Nintendo visionary, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who gave the world Mario, Donkey Kong and the Game Boy dies aged 85

In his 50-year reign, the Japanese businessman created a giant that changed the way we play

Tokyo

Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man who transformed Nintendo from a playing-card maker into a multibillion-dollar global computer game giant, died today, aged 85.

Known as an ambitious, and sometimes ruthless, operator, Yamauchi inherited Nintendo from his grandfather in 1949, at the age of 21, after his own father had walked out on the family when he was six. His great-grandfather Fusajiro Yamauchi had founded the company back in 1889. Before agreeing to drop out of university to take the helm, the young Yamauchi insisted that all other family members were fired to ensure he would have no challenges to his leadership.

“It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Hiroshi Yamauchi to Nintendo. He ruled his company with an iron fist, but had a business acumen second to none,” said Dan Sloan, the author of Playing to Win: Nintendo and the Video Game Industry’s Greatest Comeback.

Based in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, Nintendo was famous locally for producing intricately decorated hanafuda cards that were the favourite brand of yakuza gangsters.

The young president soon set his sights far beyond Kyoto, and began to look overseas for business opportunities. In the 1950s, he signed deals with a US company to produce Western-style playing cards in Japan. This was followed by a licensing agreement with Disney to put cartoon characters on playing cards, an enormous success for Nintendo that led to sales of 600,000 decks a year at its peak. Recognising that the future of games was electronic, Yamauchi steered the company into the new industry, where it created some of the earliest game gadgets, before producing arcade classics such as Donkey Kong, introducing Mario to the world.

“Yamauchi inherited a company in the aftermath of the Second World War that had lost its way, and in the course of the next 20 years migrated it from cards to gadgets, to eventually finding its niche in gaming and family computers,” said Sloan.

During Yamauchi’s 50-year reign, Nintendo launched seminal home consoles such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64, as well as the Game Boy, which at its peak held a 90 per cent share of the portable console market.

A central part of Yamauchi’s strategy, continued to this day, is the way Nintendo boosts profitability by creating its most popular games in-house, adding huge software sales to those of its hardware. The Mario franchise epitomises this: the character has appeared in more than 200 games, with the Super Mario series alone clocking up sales of more than 260 million units.

When Yamauchi quit in 2002, he once more defied convention by naming game designer Satoru Iwata as his successor, the first non-family member to lead Nintendo. On his death, Yamauchi was the company’s second-largest shareholder.

Game changers: History of Nintendo

1889 A playing card company that will eventually become Nintendo is established by Fusajiro Yamauchi.

1949 Hiroshi Yamauchi takes control of the company. 

1964 The company begins to make games as well as cards.

1977 The Colour TV Game 6 system is released  in Japan.

1983 Nintendo introduces the Famicom in Japan, released two years later in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). 

1989 The Game Boy is introduced. More than 1 million units will sell during the year.

1991 The Super Nintendo (SNES) is introduced.

1996 The Nintendo 64 (N64) is released.

2006 In an effort to attract non-gamers, the Wii is launched and proves a huge success.

  Mario waits for visitors at a booth being set up for 2007 International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 7, 2007.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Consultant / 1st Line Support

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As your knowledge grows you wil...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support and Sales Engineer - UC / M2M / IoT

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Cloud ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living