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.
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.