The Revolutions of 1989 - fall of the Berlin Wall; the beginning of the post-Cold War period, and for most little boys around the world a leap from parlour games with Ma and Pa to finally carrying around Super Mario and Donkey Kong in their pockets. The year of the Nintendo Game Boy.
OK it wasn't as dramatic as that. Parlour games were mostly consigned to Christmas days with dysfunctional families, and Sony's Walkman had already introduced the concept of mobile music to the world. The original Game Boy was too big to fit in a pocket. And Game Boy wasn't even the first to invent portable gaming. Way back in the 1970s there was something called the Mattel Football and the Mattel Auto Race - which were kind of calculators that had been turned around into games. But what Game Boy did was nothing short of a revolution - an affordable gaming device for the masses that was not meant only for hard-core gamers, but just about everyone.
It wasn't about the pixels, it was certainly not about the graphics. The games involved lots of jumping, running or simply joining lots of black dots to get to the target. Easy to play and simple to understand. The original Game Boy - which looked like a great big block of brick - came with a small screen, no illuminated display, lots of grey and black, five buttons on the front, the cross-shaped direction pads and the little game cartridges that you could carry with you to insert into the device propelled gaming-on-the-move into the mainstream. Its real appeal lay in its simplicity. Extreme simplicity. It took no time to learn and could be played in very little time.
The Game Boy was discontinued years ago, and from what I can tell Nintendo has no celebrations planned for this once beloved brand. But I have fond memories of almost all of the different Game Boy redesigns. There was the Game Boy Pocket, with a larger screen, the Game Boy Colour which I so coveted but never got, the Advance which looked like a bar of soap to me, and the Micro which really was - the very last console for the original Game Boy line up.
But I am not just reminiscing about the time that was and the simple pleasures of life - of which Game Boy was certainly one. But about how it taught a very important lesson of branding - simplicity. One of the most fundamental truths of branding. Of course, one cannot discount that pricing was also an important factor contributing to its massive global success. Though price is about embodying the value of thrift, it alone cannot simplify the customer experience, drive customer satisfaction and build commitment and connection. In 1990 it was reported that Nintendo estimated its own market share in the US to be a whopping 93%. The remaining 7% was shared by competitors such as Sega and NEC.
Game Boy somehow managed to resist the urge to manufacture something with unnecessary brand bells and whistles. And that was not only charming but also provided us with an experience that we carry on with us. Tetris, Pokémon and Super Mario on the go. A rich experience for a lot of us growing up, freeing our parents to carry on with their chores. And definitely an inspiration for gaming for the smartphone generation.
The choices today for gamers are immense and very sophisticated. The beauty of Game Boy was that it was anything but. Not beautiful like Apple is. In fact it was a rather ugly looking thing - even in a pink version. But it was the trailblazer of our times - parents did not baulk at buying it for their kids, the hardware was more than durable (it could be hurled a fair distance without breaking!), and most importantly it was innovative when it came to the games. The hugely addictive Tetris, and who can forget the Legend of Zelda? Even without featuring Princess Zelda, the puzzle-filled quest remains an all time favourite.
Hitting a button and playing a game - that was the extent of experience that Game Boy provided. Simple.
Game Boy will always be the Daddy.Suggest a correction