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The Fascinating Story Behind Nintendo's Biggest Flop

Illustration for article titled The Fascinating Story Behind Nintendos Biggest Flop

It’d be really nice if it was Friday, right? You’re in luck! Not only is it Friday, but that means another installment of Worth Reading, our weekly roundup of the best games writing around.


Hey, You Should Read These

Illustration for article titled The Fascinating Story Behind Nintendos Biggest Flop

Anyone who spent time inside an arcade during the 90s has a vague recollection of an FBI warning before they dumped a quarter into the machine. It’s kind of weird there was a government message there, right? I’ve never thought about it before, but the more the idea rolls around in my head, the stranger it is. Turns out, the story behind “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” is totally fascinating, the result of an unexpected connection between the FBI and the game world.

Fay was by then the executive director of the American Amusement Machine Association, the trade organization for companies that made, among other quarter-eaters, arcade games, which in the days of 8-bit Nintendo dominance, totally crushed home consoles for gaming experiences. Fay was friends with Davenport from their Bureau days, and happened to make dinner plans with him one night in Washington. The subject of a new anti-drug campaign at the F.B.I. came up.

“We were talking about my new career and how he had this emphasis on drug awareness,” Fay told me, “and I said, ‘Hey, I might be able to help you out. I’ve got thousands of video games that we could put a message on.” Davenport recalled a similarly random beginning to the campaign, and attributed the video game aspect to Fay’s new job and his offhanded suggestion. “Frankly we hadn’t even thought about that until Bob Fay came to us and said, ‘Look, I think I can help you out,’” Davenport said.

Illustration for article titled The Fascinating Story Behind Nintendos Biggest Flop

My strongest memory of the Virtual Boy: almost buying one at Blockbuster for $20. The Virtual Boy wasn’t on my radar until my collectionist urge started growing, and even then, I couldn’t justify buying a machine that made my eyes hurt. Benj Edwards does a terrific job tracking the history of Virtual Boy, how Nintendo published a piece of hardware even they weren’t really confident in. Also, I had no idea Game Boy/Virtual Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi wanted to retire! (It makes you wonder how many times Miyamoto has thought about it, only to stay on.)

Nintendo chief Yamauchi approached 1994 with trepidation. The whole industry knew the year would see the launch of two major next-gen consoles, the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation, while Nintendo’s own next-gen contender, the Ultra 64 (later renamed Nintendo 64), would not be ready until 1996.

After the Virtual Boy degraded from a wearable VR system into a tabletop oddity, Nintendo probably should have canceled the project. But with tough competition in mind, Yamauchi encouraged R&D1 to complete the Virtual Boy and ready it for release as soon as possible to buy time prior to the launch of the Nintendo 64. “It’s clear from the people I talked to that many people in the marketing department saw the Virtual Boy as a niche system that could fill a market gap, and thus pressed to hasten its release,” says Makino.


If You Click It, It Will Play

Oh, And This Other Stuff

  • Juliet Kahn interviewed her sister to find out why video games pushed her away.
  • Simon Parkin investigated the death of a League of Legends player in an Internet cafe.
  • Jake Kivanc tried to figure out what goes wrong with fan remakes of popular games.
  • Dave Hagewood explained how the devs of Rocket League tweaked rocket jumping.
  • Giant Bomb user yummylee outlined an extensive wish list for Resident Evil 2’s remake.
  • Chris Kohler shared what Super Mario Maker has taught him about game design so far.
  • Javy Gwaltney highlighted the saddest moments in the Metal Gear series.
  • Hideo Kojima outlined his favorite movies of all-time. (Yes, Hideo Kojima.)

You can reach the author of this post at or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.

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Slim Snerdy

Oh how I wish Nintendo would re-release the Virtual Boy games somehow; at least Virtual Boy Wario Land.