Nintendo's 7 Biggest Failures and What They Taught Us

From the Virtual Boy to the disastrous deal with Sony that led to the PlayStation – Nintendo has had a few big misses

SNES CD-ROM drive (1991)
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SNES CD-ROM drive (1991)

The story has become the stuff of legend. In 1988, Nintendo saw the irresistible rise of CD-ROM technology and decided it had to get involved, signing a deal for Sony to produce a CD drive add-on for the Super Nintendo. Cunningly however, Sony also ensured it would have the freedom to produce a standalone machine, named the Play Station, which would combine a Sony CD machine and a SNES into one package. But what Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi later realised was that the deal gave Sony complete control over the sale and profit of game disks on the system – a situation that was utterly at odds with Nintendo's usual policy of controlling the entire ecosystem. So the day after Sony rocked up to the 1991 Consumer Electronic Show to announce its machine, Nintendo revealed that it instead inked a deal with another consumer electronics giant, Philips, to make a SNES CD-ROM drive. Sony had been dumped and publically humiliated. In a masterful moment of understatement, Olaf Olaffson, then-president of Sony Electronic Publishing, told the New York Times, "We view this as a very serious matter."

In the end, Nintendo never produced a SNES CD-ROM drive with Philips. Instead, it managed to conjure for itself a terrifyingly powerful new rival that would come back three years later with the PlayStation and dominate the industry. Almost as bad, a side clause in the Philips deal meant the Dutch company could produce Nintendo-themed games for its failed multimedia machine, the CDi. The three versions of Zelda made for the system, as well as the execrable cut-scenes-with-puzzles Hotel Mario, have to be seen to be believed – and then rinsed from your brain with mind bleach.

What we learned: Even Nintendo can make a bad deal – and then make a total mess of extricating itself from that deal. It rushed into a partnership with Sony in 1988, then rebounded into bed with Philips. Neither was a great suitor. The result was Nintendo swearing off conventional CD-ROM drives seemingly forever.