Jump to content
Zoyous

Where did NEC go wrong with the PC Engine?

Recommended Posts

I have to preface this by saying I don't know a whole lot about the PC Engine to begin with! As a kid, I had a friend who would occasionally get Japanese magazines and I remember seeing pictures of the PC Engine and its games circa 1988. So it has this mythical status in my mind, because just by looking at the screenshots you could tell this was a big step up from the NES and SMS. Then, of course, I was aware that the TurboGrafx-16 was the Western version of the PC Engine when it came out soon after. But what I've gathered over the years was that the original PC Engine managed to get some serious market share in Japan and was rivaling the Famicom in popularity. (What the actual numbers are, if they are even publicly known, I don't know.) So, it seems like it was quite a successful console in Japan. And as I've occasionally researched buying one, I've become aware of subsequent consoles like the CoreGrafx and SuperGrafx. Although I don't know too many details about them, I've gathered that they didn't have as many games released for them. It's also interesting to me that the PC Engine has an understandable appeal in Japanese culture by being very small and somewhat cute, but the SuperGrafx is so aggressive in its styling it practically looks like an explosive weapon! So I just wonder, what went on here? I assume they struggled with attracting third party developers due to Nintendo's stranglehold on most of them. But even so, NEC apparently managed to become a serious rival to Nintendo in Japan... but then fumbled by following up with too many new platforms too quickly?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good reading IMO:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/225466/stalled_engine_the_turbografx16_.php

 

Long story short...they hired Atari guys, then they listened to them. XD

 

Longer story:

 

The company made the decision to redesign the PC Engine's casing for its introduction to the U.S. Compared to other consoles of the era, the PC Engine was tiny, thanks to its well-engineered internals and the credit card sized HuCARD format. However, "there was a feeling" that American consumers wanted something bigger -- and something more futuristic, Wirt says.

"We did a bunch of research around the name and we decided we had to change the name and the industrial design," Wirt says. The name was a simple change: "TurboGrafx" to refer to the system's speed and the strength of its visuals, which were clearer and much more colorful than earlier systems; "16" to refer to its 16-bit GPU, as "16-bit" was the keyword for that console generation. (Accessories became "Turbo" everything: TurboPad, TurboTap, TurboStick, and the HuCARD now the "TurboChip.")

"The marketing and advertising company came up with some sketches, and they conducted focus groups," says Carol Balkcom, who was part of NEC's launch team. Once the externals were designed, engineering began: "it takes time to do a redesign and a re-layout of stuff," says O'Keefe. "Plastic's not exactly a quick-turnaround item, especially if you're changing the design every so often."

The redesign of the hardware dragged on. O'Keefe says that the company wasted months trying to create a rubber-textured cover for the console's rear expansion port -- work which was abandoned when a usable solution could not be created. "It would have been nicer to have the same form factor as the Japanese. It would have cured a lot of problems, issues," O'Keefe says.

Hudson Soft wasn't thrilled with the look NEC selected, either. "They wanted to make it look like something you'd find on your stereo rack, where we prefered the small intimacy of the PC Engine," says Greiner. But NEC, he says, had its eyes on pushing its way into American living rooms, and wanted a different aesthetic. "They were marketing experts in The States, and they chose the look and the feel that they wanted."

Another former NEC staffer, who came on much later in the system's lifespan, has a different take: "Their idea was a dumb American stereotype: Bigger is better. That's all it is," says John Brandstetter, who joined NEC in 1991. O'Keefe (who worked for Atari in Japan prior to NEC) chalks the redesign up to "Atari mind-think," comparing it to the disastrous Atari 5200, which the company's marketers felt needed to be physically larger than its hit 2600 console to be successful (which it wasn't.)
 
