In 1994, things were changing in the video game industry as it looked toward the future. Part of that future involved shifting from the use of chip-based ROM cartridges to a newer technology: The CD-ROM.
Early developments saw platform holders such as NEC and SEGA supplement their hardware by releasing CD-ROM add-ons for the TurboGrafx-16 and SEGA Genesis, respectively. While neither transformed the industry overnight, they nevertheless gave developers and consumers alike a glimpse at what was possible with the benefits of the new format.
However, there was of course one holdout in the move towards CD-ROM technology: Nintendo.
The Kyoto-based company had been dipping its toes in the water of CD-ROM tech, first by partnering with Sony to create a similar add-on to the ones mentioned above for the Super NES. However, after deciding the terms of the contract were too unfavorable, they abandoned their deal in a very public manner, announcing that they would instead partner with Philips for a deal that ultimately led to a similar dead-end.
The next generation of consoles is where things would truly shift, however, as SEGA’s Saturn and a new rival in the spurned Sony’s PlayStation both incorporated the new tech. For the Nintendo 64, though, Nintendo would opt to choose to stick with cartridges. But why?
Both formats had advantages and disadvantages at this point in time. Where others saw tremendous increases in storage capacity, Nintendo saw longer loading times. Where others saw games that were cheaper to manufacture, and thus cheaper to purchase, Nintendo saw more expensive hardware in the CD-ROM drive needed to read the discs. Where others saw a format that would allow for the use of videos, more voice clips, and Redbook audio, Nintendo saw a format that wasn’t as readily able to be augmented by new on-board chips that would allow “new opportunities” for developers. And where others saw a compact storage medium, Nintendo saw fragility that couldn’t withstand the rigors many games go through in the common household.
While Nintendo might have been correct in some regards with the drawbacks of CD-ROM discs, they were clearly flaws that consumers were willing to put up with in favor of the advantages they offered. Throw in further factors that weighed against cartridges, such as the slowness of production as well as the increased cost to do so — costs reflected in many a title’s Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price — and the continued use of the format did little to endear the platform to a number of publishers and developers.