Nintendo

Happy 30th Birthday, Gameboy!

A Gameboy DMG

The big grey brick is 30 years old today and, thanks to a modding community, still lives a supreme life.

The original grey Gameboy – also known as the Gameboy DMG – is an iconic piece of technology. Gunpei Yokoi was its original designer when it launched on 21st April 1989 and it was part of the Gameboy line that sold over 118m units worldwide.

But why was it so popular, and how did it manage to live for so long before a recent revival? Its official lifespan was 1989–2003 – which included the Pocket, Light, and Color variants. 15 years is a long time for a line of gaming tech but it worked (as you can see by the sales).

It was Nintendo’s second handheld after their Game & Watch series. Both were designed by Yokoi but the Game Boy combined parts of the G&W and the Nintendo Entertainment System. It used a green dot-matrix screen (hence the name “DMG”), an adjustable contrast wheel, that classic D-pad, and uses game cartridges.

The Game Boy was technically inferior to its rivals. But where it excelled was in its battery life and choice of games. It was an 8-bit console while the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx were 16-bit. Game publishers could translate NES or NES-style games for the console with quick turnaround times. The Gameboy was sold on its own or bundled with two games: Super Mario Land and Tetris. The latter made the Gameboy a desirable console and left its rivals in the dust.

30 years later and people still covet the console. But with some technological improvements. There’s a modding community that adds backlights to Gameboy screens to the system’s main problem – you can’t play it in the dark. But the backlights reduce its contrast so modders often add a bivert chip to improve it. Elliott Coll, aka The Retro Future, is a popular figure in the Gameboy modding scene and hosts a very popular YouTube account and FB group. I have started modding myself and its an amazing feeling to see the light pop up. You can change screen colours, the shells, buttons, even add mini computer inside the shells. Or you can opt for Gameboy-esque devices such as the BittBoy or Odroid-Go.

I bet if you look in your attic or an old drawer somewhere you’ll find a Gameboy. They sold over 100 million units after all. Its durability both physically and commercially is evident in its modern-day renaissance. Gameboys in varying condition command prices above what you’d expect for a console from 1989. Even without a box, a backlit, biverted, customised Gameboy could sell for more than a Nintendo 2DS on eBay.

And to that I say, happy birthday Gameboy!

(image courtesy of Dan Clarke aka Arkotype)

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