They should have just painted the PC-E black and brought it over. The Genesis was launched the same month I believe. I think they easily could have been beaten to market and that would have made a major difference IMO.
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Then there is the issue of NEC insulting American developers during a conference with developers concerning the system's launch and potential CD add-on support. Apparently telling Trip Hawkins that western developers were not as good as their Japanese counterparts, despite being the truth, was not a good idea. And so when EA walked out on the TG-16, they took the rest of the western industry with them.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The console wars in Japan was Famicom/Super Famicom VS PC Engine and not the Mega Drive (which was 3rd in Japan). 

 

PC Engine is my all time favorite console by the way... so many great games! 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know if there was really an "issue" with the PC Engine side of things. Yes, they fumbled with branching out with things like the Super Grafx, but ultimately they did fine in Japan in the end. Some of the other models were normal refreshes that other platforms got (i.e., NES top loader, Sega Genesis Models 2 and 3, PlayStation's PSOne, etc). Some of them also made sense, like the consolidated units that combined the base HuCard capabilities along with the newer CD functionality (like the PC Engine DUO).


As far as NEC's success is concerned in the long term, I think the biggest problem was the PC-FX itself, a totally different platform incompatible with the PCE itself. Being a hardened 2D system, it was the wrong direction for them to go in at a time when the 3DO, Saturn and PlayStation were focusing on 3D. It bombed pretty hard and that was basically it for NEC in the console race.

 

For NEC's US market, I don't think the redesign of the PC Engine was a bad thing. Sure, it cost more resources as mentioned previously, but the unit looked "cool". I like the design of it. So take the next bit with a grain of salt, as I was younger then and not as keen to the market, but looking back at it I don't think the packaging did it any favors. From some random dude's face plastered over the console box, to the cheap, kiddy styled lettering on a majority of its game boxes and TurboChip/CD cases, to the poor advertising in magazines and on TV, it didn't really come off as the "cool" system to own, despite the console itself actually looking kind of cool. Which is a damn shame because its launch window games were actually really good. The Genesis got these things right--better advertising, cooler packaging and artwork, etc.

 

Side note regarding confusion in Japan, remember that the Famicom had quite a few different models too which surely added to some confusion with that ecosystem. Famicom Disk System, Sharp Twin Famicom, the A/V Famicom (i.e., NES Top Loader), etc. I don't think it was really a big issue though.

Edited by Austin
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I would suggest that limited retail distribution was also a factor. Here in Canada, at least the TG-16 was only sold through Radio Shack stores (at least I never saw it anywhere else). While the stores stocked a small handful of games and accessories, the selection was limited and there was no other obvious retail source.

 

For years after the console itself was discontinued, some RS stores still stocked accessories like the AV expansion unit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
53 minutes ago, jhd said:

 

I would suggest that limited retail distribution was also a factor. Here in Canada, at least the TG-16 was only sold through Radio Shack stores (at least I never saw it anywhere else). While the stores stocked a small handful of games and accessories, the selection was limited and there was no other obvious retail source.

 

For years after the console itself was discontinued, some RS stores still stocked accessories like the AV expansion unit.

The Bay carried TG-16.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The system really had a lot of problems in all territories; it just had more in the US. In Japan it was somewhat popular but that popularity is relative; we're not talking tens of millions of systems sold. Products in Japan can be financially successful with pretty modest sales because it's a geographically small country with a concentrated population.

 

The 2 problems it really shared worldwide were that it was kind of in between the 8 and 16 bit generations in terms of power and what it could do, and it didn't have a lot of marquee games. NEC didn't have the arcade pedigree of Sega or Nintendo, nor had they had years to develop their games and characters for home systems. NEC tried to fix the capability issue with their various add-ons and revisions, and that helped for a while, but ultimately IMO it just fragmented the system and made it too complicated for a lot of people to get into. They intentionally didn't do that in the US, but that left the TurboGrafx underpowered compared to the Genesis and SNES.

