Thir­ti­eth An­niver­sary of the Game Boy

Nin­tendo launched the Game Boy in North Amer­ica 30 years ago, cre­at­ing the hand­held video game mar­ket which it has dom­i­nated ever since.

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When the mod­ern hand­held video game mar­ket de­vel­oped in the late 1980s, it quickly be­came clear that Nin­tendo was the com­pany to beat.

Atari re­leased the Lynx, util­is­ing high-end, costly, ar­cade-style graph­ics tech­nol­ogy.

SEGA and NEC fo­cused on repack­ag­ing ex­ist­ing tele­vi­sion con­sole hard­ware into smaller, hand­held de­vices – hence the SEGA Game Gear was based on the Mas­ter Sys­tem, and the PC En­gine GT on the PC En­gine.

These three games com­pa­nies shared the same phy­los­o­phy – try and make hand­held games look like squeezed-down ver­sions of their tv con­sole coun­ter­parts. Nin­tendo how­ever chose an en­tirely dif­fer­ent path.

They be­lieved the abil­ity to play the ma­chine was more im­por­tant than what it could play.

In other words, sim­ple, less so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware was a wor­thy sac­ri­fice.

Their ap­proach had ben­e­fits too. The hard­ware could be cheaper. Where the com­pe­ti­tion was us­ing ex­pen­sive CPUs and bat­tery-drain­ing colours screens, Nin­tendo opted for a cus­tom chip based on the old Z80 pro­ces­sor, and used a mono­chrome dis­play with no back­light.

The sales fig­ures speak for them­selves. Nin­tendo sold al­most 120 mil­lion Game Boys in 14 years, de­spite be­ing un­der­pow­ered when com­pared to its com­pe­ti­tion. But it didn’t mat­ter.

Play­ers liked that it was half the price of the Atari Lynx and could run three times longer on half the bat­ter­ies.

It be­came at­trac­tive to par­ents too be­cause it was cheap and didn’t tie-up the TV like a reg­u­lar con­sole would.

As sales grew, so more game de­vel­op­ers came on­board, even­tu­ally re­leas­ing 1049 games for the de­vice. Gam­ing, once dom­i­nated by males, saw the num­ber of fe­male Game Boy play­ers reach 46 per cent by 1995.

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