3rd Generation Competitors
Sega MasterSystem Amstrad GX4000 Commodore 64 Game System Atari 7800
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 15th Jul 1983 2003  19.35M
North America 18th Oct 1985 1995  34M
Europe 1987 1995  8.56M

The Family Computer (Famicom).  Possibly one of the most famous consoles in history.  It supplanted the Atari 2600 as the go to word for gaming and successfully rebooted a failing gaming market.

Nintendo was hot off a string of popular arcade titles and decided they didn’t want other companies to get the money for bringing them in the home.  So they started development of their home system.

Initially released in Japan, it eventually made it’s way to North America and Europe as the Nintendo Entertainment System and to South Korea as the Hyundai Comport.  It was easily the best selling consoles of the third generation.

Along with a new hardware platform, Nintendo also created the now standard method of licensing and approval.  They’d witnessed how the gaming market in America had combusted due to a rash of poor quality titles.  So developers had to register with Nintendo and get their products licensed before they could be distributed.

To stop non-licensees releasing games Nintendo added a simple method of authentication.  The solution meant that each cartridge had to have a compatible chip inside it to run.  This didn’t entirely stop unlicensed games, a few companies reverse engineered the design and made their own cartridges, or made cartridges that could ‘piggy back’ on licensed games and run that way.

The power of the Famicom drew a lot of developers to Nintendo, and Nintendo took advantage of this by making them sign rigid agreements, these agreements stopped them from developing from competing platforms.  Because of this it was hard for competitors to thrive and is one of the main reasons Sega struggled with the Master System.

The platform also lured a group of incredibly successful developers who had worked on the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64.  These developers, called Imagine, sold the rights to the name and most of their IP and re-appeared named Rare.  They impressed Nintendo so much that they eventually bought a large share in the small British company.

Nintendo didn’t really see much competition in the third generation.  The MasterSystem was poorly advertised and was missing many of the key developers due to Nintendo’s agreements.  The two other notable platforms, the GX4000 from Amstrad and the Game System from Commodore never took off.  The C64GS was underpowered and the GX4000 hit the market too late.

Nintendo also released a disc drive for the Famicom.  This drive only came out in Japan and used proprietary 3 inch discs.  These discs had an embossed Nintendo logo which acted like the copy protection.

The idea behind the discs was that you could buy games as normal but you could also go to kiosks which would burn the game you wanted to a disc.  These discs could also be time locked for demo or rental purposes.

Sharp helped with the development of the drive and were allowed to create several Famicom based products.  These included a TV with a built-in Famicom and a unit, called the Famicom Twin which merged the Famicom and Disc System into one.


Processor Ricoh 2A03 (modified MOS 6502) @ 1.79MHz
ROM 256b
Custom Chips
Video 24 Colours from a Palette of 52
Audio 1 x PSG Channel
Removable storage

Nintendo Entertainment System