 

In the US, NEC didn't seem to have a lot of marketing or retail clout. I just don't remember seeing the system much. NEC has never been a big brand in the US with anything - they've always just kind of been in the background - so they probably just didn't have very solid partnerships that they could count on. And they didn't seem to have a big advertising budget either. I do remember seeing some ads, but just not a lot of them. This wasn't really an issue in Japan, where NEC *is* a very big brand - they have a ton of retail space, and ads everywhere. They have big name recognition there.

 

The design of the system in the US wasn't great, but I don't know how much that really matters, honestly. Beauty's really in the eye of the beholder and IMO, some of the ugliest systems ever (the SNES, Xbox 360, etc.) have been the most successful while some of the nicest looking (the Xbox One S, Sega Saturn, Atari 5200 and 7800) have been much less so. I think game consoles are like people... often they look better (or worse) the more you get to know them. The TurboGrafx 16 just wasn't a good enough console, nor did it have the marketing and marquee games behind it, to allow us to get used to its looks.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
32 minutes ago, spacecadet said:

The system really had a lot of problems in all territories; it just had more in the US. In Japan it was somewhat popular but that popularity is relative; we're not talking tens of millions of systems sold. Products in Japan can be financially successful with pretty modest sales because it's a geographically small country with a concentrated population.

 

....

Hold on a second in 1990 the population of Japan was about 50% of the US (123M vs 250M), so it was a huge market.

 

And in Japan the Famicom/SuperFamicom sold in the "tens of millions" as in ... 2 tens as each sold a little less than 20M (for the Famicom it means about 31% of total WW sales, for the  SuperFamicom about 34% of WW sales so pretty important at that point in time), the PCEngine in Japan topped at a little less than 4M ...  given it launched in 1987 and there would be no Super Famicom until 1990, in those 2.5years it outsold the Famicom and was very successful. 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Im sure having a weak mascot didnt help. Bonk was a decent series but far from Mario or Sonic. The two button stock controller was super limiting as well. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The PC Engine did well in Japan.

 

In the US its biggest weakness was not having the killer franchises/mascots that could compete with the popular Sega and Nintendo titles. Just not being Sega or Nintendo hurt it at the time. I've played Bonk's Adventure and I agree with the above poster that it's no Mario or Sonic.

 

The Turbografx library still has a ton of niche appeal, eg. fantastic shooters and cult favorites such as Splatterhouse, so it's an expensive system to collect for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It failed because of name recognition, availability and lack of a killer app.  Which is a damn shame because I think it was a great system.  

 

I would look at it in the Sears catalog, wondering what TG16 would be like.  But it was the unknown system, while Sega and Nintendo were well known arcade companies.  Also non of the video stores where I lived haved TG16 games.  There was a ton of NES and Sega games and it just made sense to buy one of them, because I could rent games.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

PC Engine was indeed popular in Japan but it is 'relative' as spacecadet said; it catered mostly to the hardcore gamers. The different models were confusing for the mainstream audience and expensive (especially the handheld ones). It is also important to remember that the PC Engine was mostly created by Hudson, and NEC was clearly not as passionate about the system. PC-FX was not necessarily the successor Hudson wanted, and catered even more to a niche audience. But that was a more common issue with Japanese games at that time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was a fine system, but the others were better. Gaming system market share was winner take all back then, so the machine with the most success got the most developers which fed more success. 
 

Is anyone stoked for the mini console coming soon? I'm not nostalgic for the system, I don't think a mini would be cute, and besides, it is well emulated so the games are already accessible to me. When the mini console bombs and gets a steep reduction in price, perhaps I'll be tempted like with PlayStation Classic. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 minutes ago, Flojomojo said:

Is anyone stoked for the mini console coming soon?

Yes, I preordered it (well, the cuter European model). I already own a CoreGrafx, a flashcard and a Super CD-ROM² with (too many) games that I don't have the time to play, but I couldn't help myself - especially since the NES is the only other mini console I've bought. I wish it was a little less expensive, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, roots.genoa said:

I wish it was a little less expensive, though.

