Why did the NES do so well in the US

Reserved for classic gaming discussions.
jon
Posts: 599
Joined: April 9th, 2015, 4:30 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby jon » May 7th, 2015, 5:36 pm

It's really interesting to hear about the PC market back then as I only started getting into it in like 1988. From what I do remember, I feel like PC gaming in the early 90s was a lot better than the SNES/Genesis. Front Page Sports series and Doom, Indy 500 series, just to name a few absolutely smoked what the craptastic 16 bitters (save the Neo Geo) was putting out. And yet PC's were not even in the same galaxy popularity wise as the overrated consoles.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 2440
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby scotland » May 7th, 2015, 7:29 pm

jon wrote:It's really interesting to hear about the PC market back then as I only started getting into it in like 1988...yet PC's were not even in the same galaxy popularity wise as the...consoles.


I can say its also interesting to get viewpoints of people who grew up both earlier and later than I did. The earlier people into computers include the hobbyists, while later groups all had their experiences I may not fully appreciate, like the heydays of Street Fight II or Pokemon.

For me, PC is a term co-opted by IBM in the 80s, and PC compatible became the de facto business standard. The earlier more consumer oriented computers I group as family computers. You brought up Doom though, and thats a discussion in itself. We should do a Doom themed week on the forums someday.

The 'not in the same galaxy popularity wise as the consoles' remark may a factor in the rise of the NES over its family computer competition.

User avatar
ptdebate
Posts: 1071
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 8:39 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby ptdebate » May 7th, 2015, 7:50 pm

scotland wrote:
eraserhead wrote: NES was $200 at launch, just like 2600 and every Nintendo console until Wii. That might be a key factor.

As for computers, then as now, there were too many variables. A console, you buy and any game made for it just works. No quality control barrier to the platform. No supporting marketing juggernaut.


Commodore computers were as cheap or cheaper than the NES, so price is not the answer...although the misconception of price could be.

The computers were not that variable within a line. No one did much more than wire in pause and reset buttons. The added complexity over a console could be as little as typing in a load and run statement. It was not like modern PC games with configuration options. Load tape or disk program into memory and run program. So simple even caveman could do it.

Quality control in games could be lacking, but like mobile games today, when a game is freeware or shareware and its poor, its okay. Other times awesome games came your way that way. Even games I bought retail were pretty cheap, while the memory of high cost cartridge duds was a lasting bitter pill.

So was America just sold on the NES from better marketing?


I actually didn't realize the C64 was that cheap, but I'd wager that most people didn't think of Commodore computers as serious productivity machines, so the analogy with modern computers might get lost in the comparison.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 2440
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby scotland » May 7th, 2015, 9:45 pm

ptdebate wrote: I actually didn't realize the C64 was that cheap, but I'd wager that most people didn't think of Commodore computers as serious productivity machines, so the analogy with modern computers might get lost in the comparison.


Here is a quote from a history of Commodore:
Tramiel knew that the way to beat the Japanese at their own game was to produce a product at a price they could not compete with. The Japanese tactic was to watch carefully while an electronic device was introduced, first at a high price and later at a lower price as the market grew. Once the ground was broken by others, and the quantities being sold were sufficient to support mass production, a Japanese company could then enter the market with an excellent product at much lower price. Tramiel's strategy was to introduce a new product at the lowest price possible right from the start. He could then capture the market before anyone else could get in and compete. Once the competition matched his low price, he could cut prices even lower since he would have already achieved large-scale mass production.


So, why didn't this work? Nintendo did exactly what Tramiel predicted a Japanese company in the 80s would do. The VIC 20, named for the video chip and the C64 should have provided competition in the mid 80s. A problem may have been that the low price was from a destructive price war. Rebates and discounts were common; great for buyers like me, not so great for retailers or manufacturers. It destroyed Texas Instruments home computer business. Yet Commodore had still made money. Then Tramiel left Commodore, and their fortunes fell. Had he stayed on, maybe Commodore would have competed strongly with Nintendo...

As for productivity, it was just so early. There were games of course, but also educational, music, graphics, speech, text editors, database and various utility software. The IBM PC focused on spreadsheet, word processing, and database applications for business. Since those things quickly proved useful, that probably did hamper Commodore. The oddity is that this should have given Commodore a reputation as being for fun and games, precisely what could have competed with Nintendo. Commodore also purchase Amiga, a relatively affordable system (compared to IBM or Apple) that also focused on creativity like music and graphics applications over productivity, but it was not very successful either.

User avatar
Gentlegamer
Posts: 519
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 1:01 am

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby Gentlegamer » May 8th, 2015, 2:31 am

scotland wrote:
ptdebate wrote: I actually didn't realize the C64 was that cheap, but I'd wager that most people didn't think of Commodore computers as serious productivity machines, so the analogy with modern computers might get lost in the comparison.


