A Marketing Vehicle, But An Honest One
GT: It was a marketing vehicle, but when it was going to become a magazine, the mission statement of the magazine was to help consumers to be more satisfied with their game purchases and ensure the longevity of that category. If you remember, at this time, we still had a concern that people would buy games that they didn't enjoy, and if a family made too many poor purchasing decisions, purchasing products that weren't terrific, then they would walk away from being involved with the NES. The magazine was a component of marketing, but in a customer service way.
HP: I set up and ran the internal evaluation system. Nintendo in Japan was doing something like that to begin with, but we built on that. Initially, it was just myself and another two guys who looked at every single game that was being released in Japan, and we'd all rate them on a standardized form. Then I expanded that to include game counselors, and then expanded it even larger, and brought in kids to fill in forms and say what they liked about different games.
That information is what fed the Power Meter. That wasn't just marketing stuff. The Power Meter was coming directly from that data from people who were playing the games.
GT: Based on that game's ratings, it would help NoA to determine how strong the game was going to be and the way we could support a licensee or development team that had come up with a fantastic game. One of the ways we could do that would be to give them larger coverage in Nintendo Power.
Sometimes they would purchase big licenses or put a lot of energy into a game that just doesn't work out to be very fun or balanced. Those games did not get as much coverage, even if the licensee begged or pleaded. [laughs] The answer was still no. It was considered quite a coup to have your game featured on the cover and to get major editorial coverage.
HP: To this day, my integrity is rock-solid on that. At the time, the hit games were such clear leaders over the other ones, and it was borne out by all the game evaluation data that we got.
We were fed by the scores that were coming out of the game evaluation. We were talking about huge games like Ninja Gaiden and Super Mario and Zelda and Castlevania. They were huge hits.
Occasionally, we'd get a lull where there wasn't a super hit game coming out. A "super hit game" scores above a 32 on a 40 point scale. If there was a game that was a 30 and there was nothing else, that would get the cover, because it was the best game for that period.
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One of the largest magazines in America…maybe
GT: We sent out 3.2 million [complimentary copies of the first issue], that's how big the database grew from the 600,000 to when the decision was made fairly early 1987.
Our database grew during the time we were pursuing this to more than 10 million. We had a huge direct-response database, and we protected it very closely. We never sold it, and never let the mailing tapes out. For a while, we even directly mailed the magazine in-house and set up a mailing shop because we valued the assets of the list.
When it hit 1.3 million -- and we talked about how fast it grew -- I was looking at what magazines were the biggest magazines in the country, and in fact the biggest one was a senior's magazine. Like an AARP magazine or something. But that's not fair because it's just something you get. It's like AAA Magazine. You get it when you're a AAA person.
I'm really not sure [where Nintendo Power placed, in terms of circulation], but it certainly was up there. Because Nintendo Power didn't accept advertising, we weren't audited, and in order to be formally ranked -- like being a public company or something -- you needed to be audited by one of those companies that keeps track and keeps people honest for ad rates.
HP: It's a lifetime of wonderful memories, working on that thing with Gail and the folks at Work House and at Nintendo and the licensees. It was so much fun. The guys would come in and you'd say you were going to do a feature on them and they just couldn't wait to hop in the airplane and get there and share every possible goodness that they could think of about the game with you, to make sure you get it in the magazine. Without even thinking about it specifically, I smile, and then I think of specifics and smack my forehead with embarrassment or joy or frustration or whatever. It was just all-around great times.
GT: Not to say at the time we thought we were all that, but you know, we just kept going. I just think that now, the sophistication of design and layout is so much easier in a way, and the ability to adjust things and make them look better if you don't like something is...but I don't think so, really. Right now, when I look at it, it doesn't look very organic, and it looks a little unpolished compared to what you might imagine someone would do today.
But kids loved it. They really warmed to it. It felt right.