Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

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outdated_gamer
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Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by outdated_gamer » Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:13 pm

Let's face it - the Game Boy was poor compared to it's competition, hardware-wise. It had a poor black/green-yellowish screen with lots of "ghostling" (or blurring), no back lit screen (it took Nintendo all the way till the Game Boy Pocket (1996) and Game Boy Light (1998, Japan only) to fix those issues), no colours, a "squeeky" speaker (better with headphones though) and was generally nothing special in that department (outside of the decent Z-80 based CPU).

On the other hand, it's competitors like the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear and NEC Turbo Express already had thousands of colours, near (16-bit) home console quality visuals, back lit screens, TV tunners and could even do some things that even the home consoles struggled with (e.g. hardware sprite scaling on the Lynx).

There is no denying that they were superior to the Game Boy in the tech department, yet the Game Boy still basically ran them over, sales and popularity-wise.

But why was this so?

Often said or written arguments are "lower price", "better advertising" (though Sega used to be quite aggressive in that department - even comparing Game Boy owners to dogs :P ), "lower battery consumption" (I can see that as a good reason) and "better portability". "Better games" are also often mentioned, but this is a subjective matter.

So what do you think - what was the real reason why the Game Boy "obliterated" the competition and kept the handheld market almost completely to Nintendo untill the first real challengers poped up (aka the Sony PSP - outsold by the DS 2 to 1 though).

Were Nintendo's games like Tetris, Mario and Pokemon just so attractive? Was it simply the more known handheld system (I admit knowing about the Game Gear but nothing about the Lynx and Turbo Express) ? Was it the vast selection of games and easy game swapping with friends? Lower price? Cultural phenomenon?

Please explain. :wink:

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Sephiroth81 » Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:23 pm

Nintendo just have a long and successful pedigree in handheld gaming. They know what works and what doesn't. Great home console games do not necessarily make good portable games.

My first ever console was the Game Gear, and my brother had the Gameboy. Although the Game Gear was more impressive at the time - I played Tetris and Contra a lot more than any of my own Game Gear games. I think all the battery life factors do make a difference as well. Re-charging or constantly replacing the batteries were a pain.

The PSP is a marvellous piece of kit - but for me its main strength was as an emulation powerhouse. I think the Nintendo DS and GBA had a better selection of portable style games. PSP games were generally watered down versions of their Playstation 2 brothers. The DS in particular was more innovative with the dual and touch screens.

The Vita is basically dead, which is a surprise, as I would have thought Sony would have learned from the lessons from last generation. They seem to have an even bigger gap to Nintendo in this area now, despite the 3DS not being as impressive as the DS was or as "portable".

edit : Most powerful systems have also rarely taken a victory in their generation. The SNES was the last time it happened, and that was pretty close.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by outdated_gamer » Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:27 pm

Sephiroth81 wrote:Nintendo just have a long and successful pedigree in handheld gaming. They know what works and what doesn't. Great home console games do not necessarily make good portable games.

My first ever console was the Game Gear, and my brother had the Gameboy. Although the Game Gear was more impressive at the time - I played Tetris and Contra a lot more than any of my own Game Gear games. I think all the battery life factors do make a difference as well. Re-charging or constantly replacing the batteries were a pain.

The PSP is a marvellous piece of kit - but for me its main strength was as an emulation powerhouse. I think the Nintendo DS and GBA had a better selection of portable style games. PSP games were generally watered down versions of their Playstation 2 brothers. The DS in particular was more innovative with the dual and touch screens.

The Vita is basically dead, which is a surprise, as I would have thought Sony would have learned from the lessons from last generation. They seem to have an even bigger gap to Nintendo in this area now, despite the 3DS not being as impressive as the DS was or as "portable".
I remember there was quite some enthusiasm towards the Vita when Sony announced the launch price and that it will feature full 512 mb RAM but it seems it all just died down when it actually came out. I think it's a shame though, as it looks like a neat portable handheld with some nice features and games.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Lost Dragon » Mon Mar 10, 2014 9:23 pm

The Game Gear had a chronic LCD screen as well (i went through 2 Game Gears in my time), ghosting was a major issue.

Anywho, the GB was truely portable, unlike the Lynx or the G.G, you could just fit it in your back pocket, you were'nt rushing around trying to find more batteries or a wall socket to continue gaming after a few hours and it the software support and marketing.

Nintendo went after the untapped markets long before Sony did with the Playstation.I still recal GB adverts in Mens Mags, marketing it as the must have gadget of the time.

Plus Tetris and the GB, a killer-app combination for sure.


I hate the bloody thing, never use mine, but have to admire what it achived.

As for Vita, Sony took feedback onboard, gave it the Ram it needed, dual sticks, but then shot themselves in the foot by not delivering anything like the exclusive games it needed (Bioshock deal even signed yet?), focused on delivering PS3-like gaming (hello, i've a PS3, why do i need a Vita for PS3-like games?) and of course the memory card pricing issue was a huge factor.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by SpockIOM » Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:51 am

Apart from the cost batteries to run the things, I think it's true that it was down to the game libraries - subjective or not.

