Re: the downfall of NEC in PC and console markets

I'm forking this off a discussion started in another thread, since it seems to remain relevant.

@exodus#1131 NEC definitely got complacent in later years, arguably more so than even IBM. [There's a great IT-field paper about what happened to the PC-98 standard once DOS/V and an inclement Windows 95 arrived, upending NEC's hold on their market.]( I highly recommend giving this a read, jargon-rich as it is, because it gives a much less biased/press-based perspective on these events.

Ah, I keep meaning to read that!!

And the fact they based the PC-FX on a very old iron man board, and created the FXGA chip but didn't use it in their console... it's all a bit confounding. Like, wouldn't the PC-FX have been a great sales pitch for their 3D chip?

I feel like this fork should maybe include posts further back, I wonder if that's something we can accomplish with this forum.

The weird calls with the PC-FX are just mind boggling for me. Especially with the FXGA sitting around, it seems like such a potential for a slam dunk.

@PasokonDeacon That was a very insightful read, thanks. I knew the handling of Japanese language and kanji played a big part in the isolation of Japanese PC but I had never considered that the shift between hardware and software solution was such a crucial reason in NEC losing the lead so abruptly.

The extent to which Fujitsu successfully undercut NEC, who had trounced the FM-7/FM Towns lines back in the day, is so fucking savage. Having a new C-suite come in and effectively switch Fujitsu‘s priorities over from a contracting mainframe/enterprise sector over to super-affordable Wintel PCs worked out very well, it seems. Not that you’ll ever read something like on their Wikipedia page despite it being very relevant.

Putting my thoughts back here from the other thread for posterity:

(these are mostly my thoughts, not 100% hard facts!)

NEC’s incremental hardware development strategy, mentioned elsewhere in this post, infected the industry (sega, nintendo) in different ways. But for NEC itself, it bit them in the butt, because they seemed to see the next generation (PC-FX) as incremental as well. Sure it was new hardware, but some of the internal components (soundchip, etc) were similar, making it feel like only a stutter step to the next gen. On top of that, the anime market they were courting was small - they dominated it, but it wasn’t big enough to sustain an entire platform, as Bandai saw with the Playdia.

the PC-88 and PC-98 were the dev hardware of choice for so many developers. It made a lot of sense to make games for NEC consoles and computers when you were using their products to make those games. So when they lost that market, they lost that edge of ease of use and relatively similar architecture.

Talking more about ignoring developers, the PC-FX clearly addressed none of their needs. So many publishers big and small were reliant on the PC Engine or PC-98 as their main market - nihon telnet, falcom, face, right stuff, masaya - when they made the PC-FX, very few publishers came along for the ride, which leads me to speculate they weren’t consulted about what they actually wanted from a next gen PC Engine. and when they failed to continue their PC line, these publishers had to scramble and abandon ship en masse, and of the major PC Engine or PC-98 publishers I can think of, only Falcom is still going today. You can point to the exact moment these publishers fortunes shifted as around 1995-1996, when 3D became dominant and NEC flopped out of the market (it took a bit longer with PC-98 though).

As @PasokonDeacon notes, losing the PC battle was the biggest issue, and it’s because they, like everyone else in Japan, failed to predict the dominance of Windows. But they should have, because it was already in progress around the world. Had NEC created a “similar but different” approach ala Apple OS vs Windows, or a cross-compatible approach, we might have seen three major operating systems. I could envision a situation like with Yahoo Japan, where it exists as its own entity, though Yahoo has faded to dust. Ultimately NEC hopped on the windows bandwagon quite late, just reskinning boxes, when they could have been Japan’s IBM instead.

Ultimately it feels like they got too cocky with their position, but it also feels like bureaucracy must have gotten in the way, because they were doing SO well for SO long that it took a lot of fumbling, mismanagement, lack of vision, and poor execution to make that fall. They were THE market leader in Japanese PCs, so there may have been some hubris there, thinking they couldn’t be defeated, though they were within one generation.

When checking out at any store, I always take note of the setup they use at the register. I often unironically say “nice setup” to the cashier. I am always delighted to see NEC thermal printers, monitors, etc.

Growing up, I always wondered about the computers and programs companies like Nintendo were using to develop their games. More recently online there‘s a good selection of photos showing just that… It all clicked when I learned about the NEC PC formats. Using an entirely different, Japan-specific OS and work environment is what made game making so untouchable back then! They weren’t using windows, or mac osx! (not primarily, of course some used those too!)

Sounds like the fall of NEC happens like a lot of big businesses do: they keep doing the dumb thing that isn‘t working anymore, because that’s what they do. Anyone who would do something different, left and started/joined another company.

We‘re seeing something similar with motor companies that make internal combustion engines. They just want to sell ICE vehicles and have very little interest in actually going electric. Because their entire infrastructure and knowledge revolves around manufacturing ICE vehicles.

It’s still nice to see NEC stuff in the wild.