Amid the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo’s original, 8-bit Game Boy, we are reminded that the console was not the first handheld device to hit the gaming market; however, it forever changed the realm of portable electronic entertainment – allowing kids born in the 80s and 90s to play games like “Tetris” on long car trips and the during their morning bus rides.
“Without ‘Tetris’ Game Boy would have struggled to find its way in a brand new market,” Brad Szollose, award-winning author of “Liquid Leadership” told the International Business Times. “’Tetris’ helped Game Boy become an overnight sensation and a historical business icon. It was like bottled lightning. Not easy to do.”
Other devices like the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx and TurboExpress were also being marketed to eager youngsters during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the Game Boy’s massive success was due to its repertoire of Nintendo-exclusive titles. In addition to the best-selling puzzle game “Tetris,” the Game Boy was compatible with a number of games that were only available on the device, such as 1989’s “Castlevania: The Adventure” and 1996’s RPGs “Pokemon Red,” “Pokemon Blue.” Along with titles that featured Nintendo mainstays Mario and Donkey Kong, the Game Boy effortlessly established itself as a convenient system with a lineup of youth-friendly titles that were fun and addictive.
Szollose, who has spent over 15 years studying how technology has transformed corporate culture and behavior, believes the timing of the Game Boy’s release was crucial to its massive success.
“Before 1977, all of our entertainment devices — whether watching TV, listening to the radio or watching a movie, required a person to sit down, be quiet and listen; no interactivity whatsoever,” he explains.
Conversely, the Game Boy not only provided that iconic interactive environment, it was also “portable and indestructible.”
Nintendo’s Game Boy hit shelves in Japan on April 24, 1989, on July 1 of the same year in North America and on September 28, 1990 in Europe. When the Game Boy first hit shelves in the U.S., it sold its entire shipment of one million units within weeks. The original Game Boy and 1998’s Game Boy Color have sold a combined total of 118.69 million consoles worldwide. Production of the Game Boy ceased in 2003.
The Game Boy is likely not credited for its contributions that have forever altered the way we look at digital convenience today. According to Szollose, the then next generation of gaming demanded three things, “multitasking capabilities with the portability to keep up and the power to handle anything,” which the Game Boy provided with its Game Link Cable, an adapter that connected consoles together to enable multiplayer functionality. The original Game Boy and Game Link Cable connected two consoles; however, future Game Boy generations would allow multi-gameplay of up to 16 parties.
“No more sitting down for long periods of time to watch something like a movie. Game Boy was the silent influencer that drove entire markets like portable gaming, laptops, built-in video and graphic cards as standards and today's smartphones,” Szollose told IBTimes.
Nintendo’s latest handheld device, the Nintendo 3DS, reached buyers in 2011. The 3DS is backward compatible with Nintendo DS games and can access the Nintendo eShop. The handheld device has shipped more than 42.74 million units worldwide and was the top-selling system of 2013.
Despite competition from other handheld consoles like the PSVita and the console-smartphone hybrid Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, Nintendo continues to have a stronghold on the portable gaming market.
Szollose says Nintendo has stayed ahead of the pack when it comes to portable gaming by continuously reinventing what it so does best; by focusing on just platforms and gaming and not spreading itself all over the place. Still, Twenty-five years on, he says it is hard to pinpoint a specific formula of what has made the Game Boy so unforgettable.
“Some things are just iconic. It can't be explained. It worked. We didn't just like it, we loved it. The Game Boy was the perfect device, bundled with the perfect games at the right time,” Szollose told IBTimes. “We may have Apple to thank for bringing the personal computer into the home, but it was Nintendo that made us realize computers are fun.”