A 45 day wait after launch should make that wish come true. 😢 

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The re-design of the casing matters IMO not because it is cool (or not) or because 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', it's not about the LOOKS at all, it cost them TIME and MONEY. They could have been first to launch, BEFORE Genesis.They wasted months on a designing a rubber piece alone for the expansion port alone, and they never even got it working. Stupidity.

 

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Flojomojo said:

 When the mini console bombs and gets a steep reduction in price, perhaps I'll be tempted like with PlayStation Classic. 

 

Im doing the same. Id like one but no way for $100. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 hours ago, Zoyous said:

So, it seems like it was quite a successful console in Japan. And as I've occasionally researched buying one, I've become aware of subsequent consoles like the CoreGrafx and SuperGrafx. Although I don't know too many details about them, I've gathered that they didn't have as many games released for them. It's also interesting to me that the PC Engine has an understandable appeal in Japanese culture by being very small and somewhat cute, but the SuperGrafx is so aggressive in its styling it practically looks like an explosive weapon! So I just wonder, what went on here? I assume they struggled with attracting third party developers due to Nintendo's stranglehold on most of them. But even so, NEC apparently managed to become a serious rival to Nintendo in Japan... but then fumbled by following up with too many new platforms too quickly?

Yes it was very successful and really took a lead in pushing some solid game sales in Japan as others pointed out I'm sure (I'm responding without reading below you.)  The CG isn't subsequent, it and the CG2 were just remodels of the same exact system dumping the garbage RF hookup for a RCA style plug instead which really brought some solid clarity boost to the audio and visuals.  The PCE format from there forward had some insanely sold quality output even over that cable even to date on a modern tv won't show the usual ghosting/blur mess more popular stuff.  Now you were right the SGX was the next iteration, but it bombed, hard, despite the fact it was an upgrade.  Interestingly enough it wasn't a big upgrade inside but felt like it on the outside, kind of like the 1/2 generation stuff people do now with their PS4 Pros and New3DS's and all that where the old stuff works, but some stuff is made for it (like Xenoblade for New3DS only.)  The SGX did have 2 asinine drawbacks though, it couldn't lock on the CD device, nor could its games run on the later devices yet like the PC/Turbo Duo/Duo-RX.  They bungled there, then did it again with the PC-FX system which never took hold, it was like their own screw up trail of shame like Sega with their tower of power foolishness into the Saturn in the 90s too.  NEC got smarter and just bailed, saved themselves, Sega kept throwing money into a trash fire and floundered to hardware maker death.

 

As far as the US goes, that's an entirely far more ignorant and asinine story which is covered decently enough as I did see a piece of the post just below yours, Atari marketing morons.   But as to how much of that, I think it was only on the bigger badder part on making that big honking system vs the CG model.  Did you know the CG is the same dimensions around as a HuCard/TG16 (aka CD) jewel case and about the height of 4 of them stacked up?  Yeah, that small and elegant, easy to fit anywhere.  Initially if there was a downside to the device, the lack of a high end space on a stock HuCard which was 1MB.  When SF2 CE popped up, that used 20Mbit, so they had to make part of the card where the picture is fatter to fit the added room, and damn it's worth it. :)

 

At that time American developers were kind of trashy, and this system was very Japanese centric much like the Nintendo and Sega but to a fault, they really didn't get much from our side at all.  Which in the big picture unless you were a sports or WRPG fan, no loss.  The real issue that really really did doom them was the incompetence of NEC itself in bringing stuff over and talking their third parties into doing the same.  That really really did the most damage.  Ignoring CDs for the moment, the TG16 didn't even crack 100 games while the PCE got over 300 on HuCard.  Now even being fair saying maybe 25% of those games are not regionally viable outside of Japan or easily translated, there is a huge list of games we could have got from Capcom, Konami, Taito, Namco, and others that never made it that needed minimal translation if anything.  So it's like, WHY?!  There were a lot of really fantastic arcade games among others that should have seen a release here and just didn't.  Then if you investigate into the CD realm it gets even dramatically more depressing on what could have worked.  Castlevania, Valis, more Ys, Gradius II, Neo Nectaris(we got #1 as Military Madness), Shubibinman 3(we got #1 as Shockman).

