• Nintendo


    In 1889 Nintendo was started by Fusajiro Yamauchi Nintendo started out simple, creating hanafuda cards. Hanafuda cards are playing cards with images of flowers depicted on them. Similar to playing cards that you know and love, many different traditional Japanese based card games utilize hanafuda playing cards. As Nintendo started to produce these cards the popularity of hanafuda playing cards grew and Nintendo had problems keeping up supplying the cards to the almost overwhelming demand of the public. The reason for the uprising in popularity of hanafuda cards was due to the Japanese Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) who started to use hanafuda playing cards in their underground gambling halls.

    As the popularity of hanafuda cards grew and the quality versions produced by Nintendo was recognized.Fusajiro Yamauchi had to expand his operation to meet the demand he had. He did this by hiring on more workers, apprentices and assistants. Nintendo was so popular for their cards and designs due to their stringent printing process. They created each of the 48 cards in the deck by hand on paper made from mulberry bark.


    Example of Nintendo Brand Hanafuda Cards

    In 1929, at the age of 70, Fusajiro Yamauchi retired from the president of Nintendo and his son in law, Sekiryo Kaneda (also known as Sekiryo Yamauchi due to taking his wife’s name after marriage), took over making hanafuda cards. When Sekiryo became president of Nintendo he was in control of Japan’s largest playing card company. Nintendo already being well established he was ready to move the company forward in new directions hoping to expand its profits. In 1933 Sekiryo established a joint venture company called Yamauchi Nintendo and Co. As hanafuda cards and Nintendo’s popularity continued to grow Sekiryo decided to establish Nintendo’s own distribution company instead of relying on others. Doing so eliminated the middle man and brought more direct profits into Nintendo’s emerging empire. So in 1947 Sekiryo created Marufuku Company Limited that was Nintendo’s own distribution company.

    In 1949 Sekiryo had a stroke and died from complications resulting from the stoke soon afterwards. With Sekiryo’s son an outcast from his family due to abandoning his wife and children, Hiroshi Yamauchi took over as Nintendo’s president. Hiroshi was Sekiryo’s grandson and Fusajiro’s great grandson.


    Hiroshi Yamauchi. Picture taken in 2006.

    Hiroshi noticed that Japan was too small for Nintendo’s market goals. With grand aspirations and a reputation to hold up he wanted to make Nintendo a household name worldwide. He knew that to do this he would have to start up business in the west, but due to recent situations regarding World War II Hiroshi waited until 1956 when he finally paid a visit to the US.

    When Hiroshi landed in the US he instantly started discussions with the United States Playing Card Company in Cincinnati Ohio. Hiroshi knew that he had to go to the biggest companies in the world, because being in business with anyone else just wouldn’t be suitable. The United Stated Playing Card Company being the largest and best established playing card manufacturer in the US at the time, and worldwide today, Hiroshi knew that creating a business plan with them would bring Nintendo to another level.

    Hiroshi started his meetings and was instantly surprised that the largest playing card company was situated in a tiny little office in Ohio. Expecting a large manufacturing concern, Hiroshi instantly realized that playing cards was not a practical complete business plan for Nintendo.

    Soon afterwards, while still looking for alternate business opportunities, Nintendo became licensed to use Disney characters on their playing cards. This created a small boom in their production as these popular, well made, playing cards were sold all over the world in large numbers. Nintendo’s sales continued to grow, even with the looming limitations Hiroshi could see in his company’s industry.

    The first step in moving Nintendo away from a playing card specific company was changing the company’s name. Hiroshi did that in 1963 changing it from Nintendo Playing Card Company Limited to Nintendo Company Limited. This allowed Nintendo to expand to any product they felt would be profitable without having the playing card name on any of their future brands, possibly confusing consumers.


    Nintendo’s former company name and trade marks.

