If you exclusively play on Nintendo consoles, it's likely that your only brush with Sierra's expansive library of classic adventure games was King's Quest V on the NES (published by Konami).
The computer game developer and publisher rarely ever ventured into the realm of Nintendo, despite the company's dominance in the North American console market at the time. But as Ken Williams recently revealed in an exclusive interview with Time Extension, this was nearly not the case, with the Sierra co-founder holding a number of talks with Nintendo of America's president Minoru Arakawa over the years in order to join forces.
As Ken recalls:
"There were lots of talks and lots of mutual interest, but nothing ever came together. I had talked to Minoru Arakawa, the guy who ran Nintendo [of America] and we had talked quite a bit, and we always intended to get something done. But our games wouldn’t fit on cartridges and the kids at that time who were playing cartridge games wanted action shooters. They really didn’t want a thinking game."
Of course, there were other reasons why Sierra might be a bit sheepish to re-enter the cartridge market. In 1982, on advice from a number of venture capitalists, the company started switching development from home computers to the home console market just prior to the video game crash of 1983. This led Ken to distance himself from this portion of the market.
As Ken states:
"We almost went out of business doing cartridges, so I wanted nothing to do with that business. I was happy to say, ‘Here, you believe in the cartridge market, write me a cheque for $100,000, you go do it, and then give me a buck a cartridge.' That way my downside was $100,000 and my upside was unlimited. So, it was a much better business model for us."
Interestingly, it doesn't seem like these discussions were exclusively about software, as highlighted by an old Press Tribune article (syndicated from The New York Times) from June 1991. That article states that the two companies almost collaborated together on an online network, which we have to imagine is what eventually became The Sierra Network. This was a short-lived service from Sierra that allowed individuals to play parlor games, RPGs, and flight simulators together with other people over a shared network, but it appears Nintendo passed on the opportunity.
The Press Tribune article reads:
"Nintendo has been toying with the idea of starting an online game network since 1989, and has held discussions with Sierra about the possibility of joining forces.”
There are few specifics about this potential collaboration available, and whether it meant Nintendo providing software for the PC market or rolling the service into its own existing console hardware. Ken, himself, unfortunately, can't remember much about the talks but states "Nintendo certainly would have been on my list to talk to" regarding the network.
If you're wondering why Nintendo might pass on a service like this for the North American market, you need only look at the company's official response to Sega Channel years later.
In a Sun Sentinel article, dated April 1993, the (then) Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplin said in reply to Sega's newly-announced service:
"We have been looking at something like this (Sega Channel) since 1988. We`ve rejected something very similar because we think ultimately it will hurt retailers."
It's interesting to think what would have happened if Nintendo and Sierra did develop a closer relationship. Would we have seen more of the company's games like Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Quest For Glory on Nintendo's platforms? Or a Nintendo equivalent to Sega Channel? And if so, what would they have looked like? It's something we can't help but turn over in our brains.