I believe it can be said without much disagreement that Nintendo are one of the biggest names and most recognisable brands in the gaming world, if not THE biggest.
Its a name and brand that just conjures up so many memories and characters that no other games company can match.
But where did Nintendo come from and how did they rise to become such a well known brand?
Many know that Nintendo started out making playing cards founded in 1889.
They became famous for the card game: Hanafuda and even organised it’s own tournament called the “Nintendo Cup” in the 1950’s.
In the mid 60’s, Nintendo got into producing toys including the Kousenjuu series of light gun games, The Ultra Series which included; The Ultra Hand, The Ultra Scope and The Ultra Machine and even a toy for couples called The Love Tester. But Nintendo were just not big enough and often found they would struggle against other big toy manufacturers of the time like Tomy and Bandai who were able to produce more and varied games for the market.
In the early 70’s, Nintendo saw a future in “interactive entertainment” and so used what they had learned from the Kousenjuu series of light gun games and built on this concept by producing more games within this genre. The Laser Clay Shooting System and even Wild Gunmen (the original) which were placed in abandoned bowling alleys and even in few arcades which were slowly starting to emerge around the same time. However, the systems were deemed to expensive to keep running and were eventually shut down due to excessive costs. From this however, Nintendo released a future in “interactive entertainment” and decided to build on this concept.
The mid-late 70’s saw a rise in arcade machines and people wanted to play these type of games at home. Enter The Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercial home video game console. Manufactured by Magnavox, Nintendo secured the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan. This would be Nintendo’s very first foray into the home console market.
Then in 1977, Nintendo made their very first piece of hardware in-house called: Color TV-Game.
Around the same time, Nintendo hired a young student developer named Shigeru Miyamoto (remember that name), where his was first tasked to design the casing for several of the Color TV-Game consoles.
There were several different Color TV-Game consoles created each with their own game and variations on that game for each console. The consoles were a moderate success for Nintendo in Japan and they decided to get into the arcade market with EVR Race and several other titles followed in the late 70’s to try and break the North American market, where they met with mediocre reactions and Nintendo again failed to do what they set out to do. But Nintendo still believed there was a future in arcade gaming and used what they had learned to create one of the most recognisable and influential arcade games ever.
1981 saw the release of Donkey Kong…and this is where Nintendo’s fortune changed for the better and in a HUGE way. The brainchild of that young student developer: Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong went on to make a big impact in the arcades.
As a side note, did you know that Donkey Kong was originally pitched as an idea for a game based on the Popeye comic strip, which Nintendo were trying to secure the rights to but ultimately fell through? Think the then named Jumpman as Popeye, Donkey Kong as Bluto and the damsel in distress Pauline as Olive Oyl.
Ironically, after the success of Donkey Kong, Nintendo finally did secure the rights to Popeye and made an arcade game based on the characters the following year.
Donkey Kong became a success and gained the attention of people all over the world…including Universal Pictures.
Universal Pictures saw similarities between Nintendo’s Donkey Kong and their 1933 film, King Kong and asked Nintendo for a share of the profits made from the game, Nintendo refused. This act prompted Universal Pictures to sue Nintendo over copyright claims against their King Kong character. Nintendo stuck by their guns and went to court over the matter. Hiring lawyer John Kirby (remember that name too) who countered the lawsuit and pointed out that Universal Pictures had themselves argued in a previous case that King Kong’s scenario and characters were actually in the public domain and could be used by anyone. The judge ruled in Nintendo’s favour and Universal had to pay Nintendo $1.8 million for legal fees, lost revenues, and other expenses. Universal Pictures later appealed…and lost.
Nintendo thanked John Kirby with the gift of a $30,000 sailboat named Donkey Kong and “exclusive worldwide rights to use the name for sailboats”(and later named a Nintendo character after him too). The court battle also taught Nintendo they could stand up against and compete with larger entertainment industry companies and win.
It was this fortune from the court case that gained Nintendo the money they needed to crack the home market.
In 1983, Nintendo launched the “Family Computer” or “Famicom” as it colloquiality became known. The “Famicom” became a big success in Japan and in 1985 Nintendo cosmetically redesigned the console and renamed it the “Nintendo Entertainment System” or “NES” for sale outside of Japan.
It’s often said that Nintendo and SEGA were the two main companies that managed to survive the infamous “games crash of 1983” and give a rebirth to the then struggling gaming industry.
Nintendo’s rise after the whole Donkey Kong court case was astronomical and releasing the NES cemented them as one of the best hardware and software developers in the market. Nintendo became an unstoppable force. From the release of the Famicom/NES to the Super Famicom/SNES in the early 90’s, Nintendo WERE the gaming world. Pretty much everything Nintendo touched turned to gold…pretty much.
While Nintendo had their successes, especially with games like: Mario, Zelda and Metroid creating long running franchises and characters plus hardware like The Gameboy. Nintendo also had their bad ideas and failings during this time. The Powerglove and the Virtual Boy were among some of the worst ideas Nintendo had. But the very worst (or best) thing Nintendo help to create was in fact their very own main rival…
The early 90’s saw the rise of CD-ROM based technology in gaming. SEGA had released the SEGA CD in 91 to update their main console at the time, the SEGA Mega Drive and Nintendo wanted to try the same for their Super Famicom console.