    Hiroshi was an optimist and saw profit wherever he looked. However his sight on what would, or could, be profitable wasn’t always accurate. Nintendo tried their hands at many different ventures to find another niche like their initial playing card line that was so successful over all these years. With their Disney cards bringing in a good profit Nintendo set out to establish other companies.

    Nintendo first started out between 1963 and 1968 with many different ideas in mind. Initially, the boom in Japan at the time with tourism growing and manufacturing bringing a lot of money into Kyoto, Nintendo established an ill fated taxi company. Nintendo went in the total opposite direction with their next venture and initially had the idea of setting up hotels for the influx of tourists, but then realized that love hotels would be a better investment with higher profit margins. For those who don’t know a love hotel is where you can rent a room for certain time periods like an hour or two, instead of a whole night. You can assume what takes place at these types of establishments.

    With two failures under their belt Hiroshi decided that the entertainment business was what Nintendo was good at and established a TV network. You can see homage to this ill fated network in some of Nintendo’s earlier video games. The TV network was a money loser from the start and was closed down soon afterwards. With one last attempt Nintendo started up a food concern that made food products for the busy Japanese family. These products included instant noodles and instant rice. However once again Nintendo failed and closed down operations.

    Nintendo started up so many companies during this time frame hoping to catch onto the amount of money coming into Japan from the Olympics that were being held at the same time. However bad economic knowledge and the passing of the Olympics without a successful idea Nintendo’s market value dropped dramatically to an abysmal 60 yen (about $0.50 US) per share.

    Nintendo had to do something fast to make up for their failed investments. Their investors were upset with the way the company was being run and where their money was being spent. Hiroshi needed to come up with a market that Nintendo could be successful in again.

    An unlikely savior came out of Nintendo’s ranks by the name of Gunpei Yokoi. He worked for Nintendo as a maintenance engineer. He created Nintendo’s first toy called the Ultra Hand. This odd looking toy was designed as an arm extension type of device for children. Bright blue and made out of metal it would expand and contract to reach and grab items in a fun way. The Ultra Hand was a huge success selling over 1.3 million units across Asia.  Gunpei’s idea brought up Nintendo’s stock value, calmed down investors and gave Nintendo the opportunity to expand their toy market.


    The Ultra Hand. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi.

    Nintendo’s Ultra Hand success initiated the Nintendo Games division of Nintendo Company Limited. Gunpei Yokoi was repositioned as a game developer in this new department from his other position as maintenance engineer. The Nintendo Games division was a success. They produced many popular toys for the Asian market, bringing back steady profits to Nintendo. Some of these items included the Ultra Machine which was an apparatus that launched ping pong balls like a baseball pitching machine. The Love Tester which came with two cables and metal spheres on the ends that each partner would hold and a meter would gauge their love compatibility. The most influential to Nintendo’s upcoming video game success was their line of light based games known as kousenjuu like Custom Lion where you were given a revolver and shot at a target on the side of a lion figuring. If you hit it the lion would collapse like you had killed it.


    The Ultra Machine & The Love Tester were both early toys made by Nintendo.


    The Custom Lion one of the first kousenjuu games Nintendo produced.

    Even with the success of these new and popular toys Nintendo didn’t have the manufacturing base to keep up with demand and started to fall behind larger Japanese toy manufacturers. Knowing that creating just toys in general would be a never ending struggle with their manufacturing abilities Nintendo moved into their kousenjuu line of games instead.

    In 1973 Nintendo realized that family entertainment centers would be a popular way to showcase their kousenjuu light games and created the Laser Clay Shooting System to be used at these family centers. Nintendo used a few old bowling alleys and retrofitted them to work with their new Laser Clay Shooting Systems. These centers became a success and Nintendo decided to expand on this technology to further Nintendo’s video entertainment business.

    In 1974 Nintendo, after talks with Magnavox, secured the rights to produce and distribute the Odyssey to the Japanese and Asian markets. The Odyssey being a popular home gaming console at the time Nintendo knew that Japan would be interested in it due to the success of their light games the previous year.

