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The Fake Success of Dragon Warrior

Last updated on 2 days ago
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 9 days ago
Well, Nintendo Power was published by Nintendo, who also acted as the publisher of the American release of Dragon Warrior. So the games were their own to give away. As I mentioned earlier, this promotion netted them over a million new subscribers. Nintendo Power was essentially advertising for Nintendo, so although I'm sure they would have preferred getting a million subscribers AND selling a million copies of the game at full retail, once it became clear that that wasn't going to happen, they took their lemons and made lemonade.

This is how magazines worked. Bumping up subscriber numbers meant that they could charge more for advertising, so many mags would offer subscriptions at a loss, or even for free (I was subscribed to many mags for years which I never paid a dime for). Nintendo Power was a special case where the publisher and the advertiser were one and the same, but imagine getting someone to pay to subscribe to 12 issues of a mag, being essentially the equivalent of 1500 pages of advertising, rather than having to pay who knows how much money to put 1500 pages of ads in someone else's magazines. It's a no brainer - even giving the mag away for free is a cost-saver.
KiwiKiwi
Super Admin
Posted 9 days ago
Yeah!! I guess so.

I simply wasn't a Nintendo Fan user at the time. In fact the NES wasn't a hot seller , er, even a middling seller, in New Zealand at the time as any consoles really were considered second rate to the recently introduced Amiga/Atari ST home computers of the day. And when they did take off it was Sega's Master System followed by the Mega Drive as the Genesis was called here that dominated our landscape because SEGA setup shop here while Nintendo didn't.

Nintendo Power? I don't recall ever seeing that in bookstores over here either.

What I DID see were mags like Amiga Format/ST Format start to offer floppy disks with full games on them at far cheaper prices than the cartridges for the consoles AND as you said, you got a magazine to read as well. So I understand the logic of offering games with subscriptions, or as coverdisks on magazines, but at least many of the AMiga?Atari offerings were considered to be good games!!
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 9 days ago
Well, Dragon Warrior is an undeniable classic as well. It certainly would never be considered a bad game. The problem was that it was already 3 years old when it came out in America, and also, American kids just weren't that interested in RPGs at the time. Though that would change soon enough. And despite not setting the USA sales on fire at the time (though it did ultimately sell around 500,000 copies in the US, so it's by no means a flop unless compared to its success in Japan), it can't be ignored that at least a million kids were exposed to the first console RPG ever created via free copies of DW.

As mentioned before, AUS/NZ were functionally the same territories as EUR/UK so far as gaming was concerned. Nintendo didn't consider the UK/EUR market worth pursuing with the NES, so it only ever got introduced via 3rd party publishers who had neither the money nor vested interest in pushing it very hard. Though as you point out, cheap microcomputers were already widely saturated there, so Nintendo probably knew what they were doing when they decided not to release the NES there themselves.

Sega (founded by Americans, actually) was never a particularly successful company in Japan, but they did have a knack for finding success in foreign markets. Particularly unique in this regard was the Master System, an utter failure in Japan, which didn't really take off in foreign markets like the UK and Brazil until AFTER it had already been put out to pasture in Japan so Sega could focus on the Mega Drive. Meanwhile, the console video game industry in America has always been closely tied to Japan, so the Master System was a giant flop there as well.

So during the early years of Nintendo Power, the NES was pretty much THE gaming system in America, since PCs were crazy expensive (thus most games were aimed at adults), and the Genesis didn't launch there until late 1989 and anyway it wasn't until much later that it became a competitive force there. Whether this is due to people not trusting the Sega name after the horrible reception the Master System had received or a lack of compelling games in those first couple of pre-Sonic years, I'm not really qualified to say...neither I nor anyone I knew owned a Genesis until at least a couple of years later. In fact, I would say that ironically, the Genesis didn't actually start to provide Nintendo with any competition in America until after the SNES was launched in 1991. The NES was so successful that despite Sega's 16 bit system being obviously more advanced, for the first two years following its release, the Genesis just couldn't compete.