Here is a quote from a history of Commodore:
Tramiel knew that the way to beat the Japanese at their own game was to produce a product at a price they could not compete with. The Japanese tactic was to watch carefully while an electronic device was introduced, first at a high price and later at a lower price as the market grew. Once the ground was broken by others, and the quantities being sold were sufficient to support mass production, a Japanese company could then enter the market with an excellent product at much lower price. Tramiel's strategy was to introduce a new product at the lowest price possible right from the start. He could then capture the market before anyone else could get in and compete. Once the competition matched his low price, he could cut prices even lower since he would have already achieved large-scale mass production.


So, why didn't this work? Nintendo did exactly what Tramiel predicted a Japanese company in the 80s would do.


Nintendo did no such thing. Atari had left a giant smoking crater as the remnant of the video game market that had all the feeling of a fad whose bubble had burst. Video games were retail poison, no stores would purchase them.

Seriously, find a copy of Game Over by David Sheff if you want documentation of the herculean task Nintendo faced introducing the NES in the mid 80s.

I would actually opine that the pre-crash home computers were actually participants in the crash, in that like with the face of video games Atari, there was no effective way to police fly-by-night publishers and devs from releasing sub-shovelware quality games to cash in on the video game fad.

And while I'm a fan of the C=64, it can't compare as a gaming machine with the NES. Do you really find it hard to believe that purpose built dedicated video game machines were more successful than home computers for video gaming? Even the great Amiga that came later couldn't compete in gaming features with Genesis, with which it shared CPUs, like C=64 with NES.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 2440
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby scotland » May 8th, 2015, 6:16 am

You cannot say that the home computers were both niche and participants in the crash. Its one or the other.

Nintendo did do what Tramiel predicted to a large extent, having a mass market Asian product in the famicom ready for the US market, the only difference being a retail perception of gaming as a fad due to the crash. The success of the NES is evidence that gaming was not a fad, as was the success of the famicom in the East. Nintendo had less to rebuild a market, since the consumer appetite was still there, but rebuild retailer confidence.

Since some gaming machines, like the 5200, are just stripped down computers, yes, the computers can certainly compare to the gaming machines. The famicom itself, ie, the family computer, was also a stripped down design of computer tech of the time. Reducing specs increased relability and complexity and decreased costs, but it did not make better gaming specs. Systems like the Commodore 64 had gaming hardware like sound, graphics, color and sprite hardware that a business computer would not have invested in.

I am a fan of the NES, and the library has games that ate legendary to us gamers. However, the market share Nintendo held led them to some dirty policies and higer prices which stronger competiton might have avoided. So, I can be a fan of the NES, Nintendo, the library but still be puzzled at why Commodore or another company failed (and they did fail, I am not disputing that) to be a competitor.

You keep mentio ing Game Over. I will put it on my reading wish list, but co sider a hypothetical. What if Commodore had done what Nintendo did in New York? Was it simply that Nintendo, a japanese company, understood how to rebuild American retailer confidence better than either Atari or Commodore, both American companies? Thats an interesting answer, marketing savvy, its just not a satisfying one from the view of product, price, librontroller, consumer taste, etc. Its like a movie doing well at the box office, or winning an oscar, because of the strength of the marketing campaign. That happens, but its not what you want to happen.

Sut
Posts: 840
Joined: April 8th, 2015, 4:23 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby Sut » May 8th, 2015, 6:37 am

Gentlegamer wrote:I would actually opine that the pre-crash home computers were actually participants in the crash, in that like with the face of video games Atari, there was no effective way to police fly-by-night publishers and devs from releasing sub-shovelware quality games to cash in on the video game fad.

And while I'm a fan of the C=64, it can't compare as a gaming machine with the NES. Do you really find it hard to believe that purpose built dedicated video game machines were more successful than home computers for video gaming? Even the great Amiga that came later couldn't compete in gaming features with Genesis, with which it shared CPUs, like C=64 with NES.


Which is all fine, but why didn't that happen in Europe ? Which is one of Scotland's opening points.

The Amiga sold 3.8 million units in Europe compared to a paltry 700,000 in NA. The NES sold 3.5 million in Europe. The UK Spectrum was a cheap entry point gaming home computer. But the C64 also did very well in Europe both systems and the subsequent ST and Amiga computers had game libraries vastly larger in number to the NES so the amount of software didn't cause a crash in Europe - why ?
So same question to you. Do you find it so hard to believe relatively underpowered and possibly more expensive home computers were more successful than dedicated video game consoles ? (In Europe).
It's easy to take the American-centric and well documented video game crash as gospel but the reality is that NA is one third of the worlds gamers. The question remains why NA ? Why the NES and not an American Spectrum or Amiga ?

eraserhead
Posts: 17
Joined: April 16th, 2015, 1:45 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby eraserhead » May 8th, 2015, 10:26 am

scotland wrote:Commodore computers were as cheap or cheaper than the NES, so price is not the answer...although the misconception of price could be.

