The NES - Why did it Win?

How did Nintendo's First Console Grab & Keep 80% of the Late 80's Console Market?

Last week on AtariAge someone asked why Atari Corp released the XEGS when they already had the 7800. Well, that conversation naturally evolved into the same-old "why did Nintendo win" debate. Someone brought up a new idea: Nintendo's first party games attracted people to the system, that 3rd party titles had little effect on their success, & neither Atari nor Sega were able to offer anything to attract consumers in such high numbers. There's nothing wrong with the first part of that assesment; I agree that Nintendo's first party-games were part of the reason for their success, but I also believe the answer's more complex, & that we can't so easily discount the presence of 3rd party titles. As such, let's examine the original Nintendo's history, from the release of the Famicom to the late 80's, to see what Nintendo did to win.

In this first part, I'll write up what I know about the early 80's vdieo game market in Japan, to try to understand why Nintendo domainted over there. Any discussion of Nintendo's dominance must begin in their home country.


Imagine it's the early 80's. You're in Japan, & video games are all the rage in the arcades. Home video game systems, however, aren't as common; till recently they've been too expensive. But the ecconomy is booming; electronics are getting cheaper, & several companies release game systems within months of each other. Sega released the SG-1000. Nintendo released the Famicom. But they weren't the only ones; Atari, Gekken, Epoch, Tomy, & Casio all released game systems in Japan between 1983 & 1984. Initially, Sega's system, not Nintendo's, proved most popular; early Famicoms had quality control problems. So, how did Nintendo pull ahead?

Well, first, Nintendo's system was more powerful than the competition. Sega's SG-1000 used the same processor & graphics chip as the ColecoVision. The Famicom had build-in support for smooth scrolling; the SG-1000 did not. The Famicom could display more sprites on the screen at one time, & these sprites could have more colors. It's probably best not to think of early 80's game systems as part of any single console generation; manufacturers released new, more powerful systems almost each year, trying to one-up each other. While Sega did get a head start over Nintendo, the market was saturated, so no single company really won. Nintendo still had a chance to one-up Sega when they fixed the Famicom's bugs.

Second, Sega did try to to one-up Nintendo, with the Mark-III, released as the Master System outside Japan. But Nintendo still had an advantage over Sega; a game system needs games, & Nintendo had two-years of programming experience with their system. Sega would need time to build up a library of more advanced games to out-do Nintendo.

Third, the Famicom Disk System made games cheaper. That wouldn'tve directly helped Nintendo outside Japan, but it would've expanded their market in Japan, which would've given them a leg up with developers, which probably provided them with games for the NES.

I'd say those three factors are the main reasons Nintendo won the market in their home country; it's getting late, & I can't write much more tonight. Tune in next time for my thoughts on why Nintendo won the market in the U.S.

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