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Nintendo Power: Remembering America's Longest-Lasting Game Magazine

December 11, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

Sometime in 1987, Nintendo of America's then-president Minoru Arakawa -- the son-in-law of Nintendo Company president Hiroshi Yamauchi -- made the bold decision that players of his Nintendo Entertainment System console needed their own magazine to read.

There had been video game magazines before -- several, in fact -- but they'd all died along with the entire video game industry during the infamous crash of 1983. But if Nintendo was able to prove that kids were still interested in buying new games after all, he thought, perhaps they could prove that they'd be willing to pay to read about them too.

Thus, Nintendo Power -- sort of a combination of the free Fun Club Newsletter Nintendo was already sending its fans and a print version of its game tips hotline -- was born. It was the first of the new wave of video game magazines, and it managed to outlast all those who followed -- Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, Game Player's, VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, and the list goes on -- until the final issue was released on December 11, 2012.

Nintendo Power founding editors Gail Tilden and Howard Phillips were gracious enough to share their memories of launching -- for better or worse -- one of the most influential periodicals for those of a certain generation.

Gail and Howard were an unlikely combination -- she was the company's head of marketing and PR, and he was the Gamemaster, Nintendo's in-house video game nerd -- but together they managed to produce a magazine that somehow toed the line between being a marketing tool for selling products and an everything-you-need guide for telling game players what they should play and how they should play them.

In The Beginning

Howard Phillips: When we first launched the NES in 1985, we figured out very quickly that kids were just dying to get extra information about the games -- not just new games that were coming out, but also how to play them. We knew that in part because the Famicom had preceded the NES in Japan and we were seeing that phenomenon in Japan as well. So we decided that we would set up a mechanism that would help kids out with the games, and that's when we started the game counseling line.

I had about five or six guys who worked for me who answered questions on the phone, like how to find the third coin in level three, that sort of thing. But that was only one (expensive) way to solve that problem. We looked at other ways, and one way was to use the registration cards to send out information to the kids in the form of the Fun Club News.

Click for larger version.

Gail Tilden: I was an advertising manager, so I was doing PR and advertising for the NES. We'd been doing a lot of inserts in both the hardware and software, trying to get people to send us their names and addresses. In exchange, they would become a member of the Fun Club and receive the Fun Club News. That's what was going on in 1987.

The database was growing bigger and bigger, and I think we were at around 600,000 people when we made the decision that we didn't want to continue having a free magazine. It was creating a big burden to send this out.

HP: We were paying for it. It was good that we did that, because it eventually grew to over 100 people in game counseling who were answering questions. We really needed to respond to that in a forceful way.

GT: Ultimately, it became a burden because the database was growing so quickly, and we decided to start charging for it. That didn't mean it was extremely profitable to do that. In fact, it was still a marketing expense. But it helped pay for the cost of sending out the information, certainly.

Also right at that time, we came out with the very first Nintendo Player's Guide. That was one of the first times we had something where we had a lot of information and maps, and the kind of support they were giving games and gameplay in Japan. In fact, we used a Japanese resource to create that publication.

Nintendo Power was a combination of that idea and what was happening with the Fun Club News. Mr. Arakawa saw that there were several magazines in Japan that were supporting gameplay in a way where they used maps and helped people finish the games, and therefore helped consumers be more satisfied with the games. He wanted to follow that kind of format.

Click for larger version.

HP: Looking at Japan with Famitsu and Famicom Tsushin and things like that…I would get these really thick, dense magazines as part of the regular weekly shipments from Japan. I'd get these in the warehouse and I'd crack them open and look at the cool new games that were coming out. I'd almost get down with a magnifying glass to look at screenshots and things like that. It was natural for us to think that the kids in the U.S. would be eager to have that as well

GT: Mr. Arakawa was trying to capture the kind of print medium culture in Japan where kids would buy magazines like Jump and read them cover-to-cover every week. They had huge subscription bases. His own kids, who were born in the U.S. and knew how to read Japanese, would do the same thing. He would buy them copies of everything and they would just pore through them. He didn't feel there was a cultural bias. He just thought that no one had really hit on it. He wanted to use people who were involved in the Japanese print magazine business to help us make a magazine that would approach it editorially from that same point of view.

HP: So that was when Gail and I started up Nintendo Power. Gail was really the driving force behind the whole thing. I was more of a player's advocate for things that had to do with games specifically, like which ones were cool and why they were cool. When we were doing press checks, I would always say things like, "This screen is mirrored," or "This guy isn't in this area of the game." I made sure it was accurate so that it wouldn't cause more grief to send it out to all of the kids.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Jacob Alvarez
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Fare the well Nintendo Power. The publication may be gone, but the memory remains.

Lex Allen
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So, I'm really curious about why they stopped. Was that somewhere in the article?

I used to write letters to them when I was a kid. I used to draw characters on the envelopes too, but they never published them sadly.

Rebecca Richards
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Nintendo declined to renew their licensing agreement with Future Publishing, who had been handling the magazine for them since 2007. They have not said why, and they are not publishing it in-house either.

I think it's the lack of a "why" that makes it suck the most.

