Nintendo Power is a monthly magazine devoted to Nintendo consoles and games on Nintendo platforms. It is the longest-running US console game magazine still in existence, and at its peak in 1993 it was the largest kids’ magazine in North America. Its hold on the Nintendo-owning gamer populace (and, for much of its existence, video gamers in general) is such that no publisher has ever tried launching a rival Nintendo-exclusive magazine in America.
Nintendo’s first in-house publication, the Nintendo Fun Club News, launched in early 1987 as a free 12-page black-and-white newsletter. It quickly grew into a full-color magazine with a subscriber base of over one million as NES mania swept the US in late 1987. With over half a dozen magazines covering video games in Japan by 1988, Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa decided early that year to get a leg up on its rivals and launch a full-sized magazine before any rival publisher could. Two decisions Arakawa made at this point had a huge influence on the magazine — he decided to not accept any outside advertising, and he invested $10 million to mail Issue 1 of the new magazine to the millions of gamers on Nintendo’s Fun Club mailing list for free. (Sources disagree on how large this list was by summer 1988, but the number lies between 3.5 and 5 million addresses.)
Approximately 1.5 million readers sent $15 for a charter subscription, and Nintendo Power was instantly the biggest games mag in America.
Nintendo Power is unique for more than breaking circulation records — its international design scheme has also never been duplicated. Although Nintendo seeked to monopolize the game-mag marketplace in America, it teamed up with an outside Japanese publisher to come up with its mag’s design. Tokuma Shoten, one of Japan’s largest publishers, was the outfit behind Family Computer Magazine, Japan’s first console-specific magazine and the largest in the country throughout the 1980s. Nintendo of America hired some of Tokuma’s game editors to contribute to the visual design of Nintendo Power, and the result was a very Japan-like magazine, with lots of spot illustrations, colorful backdrops, and bits of text dotted everywhere, making each page worth poring over for gamers. This publishing agreement also granted Nintendo access to Tokuma’s extensive stable of writers and artists, allowing them to enlist Shotaro Ishinomori (one of Japan’s most famous and influential manga artists) to draw a Legend of Zelda comic for several issues in 1993. (This agreement with Tokuma continued until 1995, when Nintendo of America brought all magazine production in-house.)
In the early years, editorial coverage was decided upon by editor-in-chief Gail Tilden (a former NOA advertising manager) and Howard Phillips, contributing editor and “president” of Nintendo’s Fun Club. The actual text was written by an in-house staff, most of which were plucked from NOA’s stable of telephone support and game counselors. All coverage received final approval from Arakawa and vice-presidents Peter Main and Howard Lincoln.
The magazine was an immediate success, breaking 2 million readers in 1989 and having a total audience of over 6 million by the end of 1990. As David Sheff wrote in his 1993 book Game Over, “there was something bordering on the insidious” about the magazine — its editorial voice was a perfect match for the young gamer populace of the time, and Nintendo’s unique control over the magazine made it an incredibly effective advertising tool, both for Nintendo themselves and for its assorted third parties.
Even as competition from other consoles encroached on Nintendo’s business, Nintendo Power’s status as the de-facto source of Nintendo information remained (and still remains) unchecked. Its circulation was still over a million before the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, but readership has dropped extensively in recent years as its audience aged and its “kid-friendly” image came to backfire on them. The editorial team addressed this in 2005 with an extensive redesign that eliminated the last vestiges of the Tokuma-era design and turned Nintendo Power into a truly modern-looking game magazine.
On September 19, 2007, Nintendo officially announced that the large magazine publisher Future US would begin publishing Nintendo Power. The company’s first official issue was released in October, as issue #222 (December 2007). It was also revealed that circulation would be increased to 13 issues a year, with the extra magazine being a holiday season bonus issue.
Nintendo Power’s ABC-audited average circulation for 2009 was 179,450.