Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former president of Nintendo who transformed the company from a playing-card manufacturer into the most recognizable video game giant, died Thursday, the New York Times reported.
Yamauchi, 85, took over control of his grandfather's company in 1949. He was named president of the family business at 22 and continued to push it from its humble beginnings toward more expansive aspirations, including board games, light-emitting toy guns and baseball pitching machines. He later attributed these forays due to a "lack of imagination."
It was in the early 1980s when Nintendo hit the international stage under Yamauchi's leadership. The Japanese game giant entered the fledgling video game industry -- then dominated by Atari -- and released "Donkey Kong" and "Mario Bros." in arcades around the world. The success propelled Nintendo into uncharted waters when it released the Famicom in 1983 in Japan. That system would come to North America in 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System -- ultimately saving the video game market following a massive crash, which nearly bankrupted Atari.
Nintendo's success continued into the 90s, when it released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It would go on to sell nearly 50 million units. Handheld gaming took off with the Gameboy and subsequent follow-ups, including the Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance. It challenged fellow Japanese company Sega for control of the living room, and ultimately won, despite stiff challenge from the Sega Genesis.
But Nintendo's -- and subsequently Yamauchi's -- fortunes began to wane after repeated disappointments. In an attempt to create a new way to play video games, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in 1995. It was an immediate disappointment. The company followed up the success of the SNES with the Nintendo 64, but it struggled to sell 30 million consoles, and was surpassed by Sony's first foray into gaming, the Playstation.
Software giant Microsoft entered the gaming industry in 2001 with the Xbox. With Sony's Playstation 2 following on the heels of its wildly successful inaugural console, Nintendo's dominance was no longer a guarantee. It launched the Gamecube in 2001, which was immediately met with public apathy.
Yamauchi announced in 2002 he would step down, telling reporters at the time, "I have no energy left." He brought in current Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who has turned Nintendo around with the wild success of the Nintendo DS and the Wii.
The former Nintendo head stayed out of the public spotlight for the remainder of his life, only offering an interview to magazine Nikkei Business in 2003. He gave the magazine his opinion of the gaming industry, which at the time was leaving Nintendo behind. Three years before Nintendo's resurgence with the Wii, Yamauchi remained defiant about Nintendo's prospects.
“That’s absolutely wrong; the gaming wars, they will never end,” he said. “That’s just not how this business works. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.”
Yamauchi’s survivors include a son, Katsuhito.