As such, Nintendo Power was EVERYWHERE in America at the time. Dunno what the circulation numbers were, but I'm sure they dwarfed EGM and Game Player's and the like. Kids who didn't even own an NES were likely toting around copies of Nintendo Power in their school bags at the time. And really, it was an incredibly produced magazine. Comparing it to literally any other gaming mag at the time was like comparing an 8mm home movie to a 4k bluray. The quality of the paper and printing combined with the quality of the artwork/screenshots possible due to Nintendo having direct access to all of the games' assets placed it head and shoulders above any other gaming mag published at the time. Of course, it couldn't be trusted for strong editorial content like reviews and whatnot, but no one really seemed to mind. Smile

Btw, I just checked, and you can get Dragon Quest I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VIII on Google Play (in English, natch. Probably LOTS more available in Japanese).
modgeezermodgeezer
Newbie
Posted 9 days ago
I think part of the reason the genesis had a slow start was a lack of games. I bought mine at launch and after the first batch of games Sega was taking forever to get games out. It really started to take off when EA threatened to release unlicensed games for the Genesis. Sega ended up negotiating a much better deal with EA and other developers and the games really started pouring out.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 9 days ago
The importance of EA and their sports titles can't be underestimated, but I still feel like Sega didn't become an actual threat until Sonic was released, two years after launch. Back in those days, thanks to Mario, people expected a strong mascot platformer to represent a system. And of course, that's exactly what Sonic was created to be, more or less by committee. Lucky for them, the game was good enough to give Sega its own identity and allow them to compete neck and neck for a while in the 16-bit era.

Of course, in Japan, the Mega Drive, while far more successful than the Master System, was still always a distant second to Nintendo's systems, selling around 3.6 million units in Japan vs the Super Famicom's 17.2 million.
S
slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 4 days ago

kitsunebi wrote:

So perhaps what this place REALLY needs around here is a few more people like myself to educate everyone on things outside of the UK/Europe scene.Wink
Nah we're quite knowledgeable here. The lack of knowledge North America and Japan has on gaming in Europe I find is more of an issue. Being from the UK it was much easier to get exposed to games from a range of regions.

I do think there are certain gaming franchises that need a compilation in Europe and Dragon Quest is one for sure.

kitsunebi wrote:

To that end, I found a great article by Jeremy Parish (if you don't know who he is, you probably aren't interested in gaming history or retrogaming, as he's one of the most respected contributors to those areas of gaming journalism).
Problem I have with Jeremy Parish is he's just focused on the NES. Sometimes he'll do a letsplay of a Sega game but for the most part he doesn't cover much on his YouTube channel other than NES.

Kiwi wrote:

What I DID see were mags like Amiga Format/ST Format start to offer floppy disks with full games on them at far cheaper prices than the cartridges for the consoles AND as you said, you got a magazine to read as well. So I understand the logic of offering games with subscriptions, or as coverdisks on magazines, but at least many of the AMiga?Atari offerings were considered to be good games!!
In the UK the Official Nintendo Magazine is the one I remember seeing from Nintendo. Not much else.

kitsunebi wrote:

As mentioned before, AUS/NZ were functionally the same territories as EUR/UK so far as gaming was concerned. Nintendo didn't consider the UK/EUR market worth pursuing with the NES, so it only ever got introduced via 3rd party publishers who had neither the money nor vested interest in pushing it very hard. Though as you point out, cheap microcomputers were already widely saturated there, so Nintendo probably knew what they were doing when they decided not to release the NES there themselves.
Dragon Quest could probably be compared to the Dizzy series in that it's a game series that did great in its own county region but failed to gain traction outside.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 4 days ago

slider1983 wrote:

Dragon Quest could probably be compared to the Dizzy series in that it's a game series that did great in its own county region but failed to gain traction outside.


In general, perhaps, but it's a pretty weak comparison. The Dizzy games not only didn't gain traction elsewhere - they were never released in the first place. The only Dragon Quest games not released in North America were 5 and 6, and since DQ8, all games in the series have had worldwide releases. It's true that DQ has sold much BETTER in its home country, but that doesn't mean it's sold poorly elsewhere. More recent games in the series have had quite good sales worldwide.
Also, the Dizzy franchise itself was relatively short-lived, dying off in the early 90s, while Dragon Quest has been regularly releasing best-selling games for over 35 years. And so far as impact on the gaming industry as a whole goes, there's no comparison, as Dragon Quest more or less created the entire genre of JRPG and is considered one of the most influential games ever made. Most JRPGs to this day continue to utilize mechanics first introduced in older DQ games.

I'm not crapping on Dizzy, btw. Nor am I much of a Dragon Quest fan. There are tons of games I like WAY better than Dragon Quest. But I can at least admit that they might not be as IMPORTANT as Dragon Quest.

