After a bout with pneumonia, Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away this morning at the age of 85. Mr Yamauchi was the third president of Nintendo and the second largest shareholder of the company. Chances are if you love gaming you owe it in part or whole to this man, who brought Nintendo from a card making company to one of the largest and best entertainment giants in gaming.
Hiroshi Yamauchi became the president of Nintendo in 1949 when his grandfather suffered a stroke. As such a young man the company wasn’t sure of Hiroshi and didn’t trust his lack of management. He would soon silence doubters, as he became an uncanny judge of success and was the single source of approval for everything to come through the doors of Nintendo. He was the first to introduce Western style plastic playing cards to the Japanese market. While originally viewed as a novelty of sorts, it wasn’t until 1959, when he made a licensing agreement with Walt Disney, that he would have his first real hit. Together they made party games the whole family could enjoy with the Mouse himself featured on many. The product sold 600,000 units in one year, a huge success in those times. Taking Nintendo public he changed the name to Nintendo Company Limited and became the chairmen. After travelling to the United States Playing Card Company, the world’s biggest manufacturer of playing cards, seeing what a small operation it was would set a spark in Hiroshi that let him know that perhaps playing cards weren’t the future of entertainment.
The house that built Mario diversified at this point venturing into many different fields. Nintendo invested in a taxi company named Daiya, rented rooms by the hour at Love Hotels, and even touched on portioned rice. None of these were very successful and left the company on the brink of ruin. Trying to revitalize Nintendo and seeing that clay shooting was so popular, Nintendo came out with a series of converted bowling centers that were laser shooting ranges that would emulate clay shooting. It was popular for a time, but it wasn’t to last and it left Nintendo even further in debt.
Yamauchi then discovered a factory engineer, Gunpei Yokoi (the creator of Game Boy), playing with an extendable claw that he had made to play with during breaks. Hiroshi Yamauchi saw something there and ordered Gunpei Yokoi to turn it into a product called the Ultra Hand which was an instant and huge success. Yamauchi decided to move Nintendo’s focus to making toys and with it’s focus on playing cards already in department stores, it was an easy swap. It wouldn’t be long before Hiroshi saw the future in electronic entertainment and after a few lesser known systems released the Famicom system, known in the US as the NES or Nintendo Entertainment System.
The console, originally doubted severely by all retailers, brought gaming back from the brink of extinction that it was in danger of back when it originally released. The rest, as they say is history. So if you’ve ever held a gaming controller in your hand, played Mario or Zelda, or just enjoyed some random gaming app on your iPhone, you owe that in part to this man. A man that, though he led with almost imperialistic control, had uncanny vision and brought one of our most beloved game makers to being the company they were and are. A company that has brought me nothing but joy throughout my life and gave me a foundation of gaming to build on for the rest of my life.
Thank you Hiroshi Yamauchi for having vision and the tenacity to see it through. You will be missed. Please join me in a moment of silence for a departed father of gaming.