When 12-year-old Jim Roos Jr. and his 10-year-old brother, Jason, decided to start a business in January, the Laguna Hills boys had only to look as far as the hottest video game of the '80s for inspiration.
"We wanted to be entrepreneurs," says Jim. "We figured the most professional thing we could do would be to create a magazine, and the thing we knew the best was Nintendo."
They call their fledgling enterprise Nintendo College Magazine.
The 17- to 20-page monthly publication, complete with computer graphics, features reviews of the more than 100 Nintendo video game cartridges on the market and tips on how to improve game play.
Photocopies of the magazine, which sells for $1.50 each, are delivered to a small but enthusiastic group of elementary-school subscribers.
Jim, a student at La Paz Intermediate School in Mission Viejo, is editor and his neighborhood pal Brady Slate, 13, is co-editor. Jason helps distribute the magazine and neighbor Katherine Crump, 9, and her friend Athena Gam, 10, help the boys write game reviews.
With a growing list of about 40 readers, who also pay $2 for a membership card, the budding businessmen have managed to earn a tidy $100 profit.
Jim Roos Sr., vice president of the Hampton Inn Hotel division of Holiday Corp., said he was surprised to learn of Jim's fledgling business enterprise.
"I was so proud of him when I heard this," said Roos. "I wasn't paying much attention until he kept telling me every week, 'Dad, I need more computer paper. I need more computer paper.' "
Jim's bedroom serves as the Nintendo College Magazine office. It's decked out with a Tandy personal computer, a Nintendo console hooked up to a color TV and a Garfield telephone for fielding business calls.
"Jim's the real Nintendo champ," said Brady, sitting on the floor playing Super Mario 2, one of the most popular Nintendo game cartridges, in which Mario and his brother Luigi fight their way through various obstacles and enemies. "Tell him," he said to Jim, "how long it took you to solve this game. Just let him know."
Jim, seated on the edge of his bed and wearing a T-shirt and jeans, flashed his braces.
"A week and a half," he said, nodding when asked if that is considered good. "Yeah, that's pretty good."
Unlike the game reviews of the official Nintendo publication, Nintendo Power, which Jim says are primarily of upcoming games, most of those in Nintendo College Magazine are of games that have been out about a year. "Most of the people who buy the magazine are people who have just gotten into it," he said.
The majority of the boys' readers are fourth- and fifth-grade students. Although a lot of 12- and 13-year-olds play Nintendo, Jim said, none of the students at his school subscribes to the magazine. "Most of them are very arrogant," he said. "They feel like, 'I know everything, so I don't need it.' "
Jim, who assigns games to be reviewed, spends about 14 hours a month writing articles for the magazine and typing each issue on his computer. He then turns it over to Brady, who is responsible for making copies on his mother's photocopier.
(A Nintendo spokeswoman, while praising the boys' "entrepreneurial spirit," points out that the word Nintendo is a registered trademark. She recommended they write to the company Nintendo and request to use the name on their publication, which Jim said he would do.)
Like all journalists, the Nintendo College Magazine staff has had to learn to cope with deadlines.
Until the magazine became a monthly in April, the boys turned out a smaller issue each week. Brady had to deliver the copies to the Roos house by 7:30 every Monday morning so Jason and Katherine could deliver them to subscribers.
Jim and Jason had a few nerve-racking moments one Monday morning when Brady was late dropping off the copies. "We hadn't assigned enough articles and I gave it to him so late he didn't have enough time," explained Jim. Jason was particularly worried, telling his father: "If I don't get those magazines, those big boys (at school) are going to beat up on me. They've already paid!"
Said the senior Roos, laughing: "They met their deadline."
Jim and Brady each receive 20% of the magazine's income, while Jason gets 10%. The rest goes to expenses. "I have to pay Brady's mother for copy paper and I have to pay for computer paper," said Jim.
As for profits, he said, "It's not very much, but if you save it. . . ."
"It's a little money for ourselves," said Brady, "but really, you have a lot of fun doing it because you get to practice the game."
Indeed, with some of the profits the boys bought a new Nintendo tape and they're thinking of buying another. Jim plays 2 to 3 hours a day and more on weekends.
"It's like escaping from the world," he said. "There's always more to discover. It's just the adventure, the fun of running through new levels (within the game) and seeing what's next."
The boys said they are working on ways to expand their readership.
"We want to be big," said Jim.
"We don't plan to be 65 years old and have this big Nintendo enterprise," scoffed Brady, "but it would be nice."