Andrew Chen
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The "why" is usually due to declining profitability, if not outright losing money.
As we all know, game magazines are not what they were in their hey-day. The internet has rendered the subscriber-ship of most untenable, thus even once-mighty EGM went out of print.
As a magazine that serves an even more smaller, specific customer base...yeah Nintendo Power's days were probably numbered long ago. Kudos to Future for giving it a go.

Lex Allen
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I'm sure that it was for financial reasons as well, but I would of liked to hear how bad it was.

Chris OKeefe
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I remember as a kid getting my hands on these magazines and feeling like it was christmas. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on things like games or computers. What we did have was an NES, and later an SNES, and we mostly only got games for christmas. These magazines were very much a portal into the other worlds that were waiting to be explored, and when something really grabbed me I'd bug the parents to take me to the local rental shop and let me rent it. Back when renting games was still a big thing.

It's likely I never would have become as interested in the industry as I am today if not for this magazine. So thanks for that.

Derek Manning
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This was my first gaming magazine, I remember getting issue number one. With my initial subscription we got a free copy of Dragon Warrior 1 for the NES as well. So many good memories of this magazine. It will be missed.

Raymond Grier
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With the Dragon Warrior game I got a small strategy guide and a map, that was so cool.

Muir Freeland
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I love the image of people cutting out map squares and pasting them on a giant board. It sounds like a nightmare in the best way possible.

Raymond Grier
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I had always assumed they used a camera to photograph the screen.

Mike Kasprzak
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Grabbed my copy of the final issue.

Growing up, I first subscribed about a year after it started. Without a doubt, Nintendo Power played a pivotal role in me getting involved in games professionally. It became a goal of mine to develop games for Nintendo systems, and a decade ago, I did get to work on several licensed games for the various GameBoy family of devices (GB, GBC, GBA). So, mission accomplished.

I don't do much Nintendo stuff anymore (Indie), but I will always respect Nintendo and Nintendo Power magazine. Thanks for memories.

Keith Thomson
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I was only subscribed to Nintendo Power for a couple of years myself, but I did enjoy the magazine while I had it. The game that they sent me though was especially important, as it set the course for most of my console gaming from there forward. (Dragon Quest 1.)

I liked their guides enough that I actually named a cat after one of the characters in a Final Fantasy screenshot... (I had no idea that "Gail" was an actual person at Nintendo Power at the time.)

Of course, the magazine eventually drifted over to mostly covering SNES titles, and I drifted over to PC gaming instead when my parents decided not to buy consoles anymore, so I ended up dropping it. When I came back to console gaming in the late 90's, Nintendo just wasn't bringing over the kind of games I enjoyed anymore. At this point I play maybe 5-10% of the time on nintendo platforms, and about 70% on Sony platforms, so I never resubscribed.

Youn Lee
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1993~1995 about 3 years I read this magazine, which was one of the most beautiful memories in my childhood. Getting a newest issue of this, was like buying a new game monthly. Now I live in Korea, as a 26 years old grown up, and uncomfortable of using English. I will always miss you.

Alexander Brandon
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This is an incredibly well done write up. I loved this magazine along with many others and this trip down memory lane is sincerely appreciated. I always did wonder how they did screenshots and maps! That was REAL publishing and design. Nowdays anyone can do it with the tools we have, but not many do it well. Hats off to Howard, Gail and everyone involved for a great magazine that was the only avenue of information about these games.

Benjamin Smith
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Wow this is truly sad...This magazine is why I went to school for Video Game Art. I would sit up hours looking at the maps and pictures trying to draw them on Mario Paint.

David Boudreau
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Yeah it was always a great day when my copy of the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter finally arrived. I was very loyal, however one of you people screwed up when the first issue of Nintendo Power came out- I remember waiting and WAITING that summer after all the hype, and hearing how my friends got their copy but mine never got sent out until very late, and I was emotionally scarred for life!! But I can't stay too mad at you, I still remember things like that Zelda map, great stuff.

Brenden Sewell
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That magazine was with me as a regular friend of sorts for most of my developing years. I still have some 150 odd issues sitting around in my old house somewhere.

Michael Ruud
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Nintendo Power was clearly a labor of love, and while it's with a heavy heart that its time has come to a close you've done good on giving the people behind its genesis the treatment they deserve with this article. And that final issue. It's such an appropriate bookend to the journey they've taken thus far. The cover, the fact that it features a review for a new Mario game on the dawn of the release of a new console, the final nester comic, the final page... everything about it is so heartfelt and tragic I dare call it poetic.

Thanks for the memories, Nintendo.

Rob Gomes
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I believe I was subscribed from Issue #1 through around Issue #100 or so. It was a pretty long run.

Some of the big game-centric strategy guide issues were tremendously well done. The Final Fantasy one is the one that sticks out for me, but I know there were strategy guides for 3 other games as well.

The Dragon Warrior offer I certainly remember as well. Renew your subscription and get a new game, strategy guide and other goodies? Sure! Sign me up! That's hard to argue when you're under the age of 10 (especially to my parents).

The issues I remember most however, were Issue #8 (the DuckTales issue) and #10 (the Batman issue) for one reason, which is depicted in one of the above photos: River City Ransom. One of the unsung heroes of the NES, arguably my favorite game of all time, and one I've for which not seen a comparable title since.

Josh Foreman
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So sad... Here's my moment of glory where I got a full page in the letters section...