Retro History: Missing the Mark

Fujitsu were one of the big guns of the Japanese PC revolution. Moving on from the MSX standard that previous computers had adhered to, a number of more business oriented systems were created.

Although these contained largely the same components as western computers (albeit usually with better graphics and sound) they weren’t directly compatible with MS-DOS, the leading operating system of the time.

Fujitsu felt the need to enter new markets and decided to take the lead of one of their main competitors, NEC, and enter the home console market. They decided to take a low-end specification of their main FM Towns computer line and put it into a home friendly casing, and the FM Towns Marty was born.

The Marty entered the Japanese market as the first 32 bit CD console (beating the 3DO by a few months) and it included better graphics, sound and more memory than the machines it was released to compete with, Nintendo’s Super Famicom, Sega’s Megadrive and NEC’s PC Engine.

It even had some compatibility with its big brother PC systems, it included a 3.5″ Floppy Drive to save games and use protected user disks that some games required. Unless the game needed too much memory the Marty could usually run it. The Marty had an AMD 386sx processor, running at 16 MHz, and 2MB of memory.

So why did it fail? The first reason is easy, the Marty released in 1993 at a price of ¥38,000. This was an astronomical price, the Super Famicom had released for ¥25,000 yen 3 years earlier and was selling for much less in 1993, consumers weren’t convinced the Marty had enough to justify the price increase.

Fujitsu went back to the drawing board, and then came back with the exact same machine in a dark grey shell. Really, its internally identical. There were rumours that it had a faster processor or improved components but, no. It’s exactly the same machine with a different case.

However, Fujitsu sold it for quite a bit cheaper and, it looked like the strategy was going to work. Sales started to improve slowly. But it was too slow for the board, the issue was that the Marty was expensive to make, so making it cheaper decreased the already thin profit margin. Generally you can make higher profit by getting licensing fees, but the Marty was compatible with the FM Towns computer, so developers just made their games compatible with both and refused to pay a fee.

The board pulled the plug on the project. The Japanese business world commemorated the decision by making ‘The Marty Law’ which, loosely, translates to ‘You can’t get sales if you don’t offer your product for sale’.

One last ditch attempt was made to salvage the investment in the Marty. The technology was given to Fujitsu’s car audio arm, Fujitsu Ten. They made the Car Marty, one of the first car entertainment systems, with the ability to play film, games and use GPS. Unfortunately it was also far too expensive and didn’t sell, but it didn’t stop other Car Audio manufacturers from copying it’s ideas.

So despite a number of firsts the Marty disappeared. It was the first computer turned into a console (something we’d see later in the original XBox and the current Playstations and XBoxes), the first 32 bit CD console and the first integrated Car entertainment systems.

Fujitsu left the games industry, never to return. But you have to wonder how the market would have changed if they’d stuck it out. The first Playstation arrived on the scene the year the Marty was discontinued and, on paper at least, the only thing it beat it on was it’s 3D capabilities, something Fujitsu could have easily fixed in a Marty 3.