Edit: I should also point out that different countries measure success differently. So while the USA release of Dragon Warrior was considered a failure compared to its Japanese counterpart, it still managed to sell 500,000 copies (this does not include the 1 million copies given away with Nintendo Power subscriptions). The European market is much smaller, so a game can sell significantly less copies and still be considered a success. Apparently, concrete sales numbers are difficult to pinpoint, but according to some discussion in a Spectrum forum (https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/forum...php?t=1428), many of the best selling/most popular Spectrum games of all time probably sold less copies than the USA Dragon Warrior's "disappointing" number of 500,000.
S
slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 3 days ago

kitsunebi wrote:

Apparently, concrete sales numbers are difficult to pinpoint, but according to some discussion in a Spectrum forum (https://spectrumcomputing.co.uk/forum...php?t=1428), many of the best selling/most popular Spectrum games of all time probably sold less copies than the USA Dragon Warrior's "disappointing" number of 500,000.
I'm not surprised when you consider more people live in America than the UK. Any sales in America are going to dwarf sales in the UK.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 3 days ago
Yes, I literally just said that within the same post you quoted from. It's one of the main reasons Nintendo chose to test the waters with international distribution in the USA rather than the UK. (The fact that PAL is incompatible with the NTSC standard used in both Japan and the USA also probably had something to do with it). Meanwhile, Sega, having failed to find any success with the Master System in either Japan or the USA, had more incentive to try their luck elsewhere. And no doubt due in part to the void left by Nintendo's absence, the Master System found success in the previously unexploited European and South American markets.
S
slider1983
Junior Member
Posted 3 days ago

kitsunebi wrote:

Meanwhile, Sega, having failed to find any success with the Master System in either Japan or the USA, had more incentive to try their luck elsewhere. And no doubt due in part to the void left by Nintendo's absence, the Master System found success in the previously unexploited European and South American markets.
A shame Japan and the USA didn't get to experience Master System more eh? A very underrated console.
kitsunebikitsunebi
Admin
Posted 2 days ago
Nah, the Master System was well and truly %^#$ed in Japan, and thus by proxy, in the USA. It launched in 1985, giving Nintendo a two year head start, and put it into immediate competition with not only a slew of classic Nintendo arcade ports, but original classics like Super Mario Bros. as well. The Master System eked out just 8 games in 1985, none of which are really worth mentioning. They followed in 1986 by releasing just 17 more games, again consisting mostly of mediocre arcade ports, and none of which are enough to offer stiff competition for some of that year's Famicom games like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, and yes...Dragon Quest.

Also, don't forget that the PC Engine was released in 1987 and was a superior piece of hardware to either the Famicom or the Master System, and it initially specialized in arcade ports, which put it directly in competition with the Master System's strengths. R-Type on the Master System is certainly a great port, and the Famicom wasn't even up to the task of porting it. But the PC Engine release of R-Type was almost arcade-perfect. So it isn't surprising that the PC Engine would ultimately sell 8 times as many units in Japan as the Master System.

At any rate, in its first two years, Sega had only managed to release 25 games for the Master System. Meanwhile, by this same time, 185 games were available for the Famicom (*which was already more than the total of 155 games that would EVER be released for the Master System in Japan). Not only that, but every single game released during that time came directly from Sega themselves. In fact, during the ENTIRE life of the Master System in Japan, only TWO games were published by someone other than Sega, and only 16 games were developed by someone other than Sega. That kind of abysmally piss-poor third party support alone should be almost self-explanatory for why the system was a complete failure there. A single developer/publisher does not a successful console make.

So by the end of 1988, the Master System was completely dead in Japan as Sega cut its losses and focused all its attention on the Mega Drive, which had been released earlier that same year.

Look at any "best of" lists of Master System games (in English) and you're likely to notice that most of the games on the list were published AFTER 1988. In other words, those games were exclusive to markets other than Japan/USA. But did Japan/USA really miss out? It's a matter of opinion of course, but I personally don't really think so. Many of them are touted as "Sega's answer to (fill in the blank with a better designed and more popular Nintendo game)" like not-as-good-as-Mario platformers such as Alex Kidd and Psycho Fox, or not-as-good-as-Zelda games like Golvelius and Golden Axe Warrior, or the shameless not-as-good-as-Castlevania Castlevania clone Vampire: Master Of Darkness. You also get a lot of decent ports of Sega arcade titles, but better versions of most of those were also available for the Mega Drive/Genesis. Other games such as the Sonic titles and Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck titles are quite good but really don't offer anything that the Mega Drive games they're based off of do.

So, having played most of the Master System's library via emulation, it's my personal opinion that there are plenty of good games for the Master System, and anyone who owned one (provided they lived in Europe or Brazil) could have easily amassed a decent collection of fun games. But the Master System lacked "killer-app" "must-have" games, and anyone living in Japan or the USA for the most part could either play similar (often better) games that in many cases were the games that inspired the Master System games in the first place, or else play more advanced/better versions of the same games on other platforms like the PC Engine or Mega Drive.
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