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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Content Manager - Central London

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

    Java Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

    £475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

    .Net/ C# Developer/ Analyst Programmer - Eciting new Role

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .NET/ C# .Pr...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on