    In 1976 Nintendo released a game that today all gamers are very familiar with. It was called Duck Hunt. Available for use in homes it was a projector and a rifle that displayed an image of a duck on a wall or screen. The rifle would use Nintendo’s unique light technology to shoot down the duck and it would fall to the floor. Duck Hunt was moderate success in Japan in 1976, but a huge success world wide a less than a decade later.

    1977 was a year that marks the history of Nintendo forever. It was the year that Nintendo produced their first home video game systems. They did so with a product called Color TV Game 6. Color TV Game 6 was a system that would hook up to a television set and play, one game. There were two different versions of the Color TV Game. There was 6 and 15. Color TV Game 6 played 6 different variations of light tennis. Also known as a little game called Pong essentially. When the 15 came out it came with 2 paddle controllers and 15 different variations of light tennis. Nintendo also released the same year, Color TV Racing 112. This was an overhead racing game. In 1979 Nintendo released Color TV Game Block Kuzushi which is a version of Breakout, Arkanoid, and Alleyway etc. The external design of Color TV Game Block Kuzushi was designed by a rookie designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. It was one of the first projects that he was on after he joined Nintendo.


    Color TV Game 6 and 15

    Miyamoto worked under the tutelage of Gunpei Yokoi and was given the task to design the outer casings for a few of the aforementioned Color TV Game systems. As many of you already know Miyamoto is one of the most influential people in Nintendo’s history. He created many of Nintendo’s now famous series, but Miyamoto’s history and rise to fame is a story for another day too large to cover inside of Nintendo’s history.

    With gaming development starting to become a success throughout Nintendo, the company decided to get into the emerging video arcade industry. Their first arcade game was Computer Othello. With no joystick and 10 buttons per player this simple game was not a success, but still gave Nintendo a view on what the arcade industry wanted and how they could expand on this emerging market.

    Nintendo tried many different titles in arcades, but none of them were real successes. Most of the titles barely covered the cost of the machines and only a tiny profit. However this worse than lackluster performance by Nintendo didn’t scare them off. Nintendo would be very glad they didn’t go another direction in 1981 when their huge smash hit, Donkey Kong, was introduced into arcade halls in Japan. Donkey Kong was such a success that licenses of the game were ported to many of the home console systems. Versions of the arcade game made for the US market single handedly saved Nintendo of America from going bankrupt.


    Original Donkey Kong arcade cabinet from 1981

    Just before the release of Donkey Kong Nintendo invented the idea of portable electronic gaming devices. They initiated this idea with their Game & Watch line of handheld devices. Developed by company savior Gunpei Yokoi, these little LCD screened devices were made and sold world wide from 1980 until 1991. They featured many of Nintendo’s most popular series over the years like Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong.


    Later version of the Game & Watch series

    In 1983 Nintendo would release a product that would revolutionize the video game industry forever. On July 15 1983 the Family Computer (also known as Famicom) was released onto the world. Released with ports of the most popular arcade titles the Famicom was a huge success, allowing people to play their favorite games on their home TV systems. With the huge success in the Asian market Nintendo brought the Famicom to North America October 18 1985 under the name, Nintendo Entertainment System or NES for short. It also became a smash hit and soon Nintendo video game systems were being played in almost every country in the world! With its North American release the NES was packaged with the most recognized gaming figure of all time. The game was called Super Mario Bros. and was an instant hit and still is today spanning countless titles on countless systems.

    From there Nintendo expanded its vast video game entertainment empire by releasing thousands of games on many different systems over the years. Nintendo is the largest surviving video game console manufacturer of all time. Without the initial success ofFusajiro, the insight to expand of Hiroshi and the brains of developers like Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto who knows where Nintendo would be today and if it would even still be around. That question will always remain unanswered, but everyone can agree that without Nintendo the video game world would be a vastly different place today.

    – Mike From The Internet