and improved products, while third-party game providers do exactly the same with titles. In fact, it was this very system that saved gaming in America after the Video Game Crash of 1983.
You see, gaming had reached a saturation point in the 80s, thanks to too many inexperienced developers in the market. To make a long story short, there was just too much junk out there and the bubble eventually burst.
Japanese gaming brand Nintendo had been observing the chaos that was consuming the American gaming market. This was around the same time that their Famicom (Family Computer) console was being successfully sold in Japan. Of course, Nintendo saw an opportunity in the chaos and decided that bringing the Famicom to America would be a good move. However, the company knew there would be some work to do before the move could actually be made. So, they set out developing a few strategies to ensure that they would be met with success.
The Famicom was the first console to use interchangeable cartridges, an innovative approach at the time. The console came with attached controllers and a top-loading port that could take in 3×5-inch cartridges. However, things didn’t go as smoothly as Nintendo expected. There were obviously a few hiccups along the way. But, by 1985, Nintendo had finally come out with the perfect console for the American market. It was the NES or Nintendo Entertainment System, the console we all came to know and adore as young gamers.
More than just a good product
The NES was a breath of fresh air. But, it wasn’t just the console that turned things around. Nintendo’s branding approach had a lot to do with it. The company managed to convince the American buyer that the NES was more than just a console; that it was an entertainment system that ran on “game paks” instead of cartridges. The console was also designed to have a mature appearance in order to appeal to older consumers. Then, Nintendo included accessories such as R.O.B the robot that convinced parents the NES was meant for more than just gaming. There were 18 game titles that came with the NES and their respective packaging artwork lived up to the actual graphics of the games, unlike that of the Atari 2600, whose cartridge packs came with exaggerated images.
The finishing moves
But, Nintendo’s greatest move was how it handled third-party developers. Anybody who wanted to make games for NES had to sign an agreement that limited the number of games to two a year. This helped prevent saturation and the production of low-quality games that had caused the industry to fail previously. Plus, developers who worked for NES could only do so for Nintendo. They were contractually disallowed from working for other brands. The restrictions were accepted by most developers because there was nothing that could compete with the NES fanbase at the time. Nintendo simply dominated gaming. Nintendo also made sure they weren’t being given junk.
The company made use of their 10NES lockout hardware, which was basically a chip in the cartridge that was verified by another chip in the console. So, essentially, only games certified by Nintendo could be used on the console. So, that’s how the NES played a key role in resurrecting the American gaming industry – through careful private regulation and innovation.