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

    Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

    £65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

    Recruitment Genius: Project and Resource Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing experience-led technology co...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Support / IT Sales / Graduate Sales / Trainee

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has now arisen for a Sale...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable