Game Over by David Sheff is one of the foundational books for video game history. It is a second-hand source, but the information in it is excellent. It has also been corroborated over the years. It covers Nintendo’s history up to the N64, depending on the version of the book that you have.
Because I’m weird, I have three versions of the book. I know I’m a strange person, and I wanted to know the differences between the books. The only thing I could tell was extra chapters being added to update the book.
This is a very Nintendo-centric book. Other companies, Sega, Sony, and Atari, are brought up but aren’t given the same attention as Nintendo. When the book was written, Nintendo was on top of the video game industry, so I can understand why it was the book’s focus.
There are a few big things in this book. Many of them I have heard before, and I wish I had read the book first. Unfortunately, I have listened to all the stories in YouTube videos.
These include things like the Universal vs. Nintendo lawsuit, the story of Tetris, all of the Atari vs. Nintendo lawsuits, and how Nintendo viewed both Sega and NEC. Reading about Nintendo’s opinion of NEC was very interesting. I don’t remember hearing about it before.
It makes sense that Nintendo was worried about NEC. They were a larger company, had more money than Sega, and in theory, could have pulled in more third-party support. However, they didn’t have the track record that Sega had.
What NEC did have going for them was Hudson Soft. They were the company that provided a lot of quality games for the system. They ended up having a similar problem that Sega had. It was hard to attract third-party support.
Their marketing in the US was a much bigger problem. NEC did most of its marketing in major cities. This worked well in Japan, but it was less effective in North America.
It was interesting to read what Nintendo thought about the competition. Especially now as we know the way, the console wars played out in the 90s. NEC didn’t have the success in the US that they had in Japan, and Sega did much better in the US.
This is still my favorite story about the early days of Nintendo of America. There is a lot here, like Donkey Kong’s origin and Radar Scope’s failure in North America. You meet many of the key players in Nintendo’s story from this lawsuit.
This was caused by Universal incorrectly thinking they had the copyright to King Kong. They didn’t and had fought to prove that King Kong was public domain.
The similarities between King Kong and Donkey Kong were part of the lawsuit. It was also about Universal trying to get a slice of the video game industry. They thought they could bully their way in because they were a larger company than Nintendo, Coleco, Purina, and others.
Once things got to court, Universal’s case fell apart. Nintendo was free to continue without having to deal with copyright issues with Donkey Kong. There is more to the story than this brief summary, but those are the key points.
The Story of Tetris and the Atari Games
I’m not going to try to retell the story of either of these two things here. They’re closely tied together, and it would make this much longer than it needs to be.
This seems to be where many of the videos and books about Tetris started. I knew the story before I read this book, and I think there is more here, but I don’t think it can be corroborated. Parts of the account sound like a third-hand account of what happened.
I’m not saying that David made it up; I think most of what he writes about took place. There are just weird little things that sound off to me.
I think he covers the story of the early negotiations better than other sources. There was more in here about the first and second Soviet negotiation teams. It was fun to read about it for some reason.
The story of Tetris is tied with Atari Games in my mind. The two end up in the same place. Atari Games wanted to break Nintendo’s monopoly on the video game market. They also thought that they had the copyrights to Tetris.
David tells this story very well. There was some new information that I hadn’t known about. I think it was left out of other sources because it couldn’t be corroborated.
Bizarre Stories about Early Nintendo
Do you know those weird stories about what Nintendo sold during the 40s, 50s, and 60s? Well, this is where you could have read about them before they were all over the internet. There is also a lot about the Yamauchi family is in here.
It is fun to see these things now. We know how Nintendo turned out, but before the 70s, they were all over the place. Love Hotels, instant rice, and many other things were all attempts by Nintendo to expand their business.
While I thought this part was very interesting, I wanted to get to their arcade and electro-mechanical games. The stories are still interesting, and now, you can see these in several YouTube videos and articles.
This was probably the book I should have read when I started this series. Most of the information I read in it wasn’t new to me at the time. It was good, but I had heard most of it before.
Nowadays, you can find information in this book all over the internet. There wasn’t anything new to me. However, back in the 90s, this wasn’t widely known. Books like this would have been extremely valuable to people trying to piece all of this together. I wish there were more books like this about other companies. Many of the companies from the 80s are getting them now, but there are a lot of companies out there, and many of their stories either haven’t been written yet or are lost to time.