The video game market of today wouldn’t exist without Nintendo. In the mid-1980s, they weathered the storm when the console market imploded by focusing on quality over quantity. The Nintendo Seal of Approval meant something to gamers – it meant that the game they were buying was at least playable – something Atari proved was harder than anyone imagined when they released E.T.
Still, Nintendo isn’t without fault. Like any company looking to stay ahead of the competition, they’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. What mistakes, you ask? Here, to help you feel better about the poor decisions of your own past (we know you had a rattail, Jim), are five of Nintendo’s biggest muck-ups.
The Virtual Boy
Released in 1995, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was set to be a huge success. At least, that’s what Nintendo thought. Despite the headset being uncomfortable and only being able to show graphics in red, the company was sure that players would rush to buy the $180 torture device. Nintendo was confident that in Japan alone they would sell 14 million units in the first year.
Critics and gamers alike found the Virtual Boy wanting. The red graphics of the 22 games released on the system were great if you wanted to give yourself a terrible headache in less than five minutes, but beyond that, the machine was pretty useless. Nintendo shut down production of the Virtual Boy in 1996, selling less than 800,000 units.
To this day, the Virtual Boy is used as a reminder to the industry that hubris will catch up to you.
It may not be fair to call R.O.B. a failure. While the Robotic Operating Buddy never took off the way Nintendo was hoping, it has less to do with R.O.B. itself and more to do with Super Mario Bros.
In 1983, the North American video game market crashed, going from an industry that brought in $3.2 billion a year to just under $100 million. 1983 just happened to be the year Nintendo decided to get into the console game, releasing the Famicom in Japan. The system was met with a plague of problems, including a bad chipset that caused the console to crash often. Nintendo stuck it out, fixed the issues with the Famicom, and soon enough they were the biggest console in Japan.
In 1985, Nintendo was ready to try out the Famicom in North America. Calling the console the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short, part of the plan was to downplay that their game console was a game console. That really is a courageous move when all your product can do is play games.
To help make parents think the NES wasn’t just a game console, Nintendo introduced R.O.B. The thinking was that R.O.B. would class up the NES and make it appeal to vendors like Toys R Us. Turns out, R.O.B. wasn’t needed. What ended up making the NES a must-have item was Super Mario Bros.
In the end, just two games were made for R.O.B.
The Wii U
When Nintendo first announced the Wii, many in the industry laughed. The system’s graphics were inferior to that of the XBox 360 and PS3, its online abilities were basically non-existent, and the controller would never work with your average game.
Gamers and families disagreed with the industry, and the Wii sold over a hundred million units, making it one of the best selling consoles of all time.
Hubris being what it is, Nintendo decided to follow the same path as the Wii by releasing the Wii U just six years later. The Wii U still couldn’t compete with the Xbox 360 or PS3 when it came to graphics, and with the Xbox One and PS4 just around the corner, Nintendo’s new console looked ancient in comparison. The cost of the Wii U was also a blunder – the Wii was priced at just $250 when it was released, and by 2012 it was far cheaper. The Wii U, with graphics closer to the Wii than the newer systems, was released at $300.
Production of the Wii U was halted in 2017 after the system sold less than 14 million units worldwide.
There’s no denying that the Nintendo Power Glove is the coolest looking game accessory ever made. There’s also no denying that it was a piece of junk.
Making things worse for the Power Glove was the way it was introduced to the world. In the not-at-all-good Fred Savage movie The Wizard, Savage is trying to win a video game competition at any cost, and his main rival Lucas Barton wears the Power Glove. As if having the bad guy of the movie wear the product you’re trying to sell wasn’t a bad enough idea, Barton also has the poorly thought out dialogue “I love the Power Glove! It’s so bad!”
The Power Glove was discontinued a year later, selling around a million units.
One of the oldest tropes in stories is when the hero or villain of a tale creates their rival without even realizing it. That is what Nintendo did with PlayStation.
In 1998, Sony executive Ken Kutaragi went to Nintendo with an idea – what if Sony built a CD-Rom for the Super Famicom? Nintendo was down with the idea, and development started. When the two companies couldn’t agree on the revenue split, Nintendo dropped Sony and signed up with Phillips to create the exact same thing. This really miffed Sony president Norio Ohga. Ohga gave Kutaragi new orders – create a console to take down Nintendo.
Kutagari took his orders seriously, and six years later, the PlayStation hit shelves in Japan. Since then, over 400 million PlayStations have been sold (that across PS1, PS2, PS3, and PS4). The PlayStation 2 holds the record as the best selling game console of all time with 155 million units.
Sure, Nintendo is doing great, but it is hard to argue that over the last twenty years, Sony’s PlayStation has become the name synonymous with video games. And Nintendo let it slip through their fingers.
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