How Nintendo brought the Game Boy, Tetris, and Pokémon to the West
Nintendo was killing it in the 1980s. The NES generated over 28 million system sales worldwide and almost single-handedly revived the failed US video game market.
How Nintendo brought games to the West
But Nintendo games need something else. They needed something new that could really expand the market, which could strengthen their arsenal and take a new position in the gaming industry. They needed a portable and compact gaming device.
The Game Boy
In Japan, the Game Boy was an easy sell. It was the perfect product for kids and the average worker, a system for playing on the go in a rapidly changing society. Outside of Japan, things were a little different.
Tetris and Pokémon are the two games that have helped him lead the way. Here is that story.
Don Coyner, Marketing Director at Nintendo of America, had to figure out how to bring the Game Boy outside of Japan. So he needed to figure out what made the Game Boy special. There were a lot of positives. The price was only $ 89.95, it had a comfortable size and good graphics.
The sustained gameplay was what made it stand out, however. Three of the five North American launch games – Tetris, Tennis, and Baseball – also had a unique feature, a link cable for head-to-head multiplayer. Game Boy’s most unusual features: the link cable that enabled head-to-head multiplayer between devices.
Nintendo had a really high budget for marketing. But their publicity just kept her close to a few fundamentals. They mainly targeted boys aged 9 to 14, who were particularly attractive to older children, as older children would get more sales. Both adults and girls were part of the Game Boy market, but advertising aimed at boys was the main focus.
Nintendo needed gameplay footage, but it was easy. They really needed to show someone who actually uses the product which was difficult. So they did mixed ads, like the one where you see a futuristic robot playing Tetris, face to face with a teenager.
All of Nintendo’s marketing tended to focus on one focal point, which was a major game for every system. For the Game Boy, that game was Tetris.
Tetris was simply the perfect Game Boy game. The blocks would remain clearly visible on the small screen, unlike balls and other small objects in common action games. More importantly, it fits well with the portable nature of the handheld. It was the perfect game to play for a few minutes, real quick.
In keeping with Coyner’s marketing wisdom of focusing on a single game, Tetris is also expected to become the centerpiece of Nintendo of America’s launch plans for the Game Boy. It was easier said than done. Tetris was a hard sell if someone hadn’t played it
The Game Boy was a challenge to cover at the best of times. It just wasn’t very interesting to watch. It didn’t look very fun, colorful, or entertaining, like NES did.
Tetris made the task even more difficult, because it was so abstract, with blocks instead of characters. Still, the Game Boy exploded. People wanted as much as possible. It only cost $ 89 with a game and the battery life was good.
Nintendo produced a million Game Boys for the United States in 1989 and sold them all. After three years, US sales stood at 9 million units. By the time the Game Boy Color was released in late 1998, the original Game Boy had surpassed 64 million worldwide sales. And for much of that time, Game Boy was synonymous with Tetris.
Game Boy’s longevity, however, really owed it to Pokemon. Pokémon Red and Blue has re-energized the Game Boy around the world, starting a multi-billion dollar franchise.
But at first Nintendo of America didn’t know what to do with the game. A year later and with the game getting bigger and bigger every month, the team members wondered if it could ever work in the United States.
Nintendo of America’s marketing team were concerned that American children might have the attention span of the Pokemon franchise. They wanted to look hip and cool to American kids as well, but Pokemon was so successful in Japan that they had to try it in America.
Pokémon has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Comics. Movies. TV shows. All. It was too late to change the situation. Nintendo’s American theme had to localize it, come up with English names for the Pokémon, and create a massive brand management effort to bring all the TV shows, comics, movies, toys, trading cards, all, to America. .
This team struck a deal with 4Kids Entertainment to help manage and organize licensing and merchandise, and then the two companies together came up with a plan to bring Pokémon to the West. The approach was simple: recoverability.
Catch them all
The team planned to host the TV show first to hook the kids into the narrative and theme, but they still had two major issues. The television networks were not interested. They all refused the show. Fortunately, they swapped the advertising budget for airtime. But they still needed to show American kids why Pokemon was awesome. All that work to locate Pokémon for the US market wouldn’t mean anything if they couldn’t get people excited enough to play the game.
So they sent out to all the subscribers on their mailing lists a videotape explaining the franchise, what the whole concept was. It also showed that there were Game Boy games, that there would be toys, and that there would be a card game.
Pokémon also got fast food links and promotions on school book covers. In total, Nintendo spent around $ 15-20 million to market its franchise, hoping to bring it to the US market with the same satisfaction with which it blew up the Japanese market.
It worked. And that’s how Nintendo introduced us all to games.
In one month, the game had sold 400,000 copies in the United States. In 10 months, it sold 4 million units, with lifetime sales of 10 million in the US and 31 million worldwide!
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. resumed the TV show in February 1999 for nationwide broadcast, and it ranked # 1 in Saturday morning audiences for 14 consecutive weeks! This November, Pokémon: the first movie open at the top of the ticket office.
By the end of the year, Pokemon had made over $ 7 billion in global revenue. Far from sinking into the American market, Pokémon had single-handedly revitalized the Game Boy.
Over the next few years, these revenues have reached astronomical heights across the entire Game Boy market. The combined sales of all Game Boy iterations have increased each year and were 18.86 million in 2001. Game sales also increased by 200 million units, and soon there were a lifetime number of 501 million worldwide!
A legend is born.