 

Either way you roll up the external bad design in the states, the total incompetent bungling on what to release outside of Japan, and then of course Nintendo and their you can't compete tactics they did in the NES era too, and it was a recipe for disaster.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Flojomojo said:

A 45 day wait after launch should make that wish come true. 😢 

It really depends on how many units they made though. Since it's a niche system, I'm afraid it could be sold out quickly, and after 45 days the price would actually quadruple. -_-

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, phoenixdownita said:

Hold on a second in 1990 the population of Japan was about 50% of the US (123M vs 250M), so it was a huge market.

 

I never said it wasn't. Read what I said.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/17/2020 at 9:42 PM, mbd30 said:

The PC Engine did well in Japan.

 

In the US its biggest weakness was not having the killer franchises/mascots that could compete with the popular Sega and Nintendo titles. Just not being Sega or Nintendo hurt it at the time. I've played Bonk's Adventure and I agree with the above poster that it's no Mario or Sonic.

 

The Turbografx library still has a ton of niche appeal, eg. fantastic shooters and cult favorites such as Splatterhouse, so it's an expensive system to collect for.

 

To be fair Sega Sonic came out in Jun 1991 and I don't recall any mascot per se on the SMS before that (EDIT: well Alex Kidd tried).

 

I hear you that probably the lack of a mascot didn't help, but I am afraid that the reason of the failure is not a single one but more likely a few that piled up.

For example I think the lack of second controller port seriously crippled it ... in those days (and throughout the 90s) playing with friends was a big deal, having to have to spend upfront for that "luxury" on top of the console and game was bad, it was soooo important that both the N64 and the Dreamcast (the last 2 consoles to come out in the 90s) went the way of 4 ports. Again it was not the only (or maybe even main) reason, but it didn't help.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also think a lot of people were holding out for the next Nintendo.  It wasn't too long after the TG16 US launch that magazines started talking about the Super Nintendo.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, homerhomer said:

I also think a lot of people were holding out for the next Nintendo.  It wasn't too long after the TG16 US launch that magazines started talking about the Super Nintendo.  

They brought it to the US too late... just imagine if they brought it over in 1988 instead of 1989, there would have been nothing on the market even close to the power of the system until the Genesis was released next year.

Edited by DragonGrafx-16
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe the Turbo Grafx-16 failed in the U.S. for 3 reasons, which are all related and over simplified below:

 

1) Marketing. NEC didn't have the budget or allocate the funds to go up against Nintendo and Sega in the U.S. 

 

2) Failure to bring games over from Japan. There were so many great games that never made it to the States or weren't released at the same time in the U.S. as they were in Japan. NEC never opened the flood gates. 

 

3) Nintendo's iron fist policy of not allowing 3rd party NES developers to release their games on other consoles, at least in the U.S. Nintendo was sued over this and lost. The timing of the Turbo Graxf-16 release in the U.S. when this was going on may have had something to do with so few games being released.

The Master System was a failure in the U.S. due to Nintendo's monopolistic practices. Sega had to publish virtually every Master System game because of this. When 3rd party developers were allowed to release games on other systems, the Genesis was the main beneficiary of this. The Genesis was able to directly compete with NES/SNES because 3rd parties now had a way of making more money on other systems besides Nintendo's. Nintendo finally had competition in the U.S. and Sega was there to trade punches. For whatever reason, NEC and its 3rd party developers did not take advantage.

 

We did not know it at the time, but the Turbo-Grafx was dead on the vine the moment it was released in the U.S.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...