Nintendo Test Market Consoles
Update 5-19-2021: The Nintendo Test Market systems have become very sought after for many collectors. Finding these not pieced together is very tough these days. Finding a set that has the original sticker sealed games, all the paperwork including the warranty card, and a low serial number is pretty rare. These sets are such a big part of history, as this was the rejuvenation of the video game industry in the U.S. and is what is now the most recognizable name in the gaming world, Nintendo.
Nintendo released what is now considered the Test Market consoles to select retailers in New York City in October 1985. They released 100,000 of these units. They are considered the Test Market consoles because Nintendo did not know how well they would actually sell. In fact, they gave the retailers a buyback guarantee. The guarantee was after 90 days if the system had not sold they could just give the systems back to Nintendo at no cost or risk to them. The systems were released with Gyromite, Duck Hunt, the Zapper and R.O.B. This later would be known as the Deluxe Set.. however the original Test Market console boxes did not say Deluxe set on them. The test market consoles were made with a thicker, smoother shell than the consoles that came later. Later versions were rigid. Test market consoles have a smooth top. It’s noticeable to the touch and if you have good pictures of the console you can tell if it’s smooth or rigid similar to an NES game cartridge shell.
Here is Wiki’s article on the release date:
Nintendo initiated a limited test launch process prior to nationwide release. The first test launch saw the NES and its initial library of eighteen games released in New York City on October 18, 1985, with an initial shipment of 100,000 systems. Each set included a console, two gamepads, a R.O.B., a Zapper, and the Game Paks Gyromite and Duck Hunt. The library of eighteen launch titles are 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, and Wrecking Crew. Lucas M. Thomas wrote for IGN that he considered the Baseball title to be a prominent key to success at the test launch event.
Sales were encouraging throughout the holiday season, though sources vary on how many consoles were sold then. In 1986, Nintendo said it sold nearly 90,000 units in nine weeks during its 1985 New York City test run. Nintendo added Los Angeles as a test market in February 1986, followed by Chicago and San Francisco, then other top 12 US markets, and nationwide sales in September. It and Sega, which was similarly exporting its Master System to the US, planned to spend $15 million in the fourth quarter of 1986 to market their consoles; later, Nintendo said it planned to spend $16 million and Sega said more than $9 million. Nintendo obtained a distribution deal with toy company Worlds of Wonder, which leveraged its popular Teddy Ruxpin and Lazer Tag products to solicit more stores to carry the console. The largest retailer Sears sold it through its Christmas catalog and the second-largest retailer Kmart sold it in 700 stores. Nintendo sold 1.1 million consoles in 1986, estimating that it could have sold 1.4 million if inventory had held out. Nintendo earned $310 million in sales, out of total 1986 video game industry sales of $430 million, compared to the total of 1985 industry sales of $100 million.
For the nationwide launch, the NES was available in two different packages: The fully-featured $249 USD “Deluxe Set” as configured during the New York City launch, and a scaled-down “Control Deck” package which includes two gamepads and a copy of Super Mario Bros.
Test Market sets came with Gyromite and Duck Hunt. However, they were not the average versions you commonly see. They are now known as sticker seal games. All of the test market systems came with matte sticker seal (pictured here, the small black sticker on the top of the game) versions of Gyromite and Duck Hunt. These were made before games came in cellophane. The sticker was how they sealed the game. Most test market sets you see now are pieced together. They usually don’t have the sticker seal games or low serial numbers. Another rare thing to find in test market sets is the warranty card. The warranty card came with the set and had a sticker on it that matched the serial number on the NES console. These are extremely rare to find with the actual console they belong to because you were supposed to send them to Nintendo to claim your warranty. Although the first 100k serial numbers are considered the test market consoles, they were still making them afterward. For example, if you bought a console in June 1986 it’s possible it was a test market console set. It may have a serial number over 100k but it would still have been in the test market version box and would have had the same smooth top console, and matte sticker seal games. There is no clear evidence of what serial number began when they started calling them Deluxe sets but we’d it expect it to be anything over 300k.
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