How Coleco scored Donkey Kong

I ran across this interview with the driving force behind the Colecovision and found it to be fascinating. It seems incredible to think you could once get the rights to great arcade games like Zaxxon and Turbo for $5,000.

Bromley knew this title – which was hitherto unknown in the West – could be the game to propel his console into the public consciousness. He also knew he had to act fast. “A meeting was arranged for the next day,” he reveals. “I said I wanted the rights to Donkey Kong. I didn’t want Atari to find out about this game. After a lengthy conversation Makihara-san told me Yamauchi-san wanted $200,000 advance and $2.00 per unit royalty. It was around 10:00AM and Yamauchi-san knew that I needed to catch my train, so then he added the kicker: the US$ 200,000 must be wired to his account by 12:00 midnight, or there was no deal.”

The odds were most certainly against Bromley. “The most Coleco had ever paid for an advance for any license up to then was $5,000,” he says. ”Also, they never, ever paid more than 5% of their selling price; the worst case would be about 90 cents. Now because of the need to wire the money before 12:00AM Tokyo time, I needed to take the next available train. I would have to call as soon as I got back to my hotel in Tokyo which would be in the afternoon and therefore wake up Arnold Greenberg in the US, the only one who could authorise an immediate wire transfer. I was to call him at home, wake him up, and then ask him to wire $200,000 for a game he has never seen or heard of. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then has to agree to more than twice the usual royalty amount!”

Bromley stayed firm, spurred on by the fact that he knew that Donkey Kong would be a smash-hit once western gamers laid eyes on it. “Upon my return to Tokyo, I called Arnold Greenberg from my room – I was shaking a little,” he admits. “It was about 4:00 AM in the morning and I got: ‘Whaaaaa? Do you know what time it is?’ I referred him to a conversation we had days before with marketing and sales; we all agreed we needed a really spectacular game to bundle with the ColecoVision console to create an impact. I then told him of the conditions: $200,000 advance and the $2.00 per unit royalty. I said: ‘I have found that game.’ To my surprise all he said: ‘is it really that good?’ I told him that it was as good as Pac-Man. He asked what it was called and I uttered ‘Donkey Kong.’ Silence. For the first time I realized how silly the name sounded. What seemed like an hour later he said: ‘OK. Let’s do it,’ and said he would wire over the money as soon as the banks opened that day.”

It’s also an important lesson in what passes for Japanese business ethics. I had to laugh upon reading it, having run into similar issues with both Konami and Sega in the past. Fortunately, having studied in Tokyo, I was more prepared for them than Mr. Bromley was, although it’s hard to argue with how well it worked out for him. What a pity Coleco didn’t tough it out the way Nintendo did; the industry would have been the better for it.