What do you do when your industry collapses and you are looking for an innovative way to stay viable? If you are Nintendo, you create a video game playing robot and hope for the best.
In 1983, the bottom fell out of the video game industry. After reaching revenues over $3 billion dollars, sales dropped by 97% percent, plummeting to a mere $100 million in 1985. It was a catastrophe that destroyed companies like Games By Apollo and US Games, and prompted Atari to bury much of its excess stock in an enormous landfill in New Mexico.
Companies looked desperately for ways to recover. Nintendo’s answer to the crash was to create the Robot Operating Buddy or R.O.B. Their goal was to convince retailers that Nintendo was more of a toy than a video game. R.O.B was created by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, the man who was responsible for Nintendo’s Game & Watch and later the Game Boy.
If you can picture a stereotypical robot, you know what R.O.B. looked like. He did not have any features that could be described as humanoid, but he had a head with two large eyes. He had arms, but no legs. Instead he sat on a broad hexagonal base. He looked a bit like a character from the Jetsons, or one of the many robots in Pixar’s Wall-E. He worked by receiving optical flashes from the television set and could be used in conjunction with two games: Gyromite and Stack-Up. After receiving input from the flashes on screen, the bot could perform physical actions that assisted the player in gameplay.
For all intents and purposes, R.O.B. was a robot friend who could help you with video games that required two players. Sadly, the notion of robot companionship never quite caught on and R.O.B. quickly disappeared. However, he is not completely forgotten. In the years since his introduction, R.O.B. has made numerous cameo appearances in other Nintendo titles, including Mario Kart DS and the Super Smash Bros. series.
We also can’t quite rule out the potential historic import of the release. The R.O.B. debuted on August 13, 1985 in Japan. In 100 years, after the first great robot uprising, we’ll be able to look back on those dates as the day everything started to go wrong.