While I’m officially ‘retired’, I figure I can still frame an accurate context that the Game Industry appears unable or unwilling to do especially concerning Nintendo. This is addressing Gamasutra’s terrible Nintendo article.
Perhaps it is mean for me to say that it is ‘terrible’. Shouldn’t I be nicer? I’m just tired of people getting basic history wrong especially from the Game Industry.
The Rosetta Stone to the Wii is the NES. The reason why no one saw the Wii revolution coming is because each and everyone of those people, including professional analysts, did not understand why the NES and even the Atari Era were successful. When the Wii came out, everyone was using a PlayStation context of video games.
Give history some credit. If everyone understood Nintendo or the NES as they said, then there wouldn’t be so many mistakes including coming from Nintendo.
The result surely saved the video game retail market in the West, and for that gift anyone who makes a living or a pastime from video games owes Nintendo its gratitude. But this bailout came with a price.
The author is misusing the word ‘bailout’. Nintendo bailed no one out. And video games were healthy post 1983 in personal computers and in arcades. What encouraged NOA to press ahead and release the NES was the healthy arcade market.
In order to avoid the dilemma the Atari Era had, Nintendo made the NES a closed platform with a lockout chip. You had to go through Nintendo in order put out a game on Nintendo’s system. After putting up a massive risk on the hardware (and it truly was risky), Nintendo wanted to ensure control. We don’t think of this today because every console maker afterward has copied the NES model.
However, my favorite part of the NES model was Nintendo restricting game companies to releasing only five games a year. Five games a year may sound like many today, but in those times it was much easier and faster to make games. Nintendo was forcing game companies to focus on long term profitability instead of short term profitability (have five games sell as much or more than many, many games). Instead of much of the Atari Era crap, game quality skyrocketed. PC gaming could not compete with the NES with how damn good the NES games were. At first, game companies ported over their arcade games to the NES and then fully fleshed out original games today we call classics.
It also changed games, reducing them to a children’s medium sold in toy departments and toy stores, rather than a burgeoning form capable of many different uses and experiences.
And this is where the article unravels. The NES was not considered a children’s toy. Not in its earlier years. The article writer is confusing R.O.B. and the marketing of the NES as a ‘toy’ instead of a game console to retailers as if the market was tricked. They were not. The market knew that the NES was video games and not toys. The only purpose of R.O.B. was just to prove that the NES was a viable product to retailers. Once it was, R.O.B. disappeared (because he was expensive to make), and the NES just grew and grew and grew.
Any child from the NES era will remember lusting at the luxurious pages of the Sears Christmas Catalog for the NES games. The NES was everywhere and certainly not only locked up in toystores. Electronic stores also carried the NES.
Above: This is the Sears catalog selling the original Atari 2600. Every gaming historian should recognize why Sears has a special relationship to video games. The sporting goods store of Sears was the only company that took a chance on selling that infernal video game console called ‘PONG’. Since then, Sears and Atari had a close relationship. Nintendo copied Sears in their ‘store within a store’ with the NES.
Above: This was during the glory period of the NES. Look at the prices. The software was expensive at $50. However, the hardware (the Action Set that had Super Mario Brothers / Duck Hunt which everyone remembers) was only $100! I distinctly remember the hardware being cheap but the games not (which is why I mostly rented and borrowed games throughout the NES/SNES eras.
Above: Another Sears catalog entry with it placing the NES in a 70′s style wooden table! hahaha. It says ‘fun for the whole family’. NES only being in toy stores and for kids my ass. Oh, and look at Rad Racer. It isn’t just Rad Racer, it is 3d Rad Racer (Rad Racer came with 3d glasses and a 3d mode). This 3d junk is as old as ever.
Above: It takes me back seeing these 20+ year old titles have ‘New’ written beside them. The actual reason why so many people get nostalgic about this time period of video games has actually nothing to do with childhood (though many NES kids look at this time as their childhood). In this time period, video games were special. Computers had not saturated society yet. A video game was a very big deal back then, a very special event. Do you know how much $50 then is today inflation adjusted?
The most simple way to look at the NES customer is to divide it into three groups. You have the older adults, the kids/teenagers, and the girls. When the NES first came out, it had the kids/teenagers as well as older adults. Who do you think played all those early NES sports games? Why do you think those early NES sports games were the inspiration behind Wii Sports? Who do you think were the true fans of Tetris? It was older adults. These older adults did cross over and play Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda as well.
Then something happened. As the NES era went on, the games became vastly more complicated and sophisticated. Gone were the simplicity of the earlier days. There is a HUGE difference between Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers 3. What happened is that as games got more and more complicated and complex, Nintendo lost the older adults. The kids/teenagers were eating all this up. The kids/teenagers were also the ones with time on their hands to learn the sophistication of these games. They didn’t have to work for a living.
The rise of girls playing came as a surprise to everyone. As kids/teenagers moved on to other systems, they gave their NES to their kid sisters. Also, sisters would watch their brothers play. It is why the latter era of the NES library was populated by the rise of girl games such as ‘Cinderella’ that came out in 1994.
Remember at E3 2006 and other public appearances when Iwata talked about ‘restarting the skill line’ of video games which is what the new control mechanism was supposed to be. The Wii had Wii Sports which was inspired by the NES sports games. And the new motion controls was to reset the skill ratio of gamers and to allow the older adults who were part of the NES and Gameboy revolution (remember Tetris came with the Gameboy, Tetris was the Wii Sports before Wii Sports). Nintendo wasn’t aiming for the Xbox 360/PS3 crowd with the Wii. It was aiming at the Atari Era and NES crowd which included older adults.
