Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NES Replay: 1986

And on the seventh day, Nintendo rested.

For eight months after the NES launch, no new games came out. For a modern console, this would be suicide. Why didn't it kill the NES?

As mentioned before, one of the things that nearly killed the North American video game market was the glut of low-quality games that deluged consumers from all sides. Sure, good games were still being made, but it took a lot of time to pick through them and find the good ones.

Still, though, good games were being made. Why didn't Nintendo just release more good games? After all, today we like having lots of choices. If anyone tried telling us that we couldn't have as many choices for our own good, we would freak out.

What's the difference between the 80's and today? We like choice nowadays because of all the resources we have to tell us what choices are good and bad. Are you not certain if the movie you want to watch is any good? Look at Rotten Tomatoes! Look at IMDB! Look up reviews on Amazon! Read one of the thousands of reviews on Metacritic! Ask people on forums!

At the time, however, there were only magazines, newspapers and word-of-mouth. The Internet was but a glimmer in Tim Berners-Lee's eye, and mass media ruled the day. Video games were barely mentioned in mass media unless they were huge, like Pac-Man or Space Invaders. That made it difficult to decide what was good and what wasn't, so having too many choices was overwhelming.

Nintendo also waited to make more games because the NES was far from a sure thing. The North American console market was dead in 1985. Nintendo wasn't going to pump money and resources into something if it wasn't going to be profitable.

So, what Nintendo did to counteract that is let word-of-mouth build. They released a bunch of games, let players decide what they wanted to see more of, and then let the players tell each other about the games.

What did players want more of? It was obvious: They wanted Mario.

Super Mario Bros. was a runaway hit. By the time the NES finished its run, Super Mario Bros. sold 40 million copies. Let's put that in perspective:

If you set all the purchased cartridges of Super Mario Bros. side to side, you would reach from Los Angeles to New York with 500 miles of cartridges to spare. If you stacked all of the purchased Super Mario Bros. cartridges on top of each other, you would have a pile 473 miles high, meaning you would have Super Mario Bros. cartridges in low earth orbit. If you attached the cartridges end-to-end and dug a hole into the center of the Earth, you would reach the inner molten core.

With that sort of success, Nintendo got the message loud and clear. They stopped making games for R.O.B. They mostly stopped making light gun games. Sports games became few and far between unless they had Mario in them. They were no longer going to make "gritty" games, just well-made ones with bright colors.

It would have been all too easy for Nintendo to rush another Mario game into production just to get more cash, or maybe become a Mario-only company. Yet, to their credit, Nintendo didn't. They knew they couldn't ride Mario forever, so they had to diversify. The next batch of games would prove that.

Other companies started waking up to this new world as well. While many companies were initially afraid to rejoin the console fray after the disaster of 1983, the runaway success of the NES was too hard to ignore. The first batch of third-party for the NES games came out in 1986, and the rest was history.

Notable Events In 1986:

January - The space shuttle Challenger explodes.
February - Jean-Claude Duvalier flees Haiti.
March - Microsoft holds its IPO.
April - Chernobyl.
July - The Statue of Liberty is reopened to the public.
September - Desmond Tutu becomes archbishop in South Africa.
November - Mike Tyson becomes world heavyweight champion.

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