The 1980s were one of the hardest decades for the video game industry, but one company managed to survive. After the Video Game Crash of 1983, also known as the Atari Shock in Japan, Nintendo rose from the destruction and created the Family Computer, or Famicom for short. Even though the Famicom console was only in circulation for 4 years, it saved and shaped the video game industry.
Video Game Crash of 1983 & Japan’s Atari Shock
Both of these events refer to the same chain of events that led to Atari’s downfall and the oversaturation of the video game market. From 1983-1985, video games were EVERYWHERE. Every single company, video game, and non-video game was releasing video games at an alarming rate which led to the crash.
Non-video game companies were known for developing very bad promotional video games, but a lot of them were free and given as promotional freebies. A dog food company, Purina, created its own video game and gave it to buyers of their product if they provided a proof of purchase.
The Kool-Aid man also got his own promotional game, and even Pepsi got its own Space Invaders entry. Even the oatmeal company, Quaker Oats dabbled in video games in the ’80s as well.
Video game companies also were pushed to create video games within a few weeks to meet the big consumer holidays, like Christmas. This led to a massive surge of video games that overwhelmed stores due to the wave of games and their lack of space. This led to many games being thrown out or being sold for way less than market value, which killed the value of video games.
Atari remains notorious for its rushed development of the E.T game and the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. The games were awful due to Atari only giving developers a few weeks to develop, market, and release these games.
The public hated these games, and the games were returned by just about everyone, which led Atari to dump 14 truckloads of games in a landfill in New Mexico. Not only that, but the mistreatment of Atari’s developers led to the founding of Activision, and Atari’s fall from grace.
Video games weren’t the only items being mass-produced; video game consoles were also poorly mass-produced, which made their customers turn to computers. Why? Well, computers were used to play video games and for work, so people bought computers instead. With video games on the verge of losing its relevance to the public, Nintendo stepped in and saved the industry.
The Famicom was released in 1983, and it became a hit in Japan. When released, the console came with three games: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye, but the game that launched the system into popularity was Super Mario. Due to the system’s newfound popularity, Nintendo remodeled and released the system in the U.S as the NES in 1985.
This remodel was done to make sure that the system didn’t resemble a console and didn’t have any lingo that related to video games due to North America’s traumatic past experience with video games. The system was then released in Australia and Europe in 1987 and in 1993 in Brazil. Fun fact: In Korea, the console was renamed Hyundai Comboy.
What Made the Famicom Stand Out?
The Famicom was made to be durable, functional, and financially accessible to consumers. The system released a series of excellent games that went on to become the most prolific franchises in the world. What really brought the system into the hearts of the public was the fact that Nintendo listened to its customers’ feedback.
The console was valued at around ¥15,000, the equivalent of $63, in 1983, which is around $163 and ¥18,000 in 2020. Nintendo prided itself on creating a system that was both economical and practical for their consumers. The accessible price made it easy for people to buy the home console instead of spending more money on a computer.
Many iconic video games made their debuts on the Famicom. Some of these notable entries are Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. These games were a breath of fresh air for gamers who were plagued by the horrendously developed games from a few years ago which made them cry from joy because Nintendo was making good games.
With the development of these smash successes, consumers began to ask for cheaper games. Nintendo delivered by releasing an add-on, the Famicom Disk System in 1986 which allowed players to reuse floppy disk cartridges to rewrite game data.
Over time, the system became obsolete since Nintendo focused more on the actual console. During this time, Nintendo also released the Twin Famicom, which combined the Famicom and the Famicom Disk System into one console.
Famicom’s Influence on the Market
Nintendo remains one of the most influential video game companies in the world to this day. There’s a reason for that; they practically set the standard for how video games and consoles should be developed. This model practically saved the industry.
The main reason for the crash was that developers were pushing games out at alarming rates. On top of that, there were little regulations when it came to knocking off other games. It was also hard for third-party games to shine, but Nintendo worked with these developers to give them a platform.
Instead of the insane 3 week period games were developed, Nintendo took its time to develop their games to meet their company standards as a way to not hurt their company image. This attention to detail led them to thrive, and many other companies followed suit.
To this day, video games take years in development before they’re released to the public in order to provide gamers with the best experience they can.
Nintendo also gave third-party developers the chance to shine and worked with them to publish their creations. However, the developers did play a very high risk, high reward game by going to Nintendo. Nintendo couldn’t guarantee them success due to their focus on making profits, but they offered these developers a platform to show their skills. The modern-day equivalent to this is the risks indie game developers take on Steam nowadays.
Celebrating it Almost 40 Years Later
The Famicom remains one of the most influential consoles today. While it’s been out of production for 30 years, the console is still being honored to this day. In 2016 and 2017, Nintendo released mini versions of the Famicom and the Super Famicom, and in 2018, Nintendo released a combo pack that featured both consoles.
The console has also been re-released to celebrate anniversaries. In 2018, Shonen Jump, announced they were releasing a limited edition golden Famicom Mini to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This edition came with 20 games that are all based on the manga that they’ve published in their magazine over the years.
The console has also been immortalized in art. Meteor’s My Famicase Exhibition is an homage to the Famicom. Every year since 2005, this exhibition has gathered artists from all over the world to create their own Famicom game cartridge designs showing that the console touched the hearts of gamers all around the world.
The console’s 40 year anniversary is a few years away, and we’re anxious to see what Nintendo is going to do to celebrate this milestone. Will there be another round of re-releases? Will we get nothing and have to wait until 2033 to get a re-release? We’ll have to wait and see.