The Lynx did have some great games, but not enough third party support. And the GameGear was, basically, a portable Master System. Now, I loved the Master System and I think there are some incredible games in its library. The problems I see were that a) it had already lost it's race vs the NES which was competing strongly against the mega Drive, and b) there weren't enough unique games available for it to make the expense justified for those who already had the SMS, whereas the GameBoy was producing games that you had to have a GameBoy to play (until the SGB came out, of course).

Plus the GameBoy evolved over time - before the GBC there was the Pocket version: smaller, less batteries, bigger and clearer screen. It did have it's share of strange add-ons that weren't up to much (the camera and printer for example), but versus the TV tuner for GG that I could never get to work they still win.

Sometimes its the underdog who wins the race. Plus I think releasing dance mixes of the Tetris and Super Mario Land themes helped a bit!
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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Lost Dragon » Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:57 am

Nintendo had the real 'Lions share' of licensed software developers to call apon for software support for the GB, Sega did well enough with it's arcade side to call apon and could port MS titles over easy enough to G.G, plus had good European software support, Atari however had the crumbs in retrospect and too many publishers had lost faith in Atari's ability to market and support the Lynx.Crying shame as it played host to some cracking arcade conversions (Roadblasters, Stun Runner, Hard Drivin etc) and original games, it just needed them in much higher numbers.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Antiriad2097 » Tue Mar 11, 2014 9:08 am

Am I the only person who had rechargeable batteries and a mains adapter for my Game Gear? So often I see battery life quoted as a reason for Gameboy prevalence, yet it was never a factor for me. It came down to two things - cost and available games.

I had a GB, but it was the GG that got the lion's share of play time. Lynx just didn't have the library and other systems were import only. Not going to pick up any bargain bin stuff for the latter.
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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Matt_B » Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:17 pm

Antiriad2097 wrote:Am I the only person who had rechargeable batteries and a mains adapter for my Game Gear? So often I see battery life quoted as a reason for Gameboy prevalence, yet it was never a factor for me. It came down to two things - cost and available games.
Probably not, but mains adapters tie you down and the rechargeable technology of the day favoured the GameBoy; you could still power one for maybe 8 hours or so on internal NiCd batteries whereas you'd be lucky to get a couple of hours from the GameGear. External battery packs could do better than that, but added to the cost and the bulk.

I suppose it depends on how you use it, but one of the joys of the GameBoy for me was you could start playing when you got on a long haul flight and still be going when it's time to land, and you weren't going to get that from any other handheld at the time.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by fredghostmaster » Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:29 pm

I remember going to buy my gameboy and the shop assistant trying to persuade me to switch to a game gear. I didn't budge though due to cost, battery life and most of all, Tetris! Not to mention some of my friends owned one, so we could lend each other games. I didn't know any game gear owners.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Lost Dragon » Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:47 pm

Matt_B wrote:
Antiriad2097 wrote:Am I the only person who had rechargeable batteries and a mains adapter for my Game Gear? So often I see battery life quoted as a reason for Gameboy prevalence, yet it was never a factor for me. It came down to two things - cost and available games.
Probably not, but mains adapters tie you down and the rechargeable technology of the day favoured the GameBoy; you could still power one for maybe 8 hours or so on internal NiCd batteries whereas you'd be lucky to get a couple of hours from the GameGear. External battery packs could do better than that, but added to the cost and the bulk.

I suppose it depends on how you use it, but one of the joys of the GameBoy for me was you could start playing when you got on a long haul flight and still be going when it's time to land, and you weren't going to get that from any other handheld at the time.
Exactly, rechargeable or not, you still had to stop, change the blighters far more often on colour screen handhelds....

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by killbot » Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:10 pm

Nintendo realised that what consumers looked for in a handheld was not necessarily the same things they were looking for in a home console. Flashy graphics and colour screens were secondary to things like price, battery life and portability. Since the Game Boy beat the competition hands down in all three areas, it outsold them.

The fact that it had games like Mario, Zelda and Tetris is probably not unrelated either.
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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by koopa42 » Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:11 pm

No.

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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Antiriad2097 » Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:17 pm

Lost Dragon wrote:
Matt_B wrote:
Antiriad2097 wrote:Am I the only person who had rechargeable batteries and a mains adapter for my Game Gear? So often I see battery life quoted as a reason for Gameboy prevalence, yet it was never a factor for me. It came down to two things - cost and available games.
Probably not, but mains adapters tie you down and the rechargeable technology of the day favoured the GameBoy; you could still power one for maybe 8 hours or so on internal NiCd batteries whereas you'd be lucky to get a couple of hours from the GameGear. External battery packs could do better than that, but added to the cost and the bulk.

I suppose it depends on how you use it, but one of the joys of the GameBoy for me was you could start playing when you got on a long haul flight and still be going when it's time to land, and you weren't going to get that from any other handheld at the time.
Exactly, rechargeable or not, you still had to stop, change the blighters far more often on colour screen handhelds....
My longest trip then was 15 minutes into town on the bus. I could walk to school in ten. The two sets of nrechargeables I had lasted more than long enough for the brief trips between power points. I could play non the bus into town, a bit while I was there if I stopped for coke and a Wimpy burger, then again on the bus home.
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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by Mayhem » Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:22 pm

The battery life and the games, plain as.
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Re: Why did the Game Boy "kill" the competition?

Post by BennyTheGreek » Tue Mar 11, 2014 2:08 pm

tetris, battery life and the fact i could sneak it into the toilet at work

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