Ever wonder why Nintendo is the only successful option when it comes to handheld gaming? The Game Boy dominated the market when it was originally released, and Nintendo has continued their success today. Read on to find out how they did it and why they’re so popular.
While mobile games grow in popularity, many fans look to where it all started: the classic Game Boy. The original Game Boy and all the iterations that came after dominated the handheld market, leaving little room for competitors to get a piece.
But what made the Game Boy so successful? What did Nintendo do differently from all the other companies that tried to invade the handheld market? Ahead, we’ll dive deeper and tell you how Nintendo sustained dominance over the handheld market for decades.
Nintendo the Innovator
Nintendo seems to be on the cutting-edge when it comes to gaming constantly. Many people credit them with reviving the gaming industry after the crash in the early 1980’s, bringing excitement back to a place that consumers thought was dead. They’ve been ahead of the curve since then, with console releases that push boundaries and adjust the expectations of the market.
Innovation doesn’t always equal success, as Nintendo learned with their lackluster Wii and Wii U sales. They tried to alter the way people play video games – creating more interaction through motion – and consumers didn’t love this change. Still, after the Wii came out, we saw Xbox develop their own motion-capture system with the Xbox Kinect.
Nintendo is constantly pushing the gaming landscape forward, as we see with their latest console: the Nintendo Switch. The switch is bringing the console experience with you on the go, something we’ve never seen successfully completed. Don’t be surprised if we start to see other companies borrowing this model.
Creating Handheld Gaming
Nintendo wasn’t the first company to try to create a popular handheld gaming system. Several publishers tried to create products, but none of them worked on the same level as Nintendo’s products. More than anything, the timing of Nintendo’s entrance into the handheld market is what made it a success.
The first handheld Nintendo product released right when technology could match the company’s innovations. Other handheld consoles of the time aimed higher than the present technology could utilize. Instead, Nintendo used what they had to make the best games you could play anywhere.
They knew that if they wanted to make the console a success, they had to make it small, simple, affordable, and able to handle a variety of different games. Shooting for the stars meant a high price point, and Nintendo knew that they had to make accessible to the majority of the population to make it a success.
Eliminating the Competition
Nintendo released the Game Boy in a crowded space. Atari was working on their own handheld device called the Lynx, which was shaping up to be the main competitor for Nintendo. A few months after both released, it became clear who the winner was. Atari might have had top-notch handheld graphics and color, but they failed in multiple ways.
First of all, the Lynx was around $100 more expensive than the Game Boy. The Game Boy was smaller, and the battery life lasted longer. If you’re taking the game on the road, battery life is one of the primary characteristics you need. The extra expense leads to accessibility problems, but nothing was as glaring as the discrepancy in the games.
Nintendo released the Game Boy with two games to start. The first was Super Mario Land, which took the already popular Super Mario title to a portable console. Nintendo fans loved this idea, but it was their second game that made brought Nintendo’s console to the next level: Tetris.
Tetris is a game that’s just as fun to play today as it was when it first came out. It’s addicting, rewarding, and simple; everything a game should be. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master. Tetris helped bring Nintendo to new heights and subsequently elevated gaming from a niche market to something that everyone was doing.
While Nintendo had to fight its way onto shelves with the NES, they had trouble keeping up with demand for the Game Boy. It was a smash hit, and Nintendo never looked back.
Although other companies tried to replicate the handheld console experience, none came close to the Nintendo products. Each one tried to improve on what Nintendo had built while failing to realize what made the Game Boy successful in the first place: accessibility, simplicity, and a focus on the games.
Focusing on Games
At its essence, gaming isn’t about having the best graphics and pushing the limits of current technology, sure, there are plenty of consoles that have done this in the past, but almost all of them fail for two reasons. The first is that they’re usually far too expensive for most consumers, and the second is that they aren’t focused on the games.
The backbone of gaming has always been the games. That’s why so many people go back and play old games today. Playing an old game won’t dazzle your eyes as a newer game will, but there’s still value in it because they’re fun. Nintendo has always known this, which is why their games are some of the best on the market.
Creating The Optimal Lineup
After the successful launch of the Game Boy, Nintendo had their work cut out for them. Launch sales are fantastic, but sustained success means focusing on games for the platform they created. Nintendo started releasing games that were reworks of their previous console titles, which kept the success going for a little while.
Eventually, it became clear that Nintendo had to create new games for the Game Boy if they wanted to keep consumers invested. They Released Metroid II, which added to the already successful foundation of the first game. Audiences were pleased, and it was time to move on to an exclusive for the console.
The answer to this came in the form of Kirby’s Dream Land. In many ways, this was Nintendo’s platforming answer to Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, and it was a hit with users. Kirby soon became a Nintendo hallmark, and they released Kirby games on other consoles to follow the Game Boy hit.
Other popular releases followed, including The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Super Mario Land 2. Eventually, when sales started to dip, Nintendo released the Super Game Boy to go alongside the Super Nintendo. Although this console was commercially successful, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that Nintendo once again established its dominance over the market.
Looking Toward the Future
Public perception of the Game Boy was declining until they released the first Pokémon game, and dipped their toes into the RPG market. They had a hit on their hands, and they knew they had to update the hardware to match.
Finally, Nintendo answered what so many gamers were asking for: the Game Boy Color. Apart from more memory, color, and a faster CPU, the Color didn’t change much from the original. Still, it was a reason for consumers to buy a Game Boy, and the sales eventually reached the mark where the original system had taken them.
Consumers loved the Color Pokémon games, and these were a large part of what brought Nintendo back into the handheld market. They even allowed other developers to develop for their platform, which widened the target audience for their console and opened the doors to more sales.
Still, this was only the beginning, with the next generation close behind.
Game Boy Advance
The Game Boy Advance and the Game Boy Advance SP came only a few years after the Color, but with drastic improvements. The GBA was everything that Nintendo wanted it to be: affordable, compact, and powerful. It blew the Color out of the water, and soon became the preferred way of playing games on the go.
Unlike previous models, the GBA produced multiple titles that topped the charts when it came to sales. The home console market was moving towards 3-D almost exclusively, but the handheld market still gave users a way to play classic games that offered just as much excitement.
Game Boy Today
People still play all iterations of the Game Boy today. You can play any of your favorite Pokémon games on Game Boy roms found on the internet. Some people even dust off the old, green-screen original from time to time, thought the Color and the GBA are traditionally the favorites among handheld gamers.
As the market for games moves increasingly in a mobile direction, Nintendo has been ready since the late 1980’s.
Nintendo Is Still The King
With the release of the DS, 3DS, and eventually the Switch, Nintendo continues to dominate the handheld market. Other companies try to get a piece now and then, but none of them can match the sales that Nintendo produces with each of their consoles.
The future looks bright for Nintendo, as it always does. Whenever they release a new product, fans clamor to see how it pushes the gaming industry forward once again. For better or worse, Nintendo is the industry standard when it comes to making games, and their consoles always try to do something different.