This is why the article writer is so wrong to write that the NES was a ‘kid’s machine’. No, it wasn’t. Or that the Wii was remarkably different than the NES. No, it wasn’t. The Wii was trying to EMULATE the Atari and NES Eras. Want further proof? Look at the advertising. The Atari and NES era advertising didn’t show the games, they showed people playing the games and enjoying themselves.
Let’s return to the article. He then says:
The earliest NES games represented familiar genres: mostly sports (10-Yard Fight, Excitebike, Golf) and fantasy adventure (Super Mario Bros., Clu Clu Land, Hogan’s Alley), along with the curious puzzle games made to work with R.O.B. (Gyromite and Stack-Up).
By contrast, in the leading up to the 1983 crash, players could find Atari games that took up the rodeo (Stampede), aeronautic acrobatics (Barnstorming), tax strategy (Tax Avoiders), masturbation (Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em), advertisement (Kool-Aid Man) — even adaptations of raunchy, R-rated movies (Porky’s). In the 1970s and early 1980s, games were made for adults as often as they were made for kids — played in bars and bowling alleys as frequently as arcades and basements. Video games might have been new, but they weren’t immature.
Video games on the NES WEREN’T MADE FOR ADULTS!? What is this guy smoking? Did he forget about Tetris, Dr. Mario, Final Fantasy 1, Dragon Warrior (1, 2, 3, 4), the Ultima games (3, 4, 5), Shadowgate, Adventures of Lolo (1,2,3), Manic’s Mansion (there was a NES port), North vs. South (a strategy game) among others? Kids did not play those games (except for a few like Dragon Warrior that came with Nintendo Power). Dr. Mario has been and still is a housewife phenomenon.
The older adults, including the Wii Sports type gamers, were represented on the NES. When games went 16-bit, the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo lost that audience due to the stupid ‘console war’ as they fought over teenagers and kids.
Before Nintendo came around to rescue video games, the industry was well on its way to becoming just the sort of general-purpose mass medium today’s developers and critics like to think they are inventing anew. Ironically, many of those creators are too young to know what came before, and thus see themselves as saviors contributing to a long-withheld maturity, not realizing that such effort is only necessary thanks to their childhood video game idol.
Wrong. The game consoles becoming a ‘kid thing’ was due to the Console War that Sega started. Nintendo was selling to older adults left and right with both the NES and the Gameboy. Older adults loved the Gameboy with Tetris (and several other games like *gasp* sports games! And a 2d Mario game).
The article writer might have lived through that time period, but it is clear he hasn’t bothered to research anything or else this wouldn’t be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
A similar self-contradiction can be found in Nintendo’s own success. In the 25 years ending in 1985, Nintendo went from an obscure licensor to a major entertainment company with its own intellectual property. But those properties – Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and so on — remained yoked to toy culture. They are children’s characters and children’s games that have persisted long enough that the children who first bought them have become adults with their own children. Thus Nintendo’s reputation: wholesome, yet juvenile. Profitable, but harmless. Pop culture, not art.
Not during the NES Era they weren’t. They were brand new at the time. They became more of a cultural icon in the latter NES era with the cartoons, cereal, and pajamas… which was the arena of the kids.
It amazes me how the author totally ignores the Tetris phenomenon. It’s not like that was a hit game or anything. It’s not like it established the console handheld or anything. And who bought all that Tetris? It wasn’t kids.
Meanwhile, thanks to the advent of the first-person shooter and the Sony PlayStation, video games became an adolescent’s distraction more than a kiddie toy — something like the statistical average of the 1970s bar and the 1980s basement.
What in the world is this guy talking about? PC games were never a children’s domain because children could not afford expensive computers or understand how to manipulate the machines to run the games.
Playing PC games on a game console doesn’t show ‘maturation’. It shows that greater accessibility (i.e. casualization) of the PC game machine (which is what the PlayStation is) was the path to go in order to get growth.
The true gamers looked at the PlayStation and laughed at the absurdity of it. It was nothing but a dumbed down PC playing watered down PC games. If you wanted the true gaming experience, you got a PC and did PC gaming right. Thanks to the long length of this console generation, more and more people are ‘waking up’ and realizing that the Xbox and PlayStation are just sad excuses of dumbed down PC gaming.
There were PC games on the NES too, you know. Shadowgate, Archon, M.U.L.E., the Ultimas, Manic Mansion, etc. But according to the author, that doesn’t make the NES ‘mature’. Yet, PC games on the PlayStation somehow makes the PlayStation ‘mature’.
The Wii wasn’t so much a “revolution” in interaction design, to invoke the platform’s famous code name, as it was a return to prior ideas: the television as hearth, accessible and appealing family or group play, quick game sessions, lower-cost hardware — all ideas Atari had addressed in the late 1970s.
This is correct… AND THE NES AS WELL. Nintendo is a Japanese company who released the Famicom in 1983… certainly not Atari’s best year. Nintendo doesn’t understand the culture and history of the Atari Era as we do. Nintendo designed the Wii from the context of the NES. Nintendo, especially NCL, is not very familiar with the Atari phenomenon.
What did Famicom mean but Family Computer in Japan? The NES and the Atari Era were not very different. Remember, there was no console war yet. That only came with Sega in the 16-bit generation. It was then that gaming ceased to grow as a medium because all the energy was about winning ‘console war’ and not expanding gaming.
Folks, it has taken me this much just to go through the idiot’s first page of his article. The rest of the piece, he talks about the Wii U (which I will do later on). I am addressing that by not understanding the NES, he doesn’t understand why the Wii was successful. The NES was most definitely a console older adults played. The inspiration of Wii Sports came from the NES sports games.
Currently, the Game Industry is suffering a meltdown with everything in decline. Video games are rapidly becoming commodities. I looked up the bio on this guy, and it said he was a distinguished ‘Video game philosopher’ and teacher. God help us. I have no doubt now that the Industry will melt down and, more importantly, deserves to melt down.