Thursday, January 31, 2008

Your E-mail (and My Embarrassment)

Mark Lahren just sent me an e-mail with the subject "Not To Pick Nits, But...":
Wasn't "T2X: Shadows of the Metal Age" released back in May 2005?

Okay, I wouldn't call two-and-a-half years a "nit." I'd call it more of a "massive oversight" on my part, even though there was a version 1.1 (the final version) released in February of last year. Which was still almost a year ago.

Thank you in advance for not sending me a link to the SNL skit where the game show contestant doesn't know that we walked on the moon.

This second e-mail isn't a massive oversight on my part (much to my surprise), but an interesting piece of gaming history (as well as a nice story about being a kid), courtesy of Little Mike. This is in reference to the recent post about the used game market.

Back in the 80's when I was a wee lad (I'll be 32 this June) my mother was a front end supervisor for a toy store called Child World. Child World was no small operation, back then it was Toys 'R Us' main competitor. As such they carried all the latest and greatest toys and games, including every NES title available. Now being that my mother was the front end supervisor, she dealt with returns and broken merchandise and all kinds of things of that sort. As an aside, a FES was essentially a manager, that's just the company title they used. Anyway, it worked out great because I got to go to work with my mom a lot (and what kid doesn't like hanging out in a toy store), and I got to learn about the ins and outs of the industry. One of the best perks was that when merchandise was damaged (the box torn and ripped, pieces missing, etc.) the distributor just required the SKU in order to issue credit. So the toys were all discarded, or more often than not, I got to keep them because they were only being thrown away. Hey, so what if He-Man was missing his sword, or he was a little banged up, it was free. Anyway, I digress.

I think we can agree that one of the most industry changing game systems to be released was the Nintendo Entertainment System. When it was first released, games were able to be returned for a full refund. However, a few years later this changed. This started around 1987. I can tell you this definitively and I will explain in a moment. In 1987, The Legend of Zelda for the NES was released. One of the most widely successful properties Nintendo has ever owned, and a testament to the genius that is Miyamoto. Shortly after the release of Zelda, there was an influx of returns. Now you may be thinking that this made no sense because the game received accolades for its superb storyline and gameplay. You would also be absolutely correct. But there was something amiss here and we didn't realize it until people like my mother got a company memo from the distributors.

Apparently what was going on was that some clever gamers were dismantling the Zelda cartridges, removing the ROM chip from it and then taking an older, cheaper game that wasn't nearly as good like Popeye (Popeye retailed for around $30 back then and Zelda was a whopping $50), and they would swap the ROM chips. Then they would reassemble the cartridges and then return Zelda for a full refund, getting their $50 back, meanwhile keeping it by having the ROM in the Popeye case.

I don't think I have to tell you how infuriated the distributors and then Nintendo became over this.

Shortly thereafter, Child World received a company-wide memo that no video game cartridge was to be accepted for returns from that point forward, and understandably so. So I don't know about the rest of the country, but in New York, the inability to return console games started in 1987, long before Gamestop was founded in 1994.

That's a very interesting piece of history that I'd totally forgotten, but the part of the story I enjoyed most was imagining being a kid and getting to keep returned merchandise that was slightly dinged or missing pieces. Just the though of sorting through a box of those toys and deciding what to keep is a great memory of childhood.

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