Nintendo’s robot

There’s an entertaining Youtube video about the R.O.B. toy robot that Nintendo included with the first NES system. The toy was pivotal in recasting the video game system – which to be sure was a video game system at the start, was a video game system when released, and continues to this day as a video game system – as an “entertainment system” that was a “toy experience” unlike any the then-crashing video game industry had ever seen.

Except it wasn’t. Clearly.

In development, it was an intriguing prototype that wasn’t likely to go anywhere unless it got expensive enough that no one could buy it. On release, Nintendo created only two games that could use it. Those would be the only two games ever released for it, and for good reason. And even today, with folks developing sophisticated games for old systems for the sheer challenge of it, and despite how many of the original systems were sold, there are still just the two games. (Watch the video for details.)

So in short, it never fulfilled its purpose.

As a robot, that is.

It was an excellent marketing ploy. The robot could sit in a shop window and draw people in. The breathless ad copy on the packaging could promise a “toy experience” that got past parents’ objectives to another video game system. And underneath it all was the vague sense that it could be the future. You never know, right?

Except it wasn’t. R.O.B. was a flop as a robot, as an experience, and as a technology.

But it was successful as a distraction.