In a year full of anniversaries of major video game titles, Mr. Do! might not jump out as a title that is as worthy of a celebration as titles such as BurgerTime, Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter. The 1982 title from Universal is often considered to be an obscure title from the classic arcade era, but it actually had a huge impact on the industry both then and now.
September 21, 1982 marked the first appearance in commerce of Mr. Do!, with the game getting further distribution by the end of that year. By the time of this release the arcade video game market had already reached the saturation point that marks the beginning of the “Great Video Game Crash” that plagued the industry starting the following year.
The object of Mr. Do! was to dig through a level full of cherries, enemies, apples and more. Levels could be completed in a number of ways, including collection of all the cherries, destruction of all the enemies, completion of the tasks required to gain extra lives or picking up a diamond that appeared at random.
The game instantly gained the label of being a Dig Dug clone, a game that appears very similar at a glance. This label combined with the name of a lesser known arcade company caused initial sales of Mr. Do! to be rather soft. Universal then opted to try a different approach by releasing Mr. Do! as a conversion kit.
Conversion kits are retrofit kits designed to transform an older arcade title into a new one. During this time in the industry, most games were released as “dedicated” cabinets with the design and artwork meant to be just that one game title. As 1983 came around, arcade game operators were flooded with dedicated cabinets of titles that had stopped earning money and had little to no resale value in a crowded market.
While previous companies had tried to sell conversion kit games, the titles were typically of poor quality and failed to earn well. Some companies such as Sega and Data East had tried to introduce entire lines of games designed around the concept of conversion kits, but failed to support these systems with top titles. Mr. Do! broke this mold, becoming the first commercially successful conversion kit in arcade history.
For the price of under $500, operators began to convert older titles into Mr. Do! machines, quickly paying off the price of the kit in a short period of time. By the end of it’s run, Universal sold around 30,000 Mr. Do! kits, which actually means the title was in almost twice as many locations across the United States than Dig Dug.
Mr. Do! was also quite a commercial success in the coin box. According to Play Meter Magazine, Mr. Do! was the seventh best-earning arcade game on average for 1983, despite most machines being sold as conversion kits. This means that Mr. Do! earned better on average that year than iconic titles such as Q*bert, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Super Pac-Man, Moon Patrol, Donkey Kong Junior and BurgerTime. Only six arcade titles earned better coin box averages than Mr. Do! in 1983: Pole Position, Star Trek, Gyruss, Time Pilot, Popeye and Joust. Mr. Do! proved that a conversion kit game can be a hit.
Mr. Do! was followed by several sequels, including Mr. Do’s Castle, Mr. Do’s Wild Ride and Do! Run Run. It was also ported to all of the major home consoles and personal computers of the time, and later made it’s way to Nintendo’s GameBoy and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Other follow-ups appeared for the NeoGeo arcade system and cellphones.
Following Mr. Do! and the mid-80s industry crash, most game titles were released as conversion kits. Anyone who has ever noticed an arcade machine where some of the cabinet graphics or phosphor burn in the screen did not match with the title within probably saw a conversion kit installed in an older cabinet. Most Street Fighter II machines and follow-ups were conversion kits, and many of the Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter titles sold over recent years have had conversion kits sold to update the machines later. While most retro arcade collectors look upon conversion kit games with disdain, the existence of the conversion kits allowed many arcade operators to continue to operate and survive in a post-1982 arcade game industry.
It all started with the success of a dirt-digging clown 30 years ago. Happy birthday, Mr. Do!
The author of this article can be reached at PatrickScottPatterson.com and on Twitter @OriginalPSP.