Well I was only responding to your statement about consoles that cost "several hundred dollars".

scotland wrote:The computers were not that variable within a line.

In part I disagree and in part that's not what I meant. As I wrote elsewhere: "Take the Macintosh, Macintosh 512k, Macintosh Plus...they look almost the same but had different capabilities." And just because a game runs on one doesn't guarantee the others. I had multiple games growing up that loaded just fine, but were written for slower CPUs, so they were impossibly fast on my 386.

Meanwhile the disks for a Mac looked the same as the disks for an IBM looked the same as the disks for a C64 etc. Computers had some of the iconic stature as consoles but not all of it. The NES looks awesome. Some home computers do, some don't. Some have a built-in screen and some connect to your TV. In any case this variety of platforms and brands hobbles market penetration.

scotland wrote:Load tape or disk program into memory and run program. So simple even caveman could do it.

Not as simple as insert cartridge, press power. Plus the keyboard is unwieldy compared to a controller. Yes there were some controllers available for computers, of course there were, here we get into that variety problem again.

That makes me think of another barrier for computers--the user/player often sits at a desk right in front of the screen. Whereas with a console, it's most likely in the living room, six feet away from the player, it's way more social. Sure, my brother and I played Mortal Kombat on DOS (me using the left side of the keyboard and him using the right) but we spent many, many more hours playing even single-player Nintendo games together. And if we could have had a console with Mortal Kombat, that would have been far preferable.

scotland wrote:Quality control in games could be lacking, but like mobile games today, when a game is freeware or shareware and its poor, its okay. Other times awesome games came your way that way.

The important of the Seal of Quality cannot be understated. We kids only paid a little attention to it, but you've got to look at the whole landscape. Yeah, there's great DOS games. But there are many more that are bad, or ripoffs or clones, etc. Mobile games are an apt comparison...they suck! I have killed some time with many of them, and they have never been able to hold my attention like a decent console game. In fact, frustration with their mediocrity is part of what drove me back to consoles.

scotland wrote:So was America just sold on the NES from better marketing?

That's what I've been saying...
Did the 7800 have us Playing with Power? Did the Commodore make your whole house blast off like a rocket ship? Hell no!

eraserhead
Posts: 17
Joined: April 16th, 2015, 1:45 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby eraserhead » May 8th, 2015, 10:29 am

Here is some more reading you may find interesting.

It's hard to convey now since Mario is such an entrenched part of our culture, but at the time, SMB was so supremely weird compared to its videogame contemporaries. The ability to shrink and grow and find secrets and scroll the screen and finish a level rather than looping over the same screen seemed mind-bogglingly magical at the time. Months later, when I found out I could play that same game at home on the NES, I knew I had to have it.


...many of the creative decisions that defined the NES were driven by technical considerations that were in turn shaped by business needs — basically, that none of these factors existed in a vacuum, and all of these things affected the other.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 2440
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Why did the NES do so well in the US

Postby scotland » May 8th, 2015, 11:18 am

I appreciate the earnestness of the discussion. I do want to say I like the NES, paricularly games like Legend of Zelda or Bionic Commado, and I am not trying to denigrate the system or the company. So thanks to all for being respectful and tolerant.

Its that we have three parallel gaming worlds in North America, Japan and the East, and Western Europe. Japan I can leave as just being different and possibly very protective of japanese companies, but why the stark difference in N.A. and Europe?

I expect one company to do better, say the Spectrum over a Commodore, in one place. We see it today in the PS4 and the XboxOne. Yet at least they are the same kind of machine. In the US a console beat out computers, where in Europe it did not.

Marketing? Okay, I except that, but thats of limited appeal as far as the legacy of the NES goes. If Game of War is popular because of Kate Upton, it still is not the best reason to celebrate game of war.

Mario? Okay, but lots of games were creative, looked better, etc. Europe did not go all gaga for the plumber.

Price? Okay, but we all know those cartridges at Toys R Us were expensive.

Simplicity? Okay, a console is simpler, but over the next few years PCs bloomed in US households and were vastly more diverse and complicatated. Besides, computers were in schools throughout the 80s. Parents in Europe bought their kids computers, why not American parents?

Everything affected each other? Okay, so its complicated. Lots of things are complicated, but you list out the factors and rank them. Which is factor number one?


Return to “Classic Gaming”