Nintendo Zaps it's Way to Top Toy

The Detroit Free Press

December 7, 1988

Paperboy, Xenophobe and Rampage have replaced sled, doll and bicycle on the holiday lists and in the daydreams of many young Americans, a result of the hugely successful Nintendo video game craze.

About 10 million Nintendo home video entertainment systems have been sold in the United States and have sparked what toy industry experts say is America's latest teen cultural phenomenon.

"It's a mania," said Rick Anguilla, editor of Toy and Hobby World, an industry trade journal. "The kids of America are saying 'This is great, we've got to have one.' For boys in this country between the ages of 8 and 15, not having a Nintendo is like not having a baseball bat."

For the uninitiated, the basic system consists of a control deck that attaches to any television, transforming it into a screen that plays video games. This hardware comes with a hand-operated joystick, which players use to control the on-screen video. This costs about $100.

Then there are software game cassettes to be inserted in the control deck, which cost from $25 to $45 per game. When played, the cassettes provide an array of interactive games that can take up to 70 hours to complete.

The Nintendo company of Japan—the name means "you work hard but in the end, it's in heaven's hands"—got it's start 99 years ago making playing cards. It's product has broken toy sales records for two years running.

Within a year it is expected to be found in nearly 20 percent of all U.S. households, up from 12 percent now. Nintendo has the best-selling toy last Christmas and throughout 1988, according to a Toy and Hobby World survey.

In a field once dominated by such early leaders as Atari, it now commands more than 80 percent of the video-game market. For Minoru Arakawa, president of Nintendo of America, based in Redmond, Wash, the key to Nintendo's success here is simple.

Kids of all nationalities "like the same things—fun and excitement and challenge. There are some differences, but in most cases, a hot game in Japan is a hot game in the states."

Yet Nintendo's success goes beyond the universal thrill that kids get from challenging games. Underlying Arakawa's simple philosophy is a complex plan based on watching the American video-game industry and then coming up with a product that was simply better than the rest.

"The toy industry has never seen this kind of sophistication," said Allen Bohbot, chief executive of Bohbot Communications, a New York firm that specializes in buying broadcast time and print ad space for toy marketers.

"It's a brilliant marketing strategy," said Anguilla of Toy and Hobby World. "They've created a culture among the kids."

Indeed, the Nintendo games themselves—with their colorful names and eccentric cast of characters—have proved to be the company's best advertising, creating a word-of-mouth excitement that spreads as fast as the word on the latest rock group or Steven Spielberg adventure movie.

The hot talk about many teens is of "Zelda II—The Adventure of Link" and "Super Mario Bros. 2" the hottest Nintendo video games of the season, both created by video game writers and programmers in Japan.

Many Nintendo best sellers, like "Super Mario Bros. 2" are based on wildly preposterous premises—this one being two janitors who endure various trials, such as dodging hammer-swinging turtles and lava balls and man-eating plants, in order to save a Mushroom Princess. No matter. Kids can't get enough of the games, which set Nintendo apart from the rest.

The games come in essentially two types : sports games, including golf, football, baseball, boxing, duck hunting, and track and field; and adventure games, in which players guide a video character through various perils—underworlds and overworlds filled with castles and dungeons with trap doors and secret passageways, over pools of lava and past fire-breathing dragons, dagger-throwing demons and such.

The games challenge the player's manual dexterity in dodging missiles and other attacks, and the trick and traps found throughout the intricate fantasy domains require cleverness and memory to master.

In addition, Nintendo publishes a bi-monthly magazine titled "Nintendo Power," which sells for $15 for six issues to Nintendo purchasers.