Six months after the NES launched in Japan in 1983, Nintendo engineers learned that “certain games caused the system to freeze,” according to Game Over, the best biography of Nintendo you’ll ever read. As for the malfunction, think of it as the “red ring” of 1983, only it didn’t kill your system.
Nevertheless, “the circuitry on the chip had to be corrected” to fix the problem. Top engineers, including Masayuki Uemura and Gunpei Yokoi, expected the hard-nosed Yamauchi, then president of the company, to “go into an explosive tirade,” upon hearing the “expensive” news.
To mitigate the short-term loss, not to mention still being in stores for the upcoming holiday season, they advised Yamauchi to “replace units only when customers complained,” as Microsoft has done with the Xbox 360, which fails and estimated 33-40% of the time. Realizing his emerging brand would take a credibility hit if he tried to sweep the error under the rug, Yamauchi responded by saying, “Recall them all.”
Ever since then, Nintendo has always been closely associated with reliability. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how Microsoft’s gaming fortunes might be different had they followed in the footsteps of their most lucrative and influential competitor when it came to fixing shoddy hardware.