Book Review: Game Over: Press Start to Continue shows what Nintendo taught Microsoft

In what can only be described as the fulfillment of my winter break spiral towards greater levels of nerd-dom, I spent my free time reading Game Over: Press Start to Continue: The Maturing of Mario by David Sheff with some new chapters contributed by Andy Eddy.

Sheff and Eddy’s narrative works both as a fan service and informative business manual. The evolution of Nintendo from a hanafuda card producer to the international leader of the electronic entertainment industry is fascinating–more because of the gradual transition the company takes from traditional business practices to innovating, aggressive tactics than for all the gaming nerd facts. In all truthfulness, I enjoyed the gaming nerd facts as well though.

Shrewd decision-making and almost omniscient planning got Nintendo to the top of the entertainment world, and depending upon what console fanboyism you believe, Nintendo still retains a large market share–especially post-Wii launch–in the gaming and entertainment industry.

The Japanese leadership of Nintendo, led by the third president of the company Hiroshi Yamauchi, made such extensive plans during the early years and development that plans never had to drastically change throughout their rise to domination during the 1990s. The initial plan was so good that Microsoft may have even borrowed from it with their launch of the Xbox.

Back when Nintendo first launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States, Yamauchi had a dream of integrating an Internet connection (dial-up at the time) to provide a network for its users. This network, Yamauchi thought, would increase their install base and provide greater applications for their console.

Nintendo established a network in Japan allowing stock market access and banking, but due to protests against Nintendo including a lottery service that could fall into the hands of minors, Nintendo never launched its grand network in the U.S. In fact, they practically gave up the idea completely because Nintendo never attempted to integrate a network into a console until their latest offering–the Wii–even though it was part of Yamauchi’s original business plan for the NES. Some say that Minoru Arakawa, Yamauchi’s son-in-law who ran Nintendo of America, never fully accepted the dream.

“By the end of 1992, it appeared that Nintendo would miss out on the enormous opportunity. If it did, the reason would be a lack of vision and commitment to it. Jerry Ruttenbur said the network never flew because Minoru Arakawa didn’t support it in spite of a sound business plan and projections of huge profits. ‘It was Yamouchi’s dream, not Arakawa’s,’ Ruttenbur said. ‘Arakawa never bought into it.'” (Game Over, pg. 397-8)

With the Xbox, one of the crucial selling points at launch was Xbox Live, the premium service that allows all Xbox gamers to connect, compete and share online. Microsoft had both better timing and a greater extent of networking experience when they entered the market, but the fact that their plan was so similar to Nintendo’s original for the NES makes me wonder whether Bill Gates read Game Over.

For more on the history of the industry, read Game Over or check out Play Value, a podcast from ONnetworks that covers the rise of Nintendo and the entertainment industry.