So Nintendo hired two companies to help develop a CD based add on for the Super Famicom, these companies were Philips and Sony. Nintendo did not tell either company they were also working with someone else on the idea. In June 91 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Sony revealed a Super Famicom with a built-in CD-ROM drive. The next day after the CES reveal, Nintendo broke its partnership with Sony, opting to go with Philips instead. Unbeknown to Nintendo at the time, they just inadvertently created their main rival for the next generation of gaming.
Sony were very annoyed by this backstabbing from Nintendo and took everything they had learned and developed with the Super Famicom CD add on and founded Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and made their own console, the Sony Playstation. Released in 1994 which went on to become on of the most popular consoles at the time and outsell Nintendo’s next machine the Nintendo 64, and mark the decline of Nintendo from that point onwards.
But before we got to the decline of Nintendo. What did become of that aforementioned SNES CD add on? Well when Nintendo sided with Philips instead of Sony over the CD add on, Philips released the CD-i in 91 and Nintendo allowed them to use some of their IPs like Mario and Zelda. The console and games were a disaster and Philips lost billions of dollars over the CD-i machine.
The next generation of consoles came about and Nintendo released their Nintendo 64 (N64) in 1996. Too little, too late as Sony had already hit the market with their first foray into gaming consoles with the Sony Playstation in 1994 and made a big impact on the market.
While Sony were pushing the technology and using CD-ROMs to their best ability, Nintendo stayed with their tried and tested cartridge based games. Yes CD-ROMs meant loading screens whereas cartridge games didn’t…but CD-ROMs could also hold a lot more data over cartridges which meant bigger and more detailed gaming environments. CD-ROMs could also provide CD quality sound and music as well as cinematic video that cartridge based games just could not match.
While the N64 had it’s share of great games like Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, etc. They just could not match the scope and style Sony were managing with the Playstation.
From this point on, the leading company in consoles and games, Nintendo would find themselves being out sold and out performed by the very company they created when they chose to upset Sony, and Nintendo would never fully recover from even to this today.
Nintendo would later release the Gamecube in 2001 (again after Sony released their new machine the Playstation 2 in 2000) and finally ditch the cartridge based games. Nintendo for the first time made a console with an optical disc format. But instead of going for the new (at the time) and popular DVD technology Sony had chosen for it’s new machine. Nintendo opted for it’s own creation; the Nintendo GameCube Game Disc. This disc provided faster loading times, but still could not hold as much data as the more popular DVD format. So yet again, while Nintendo’s competitors were able to bring gamers bigger and richer games now with DVD quality, Nintendo lagged behind again.
Even today, Nintendo struggle to compete with their two main rivals Sony and Microsoft. Not that Nintendo do not have good sales for their machines as the release of the Nintendo DS and 3DS have both been very strong sellers. Their Nintendo Wii was a fast seller at launch, but showed signs of slowing. Their latest console, the Wii U has met with poor sales worldwide and it is currently Nintendo’s worst selling console to date.
Can Nintendo rise to the top once again, or will they go the way of SEGA?
Personally I feel Nintendo are living in the past and have been for around 20 years now. While they try to innovate with things like 3D games without the need for glasses with the 3DS or motion controls with the Wii and other innovations like touch screens. They seem to be forgetting about the simple fact gamers want to play games and 3D/touch screens/motion controls are just too “gimmicky”. After a 8-10 hour shift at work, I want to sit down on my comfy sofa and play games to relax, not stand in front of my TV jumping around and swinging my arms about.
Plus their marketing seems to be flawed, myself and many others didn’t even know the Wii U was a whole new console and mistook it for a simple add on to the Wii.
Nintendo have already announced they are working on a new piece of gaming hardware codenamed the NX which is said to be “a dedicated gaming system”. The Wii U was only released in 2012 and already Nintendo are working on a new machine? I guess Nintendo know the Wii U hasn’t really worked out too well then.
Also, Nintendo’s whole “family friendly” persona is slowly killing them. There is nothing wrong with family friendly gaming of course, but Nintendo need to start securing better third party support and bring more adult games to their machines for adult gamers…you know those adult gamers that were once kids playing on the NES in the 80’s.
Nintendo just do not seem to want to grow with the gamers they helped to create and that could be their biggest downfall…like SEGA.
Nintendo still make great games, but their consoles are just being out matched by Sony and Microsoft.
Maybe it would be best if Nintendo left the console market all together and just became a software developer instead?
Will the aforementioned Nintendo NX be an actual Xbox One & PS4 contender with better third party support…or will it just be another slight update of the Wii/Wii U with a new “gimmick”?
From the dizzy heights of Donkey Kong to the lows of the Wii U. Nintendo have been the biggest name in gaming for decades, but is their time coming to an end?
2 thoughts on “Nintendo, the rise and decline.”
Hi Steve, I really enjoyed reading that post (and your site as a whole). I’ve just put a Retro Christmas post on my page discussing all the cool toys/games I remember from my childhood so my current nostalgia levels are sky high at the moment.
Keep up the good work!
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Thanks, glad you’re enjoying the site.
I’ll take a look at your nostalgic Christmas post when I get time. I love looking back at the good old days.
Thanks for reading.