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Back To The Drawing Board
After the dust settled from failed talks between Nintendo and Atari in 1984, the video game industry in the U.S. was in serious trouble. Prices on new titles were dipping to $5 and below, while toy stores were refusing to buy anything at all from Atari for fear of more losses. Despite the slump overseas, however, Nintendo was still raking in the dough with their Famicom in Japan. Determined to milk the 8-Bit console on an international scale, Nintendo set its sights on capturing the risky, yet lucrative games market of the U.S. 

If anyone could have revived the ailing industry, it was Nintendo. They had the hardware, and the games to conquer America, but it was going to be uphill all the way. At the time, toy wholesalers were refusing to buy anything with the words "video game" on it. To beat the negative perception, Nintendo had to design a console clearly different from Atari and the generation of machines that had come before it. The result was the AVS (Advanced Video System), a console that looked "futuristic" (in that dated '80s sort of way) and included a light gun and keyboard attachments. 

First unveiled at the Winter 1984 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the AVS made a splash with its pamphlets, which trumpeted "The future of American home video game entertainment." Although first impressions with toy resellers were good, nobody took the bait -- it all hit too close to home with those dreaded video games. 

Back at the drawing board, NOA tried to differentiate the Famicom even further from Atari's notion of console gaming. The emphasis shifted to a new controller design, a packed-in light gun (the Zapper), and an incredibly cool (albeit gimmicky) little friend named R.O.B. (the Robotic Operating Buddy). It was absolutely vital that the new system have no vestiges of previous home consoles. It's not a video game -- it's an "entertainment system." It doesn't use cartridges -- it uses "game paks," and you weren't just playing a game -- you were engaging in pure "entertainment."

Nintendo's AVS console

It wasn't a cartridge, it was a "Game Pak" 

Playing With Power
Like the AVS before it, reaction to the NES' premiere at the Summer 1985 CES was lukewarm. Thankfully, Nintendo's wizened leader Yamauchi, known even back then for his stubbornness, refused to acknowledge popular opinion at the time. He demanded that the NES be test marketed to see what would happen. He gave Nintendo of America a $50 million budget and ordered them to spread the love in New York City. 

Toy stores in New York were among the hardest hit by the home video game market crash of 1984. Those that survived the losses weren't about to take more chances on video games from an unknown Japanese company whose name they couldn't even pronounce. Nintendo's marketing team had their task set out for them. 

The process was slow and gradual. The first major company to express interest was Toys 'R' Us, and in October 1985, the NES made its debut on their shelves. To back the in-store promotions, Nintendo blitzed the area with special demo kiosks and the first "Now you're playing with power!" TV ads. Their travails paid off -- about 50,000 NES packages were sold, exciting retailers and reassuring Yamauchi that the "entertainment system" was, indeed, a viable product. 

More cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, were test marketed in early 1986, with a national release to finally occur in June. By the end of the year, a whopping one million NES units made their way into American homes. That figure climbed to 5 million in 1987 and exploded to over 12 million in 1988. The rest, as they say, is history. 

At last, gamers and retailers realized that Nintendo really was playing with power. 

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R.O.B. The Robot
Perhaps the most bizarre and underutilized peripheral for any console system is Nintendo's R.O.B. (short for Robotic Operating Buddy). Touted as "your ultimate video game partner," R.O.B. was designed as an aesthetic diversion to differentiate the NES from previous game consoles. As history has proven, R.O.B. was an indirect success. Sure, you could only play two games (Gyromite and Stack-Up) with your mechanical "partner," but it was so exotic, you were convinced utterly that the whole affair was loads of fun.

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