The man who turned Nintendo into a video games giant has died aged 85. Hiroshi Yamauchi was president of the company for more than 50 years.
Many people don’t realize the company best known for Mario actually began in 1889 and spent its first seventy years or so concentrating solely on producing playing cards.
Hiroshi Yamauchi followed his grandfather as company president in 1949. As well as licensing Disney characters to appear on playing cards, he experimented with a wide range of other business lines covering everything from short-stay hotels for couples who didn’t plan to spend the night to an instant rice range, none with any real success.
In the 1960s, Yamauchi found a more successful option in electric games, including those using light guns. The company then took on the Japanese distribution rights to Magnavox Odyssey, a games console that predated the better known Atari Pong machine. That led Nintendo to move into producing its own arcade game consoles, the handheld Game & Watch series, and in 1983 the Famicom, known in the rest of the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System console.
Although not a tech-head as such, Yamauchi is often credited with the management and decision making that allowed the company to flourish in gaming. One such move was giving more power to designer Shigeru Miyamoto (the man behind Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and Wii Sports), ahead of his own son-in-law whose attempts to break the US market were less successful.
Another strategy Yamauchi applied was setting up three separate research and development teams within Nintendo and using competition between them as a way to encourage results.
Yamauchi continued as company president until 2002, moving down to an advisory role because of ill health. He was one of Japan’s richest men and even made lists of the 500 wealthiest people in the world, having so much cash that in 1992 he was able to buy the Seattle Mariners, the first time a Major League Baseball team had a foreign owner.