How a counterfeit NES console opened up the Russian games market

Back in the 90s, if you had mentioned the names Nintendo and Sega to a kid in America, Japan or Europe, their face would have likely lit up. They’d instantly know what these words represented; the colour and excitement of a game on the TV screen in their front room, and a sense of fun. But if you said these words to a child in Russia, they’d have looked at you blankly. These companies were not present in the region at the time. Say ‘Dendy’, however, and you’d invoke that same kind of magic.

This was a counterfeit NES console that was released in December 1992 by a Russian technology company called Steepler. It all began when Victor Savyuk, then working at another tech firm called Paragraph, first learnt of ‘TV games’; machines that plugged into your TV at home, were controlled with joysticks and let people enjoy video games.

This was brand new information; games were far from a mainstream idea at the time, rather being confined to computers which were owned by a very small percentage of the population.

“I didn’t understand at first, but I finally got it,” Savyuk says.

“Of course, everybody likes to play games, but in those times, video games were only on computers. They were absolutely not mass market. They were just for freaks, for programming engineers. I immediately understood that this was the future. Thanks to Nintendo and Sega, and Atari before them, this business existed and it was huge – but it wasn’t in Russia. I understood that this was the future, this was a place for new business in Russia.”

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