Before the entire video game industry in the United States crashed in 1983, video game consoles were largely a United States product. Atari, Coleco, Magnavox, and Mattel were the big players - all US companies. However, with the industry’s crash, there was a vacuum.
Even while retailers weren’t sure they were ready to try selling video games again, a Japanese company decided they wanted to enter the US market.
Nintendo started more than a hundred years ago in Kyoto, Japan. It was originally, and has been for most of its existence, a playing card manufacturer. In the ‘60s, they expanded to toys, and then in the late ‘70s they started developing video games.
The Japanese version of the original Nintendo game console, called the Famicom, was released in 1983 and was immediately successful. Nintendo wanted to enter the American market, so they contacted Atari to release the Famicom under the Atari name. However, talks quickly fell apart as internal struggles in Atari made negotiation difficult.
Nintendo eventually decided to enter the market themselves. However, due to the market crash, retailers were hesitant to give shelf space to video games. Nintendo originally thought to combat this by making the NES more of a computer - giving it a keyboard and a disk drive. However, they ended up taking it a different direction. By packing it with a robot toy - known as R.O.B., they were able to sell the system as a toy that hooks up to a TV. Additionally, the case was redesigned to look more like a VCR and less like a game console. This is why the console has the distinctive front-loading slot and flap.
To prevent the quality decline and glut of bad games that Nintendo saw as the problem that brought down Atari, Nintendo forced developers to work with them to produce games. They limited the number of games that developers could release per year, and ensured games met minimum standards to be released. All games Nintendo licensed for release bore the “Nintendo Seal of Quality”, which is still found on Nintendo games released today.
Nintendo single-handedly revitalized the video game market in the US, and established Japanese dominance in the console market for nearly two decades.