Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Classic Gaming: Now you're playing with power!
Since it’s “Retro Month” here at The Thought Corner I figured I would tackle a topic that is loved by millions of people all around the world, this topic is about something that everyone knows and loves and thanks to companies who never let their roots dry out it’s something we will probably never see die, I’m talking about retro gaming and ladies & gentlemen: “Now you’re playing with power!”.
Retro gaming remains huge to this day, if you search the web you will find hundreds of web sites and dozens of forums dedicated to the hobby and if you are familiar with downloading games via the current generation of hardware then you will see hundreds of classic titles available from the market, it’s a passion that just won’t die and personally, I’m glad it never will. Retro gaming is such a big hit because so many people grew up with classic systems like the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Colecovision, Intellivision and the Sega Master System, all of which combine for an outstanding 3,000+ games to discover and enjoy, and today’s gamers are finding classics for the first time and are finding out why the medium has become so popular by experiencing the classics first hand. It’s a hobby that has grown rapidly over the past 10+ years, and even though I could spend forever going on and on about systems of days past I’ve decided that I’m going to put a primary focus on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short, due to it‘s historical significance and mark it‘s left on the industry that is still felt today. The history of the NES goes way back to mid 1983 when Japan released the console as the Famicom and began gaining popularity with it‘s then arcade like quality, the system was a success and Nintendo knew that they wanted to find a home for their system in the United States but at the time the U.S was going through a video game backlash which has become known as “the crash”. The crash was caused due to high price points for games that lacked quality, Intelivision was all but insignificant by the end of 1983, as was the Colecovision, Atari’s VCS (2600) was spending millions of dollars on licenses that never went anywhere and they were being blasted by critics and fans for the lack of quality titles being released. Before long the gaming industry was in complete shambles and on the brink of death, there was no market for Nintendo‘s machine and had they tried to release it at that period of time then the face of gaming in the U.S would have most likely been different because Nintendo would have failed. Instead, the big “N” waited patiently until the sting of the crash subsided and people were over what had happened in 1983/1984, the company began releasing more and more arcade games at the time despite the fact that the arcade business was collapsing under itself as well, it was just a way to get their name out there as a viable video game company and to see if the games resonated with arcade goers.
In 1985 Nintendo decided to market it’s video game system to retail partners but instead of calling it a video gaming machine they made sure to refer to it as a interactive home device, as if it was something high end that you would find in a home next to a VCR or a stereo system, but unfortunately Nintendo was having trouble finding retail partners and the project was almost dead before it was given life. In a last ditch effort to find a market for the NES in the United States the President of Nintendo of America, Minoru Arakawa, offered retailers in New York and Los Angelas a deal that they couldn’t refuse. Basically, he told retailers that he would send in a team of people to the stores to assemble displays for the Nintendo Entertainment System and that he would supply the television monitors that would display the games for the customers, the inventory would be delivered by Nintendo themselves and any remaining systems that were not sold would be purchased back by Nintendo as a “thank you” for giving the company a chance. A deal like this was a no brainer for retailers, even though they were skeptical to carry any kind of video games thanks to the “crash” of a couple years back they had nothing to lose and found themselves in a win-win situation. As Minoru Arakawa had suspected, the NES did will in it's limited release and it was time for Nintendo to launch the machine throughout the entire country, before long the NES had captured the hearts of family's from coast to coast thanks to the pack-in game called Super Mario Bros, a side scrolling platformer that featured the legendary Mario & Luigi combination.
Nintendo began releasing other arcade hits for the NES in 1985 and 1986, some of which were their own titles and others being ports of previous arcade hits, but 1987 was the true breakout year for the console due to a slew of quality games hitting store shelves, one of which being The Legend of Zelda. Nintendo aggressively signed third party publishers during this period to create games for the NES and by Christmas of 1988 the company had over 150 games on store shelves and have already established successful franchises with their Mario Bros and Zelda games, Nintendo was in full domination mode and the company was steamrolling Sega's Master System and Atari's 7800 Pro System, outselling the latter by a ratio of 5/1. Sales were strong for the next couple of years and Nintendo had sold million upon millions of systems thanks to an army of software publishers who were churning out hit after hit for the NES, but 1990 brought the video gaming world the best selling non-pack in game of all-time, that game was Super Mario Bros 3 and Nintendo had gone on to achieve the impossible. The video game crash of the early 80's was all but forgotten and Nintendo had become the gold standard for video game excellence all over the world, a survey in 1990 proved that when millions of kids in the United States recognized Mario more so than they did Micky Mouse (Disney's cultural Icon). Nintendo's core characters were everywhere and merchandise like t-shirts, sticker books, action figures, lunch boxes, and posters were found all over major retail outlets, Nintendo had created an empire and played a major role in bringing video games into the mainstream which almost rivaled the popularity of television and movies, if it wasn't for that single promise by Arakawa to his retail partners then video games may not be enjoying the success that they do today.
As the 90's rolled along and Sega released their 16-bit Genesis, Nintendo knew that they had to upgrade their hardware to compete since Sega was quickly gaining market share and actually surpassed Nintendo in late 1991 (Nintendo would come back in 1993), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was born and support for the 8-bit wonder was beginning to dwindle down. As the SNES began to gain popularity and big games were being released in 1993, Nintendo decided to re-release the NES with a different design and with different controllers, eventually the original NES would see it's last true non-homebrew game released in Q2 of 1994 and about a year later the Nintendo Entertainment System was officially discontinued. To this day the NES remains one of the most influential and sought out video game systems for retro enthusiasts all around the world, it's roots are so strong that franchises that were created for the console back in the 80's are still going strong today and Nintendo continues to find ways to bring their classic games to the mass market through their online markets for both the Wii and DS systems. With support like that, how can one argue that retro gaming would ever die? Simple, it wont.
Reach for the stars and enjoy the ride.
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