There are a few rivalries as fierce as the console war between Nintendo and Sega in the 80s and 90s. It all started with the release of the Nintendo Famicom and Sega SG-1000, released on this day in 1983. It was a coincidence that both consoles launched on the same day, but it acted as a symbolic representation of the arms race between the two console companies.
The Famicom launched with superior hardware and a trio of amazing games: Donkey Kong, Donkey Jr. and, Popeye, whereas the SG-1000 launched with Borderline, Safari Hunting, and N-Sub. Although Nintendo led in sales at launch, it was not without its problems. Hardware issues plagued the Famicom with initial release units freezing due to circuitry faults. This forced Nintendo to recall a large number of units and halt production until the problem was fixed. This was a huge lifeline for Sega, who went on to sell 150,000 units in its first year. The company surpassed its expectations of 50,000 units due to its rival’s misfortune with hardware failures.
At the end of 1983, Sega had released 21 titles compared to Nintendo’s nine. However, this margin was quickly diminished when Nintendo decided to allow third party releases on their Famicom system. But there was one catch: development companies needed to sign an exclusive licensing agreement. This was basically a non-compete agreement banning developers for creating games for other systems such as the SG-1000.
Nintendo signed a licensing agreement with Namco which allowed them exclusive rights to Pac-Man, Mappy, and Xevious. They also allowed development company Hudson to port arcade titles such as Broderbund’s Lode Runner. Hudson also developed games such as Bomberman and Star Force.
Later, Nintendo would also sign licensing agreements with Capcom and Konami. This was a huge blow for Sega. Sega had to ramp up their first party development in order compete but already Sega was a distant second to Nintendo.
The trend continued in the West with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment and Sega Master System. Nintendo managed to sell millions of units thanks to its killer games. Donkey Kong, Duck Hunt, and Super Mario Bros were particular console sellers.
Sega only launched with two games, Hang-On and Safari Hunt compared to Nintendo’s 16 games. By the end of both consoles’ life cycle, Nintendo released 679 games in North America. Sega lagged behind only producing 114 games for the Master System. Ultimately, Nintendo reigned supreme in the 8-bit console war, selling over 61 million units worldwide obliterating Sega’s sales of 13 million (not including Brazil’s sale figures).