On Thursday, September 19th, 2013, the video game industry lost a legend when former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away at a hospital in central Japan due to complications from pneumonia. The historic figure that brought Nintendo from a playing card company into the largest, most influential video game corporation in the world, was 85 years old.
Hiroshi Yamauchi grandfather, Fusajiro Yamauchi, founded Nintendo Koppai in 1889 as a Hanafuda card game company. When he retired at the age of 70 he handed the reigns over to his adopted son-in-law Sekiryo Yamauchi in 1929. Sekiryo grew Nintendo into the largest, and most powerful card manufacturer in Japan, but his son Hiroshi Yamauchi never had any intensions of running the family business.
Hiroshi had set his sights on law school and was enroled when his father suffered a stroke in 1949. His heath forced Sekiryo to retire and he asked his son to take over as president of Nintendo.
At the age of 21, Hiroshi Yamauchi was a law school dropout and president of a major corporation.
Over the following years Hiroshi’s Nintendo saw many ups and downs. Nintendo led the charge of lifting the ban on western playing cards in Japan, became the first game company in Japan to license Disney characters, an went public on the Japanese stock market. However, Hiroshi also experimented on expanding Nintendo out of card games and into other industries, such as taxis, food products and love hotels.
Unfortunately, all of the non-game endeavors failed, and when the playing card market crashed in Japan, Nintendo risked collapse. That was until Hiroshi took a tour of one of their assembly lines and noticed a low-level maintenance engineer plating with a toy he designed.
The engineer ended up being Gunpei Yokoi, who would go onto leading Nintendo’s arcade and video game divisions, as well as invent the Game Boy. His toy was a mechanical extending arm. Hiroshi saw the brilliance of it and ordered it into mass-production as the Ultra Hand. The toy was an instant success transitioning Nintendo into a toy-manufacture and reclaiming their place as an industry giant.
The team of Hiroshi Yamauchi and Gunpei Yokoi steered Nintendo to constant success. After entering the toy-industry they began focusing primarily on electronic toys, and eventually to electronic games.
In 1975 Yamauchi acquired the exclusive Japanese distribution rights for the world’s first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, and in 1977, they created their own line of consoles, the Color TV Game system.
Also in 1977, Hiroshi hired his friend’s son as a staff-artist. The young man’s name was Shigeru Miyamoto and he was assigned to work with Gunpei Yokoi. Miyamoto is best known as s "The Father of Modern Video Games" having created everything from Donkey Kong and Mario, to Zelda and Pikmin.
The team of Hiroshi Yamauchi, Gunpei Yokoi, and Shigeru Miyamoto forged a trail into the international video game market, first by dominating arcades, then handheld games with the introduction of the Game & Watch, and eventually the Game Boy, and finally home consoles with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1983. Not only was the NES a hit, it single handedly pulled the US Video Game market out of ruin.
Hiroshi saw Nintendo though four generations of consoles, from the NES, to the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube
After 53 years as president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi retired from the role on May 31, 2002, with Satoru Iwata, the head of Nintendo's Corporate Planning Division and the first non-Yamauchi family member to take on the role. Hiroshi remained as chairman of Nintendo's board of directors until he fully retired on June 29, 2005.
Nintendo released an official statement to famed video game website Kotaku.com regarding the loss, “The entire Nintendo group will carry on the spirit of Mr. Yamauchi by honoring, in our approach to entertainment, the sense of value he has taught us — that there is merit in doing what is different — and at the same time, by changing Nintendo in accordance with changing times.”