When it comes to the big bang event that helped birth modern home console gaming as we know it there is only one singular debut that matters, and that is the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
As the industry languished under the flatulent mediocrity of Atari’s multiple systems and ubiquitous shovelware, such as the infamous E.T. The Video Game, a title that sold so poorly unsold cartridges were dumped in a landfill, analysts were predicting the imminent collapse of the video game industry and the end of the home console market.
But then in 1983 an Japanese upstart in the video games business decided to take its know how and apply it to its own effort in the home console space, a system they called the Family Computer. This name might seem odd by today’s console standards but back then video game consoles and home computers often competed with each other for shelf space in the home and, because of this, the two often attempted to have overlapping functionality, albeit with less-than-ideal performance. It might be tough to imagine someone wanting to use the Famicom for more than just games, but Nintendo did accommodate this audience – at least for a while.
A smash success in its home country of Japan, when the Famicom arrived in the West it was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, a vague moniker that again positioned the system to compete with home computers and even VCRs.
Initially developed to showcase Nintendo’s arcade games, the Famicom/NES then became the home of multiple titles that are still classics to this day. The launch of Super Mario Bros., the debut of the Zelda series, and the advent of Dragon Quest changed the video games landscape for forever. The NES provided power and quality at an affordable price with a library of games that were second to none. Taking a note from Atari’s mismanagement of its brand and products, Nintendo instituted the now-famous “Seal of Quality” on games and limited publishers to a fixed amount of games per year.
This didn’t stop crap from dropping on the NES but it definitely limited it. And, even though it was a success in Japan, this was not a foregone conclusion in the United States.
An early soft launch in major cities, complete with the Rob the Robot peripheral, sold out quite quickly and prompted Nintendo roll out and nationwide campaign. As the NES secured its position in the home console space and single-handedly revived video games in some markets, publishers, Nintendo included, continued to pump out triple-A titles that only further distinguished it from the games that came out before.
Heck, the NES was so successful that competitor Atari even tried to get in on the action with its Tengen distribution marquee. Attempting to avoid Nintendo’s licensing fees and quality controls entirely, Tengen is most famous for releasing a version of Tetris to compete with Nintendo’s version on the NES. This led to a court battle and yada yada yada where is Atari today? That’s right, making games for other people while Nintendo continues to reap the rewards of the NES!