Here we are to see the Nintendo and its History.
It won’t be a lie to say that today, Nintendo is a well-recognized household name. Not only are people familiar with it, but it has shaped all of our childhoods with the likes of Mario Kart to Pokémon Go. We all know that Nintendo has changed how we perceive and consume games but did you know that this gaming giant initially only sold playing cards?
Yamauchi Nintendo was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi on September 23, 1889. It initially marketed Hanafuda, which is a type of Japanese playing card made from cardboard and paper. The company is now based in Kyoto, Japan, and is a leading corporation in the gaming industry.
Nintendo has a vast history; it is as impressive as it is meaningful. It has conceived modern-day gaming and even though Nintendo too had its ventures in the transport and food industry, the company has always come back to its roots. This article is a more detailed history of the company, which tries to understand Nintendo’s journey from the setting up of its very first shop in 1889 to present-day demands.
Getting to Know Nintendo
Nintendo, throughout the decades, has developed itself. It built itself from the ground up from a tiny start-up to an entire conglomerate. The official Nintendo website writes that they aim to ‘deliver unique, intuitive entertainment experiences for everyone.’
Within the gaming world itself, Nintendo is not just a giant but a museum of history that has grown and evolved with the changing world. It has initiated trends and given a new life to how we experience gaming to this very day.
There are various reasons why anyone would want to understand the history of a conglomerate giant. However, the fact remains that Nintendo’s history dates far back into the 1800s, making it a milestone in global history.
1889 – 1928
On 23 September 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi started Nintendo Koppai, a shop that initially sold Hanafuda (Japanese-styled playing cards). During this period, the Japanese government had led to a decrease in the circulation of cards with numerical on them. Traditional Hanafuda cards, which carried illustrations on them instead of numerical were the loophole in the system. Nintendo’s handcrafted illustrated Hanafuda playing cards gradually attracted people’s attention.
Nintendo Koppai was based in Kyoto and started as a relatively small shop. Nintendo is often translated from Japanese to English as meaning, ‘to leave luck to heaven.’ However, there does exist some debate as to what the phrase’ accurate translation would be.
Within the same period, Japan held its first general election and established ‘The Constitution of the Empire of Japan.’ There were several relaxations introduced following its establishment, including the ones on playing cards. Nintendo had already established itself as a card-selling house and hence saw a tremendous increase in its sales compared to its competitors.
Gradually, Nintendo started selling an extensive variety of playing cards. However, it was only in 1902 that Nintendo started producing and selling more western-themed playing cards. While initially they were intended to be sold in the western market, they eventually gained popularity in Japan too.
In 1907, Nintendo partnered up with another Japanese company then called the Japan Tobacco and Salt Corporation (now Japan Tobacco), allowing them to sell their cards in cigarettes and tobacco shops, giving them more exposure.
There are also articles and allegations of The Yakuza, an organized crime syndicate, similar to the Mafia using Nintendo Koppai’s Hanafuda cards.
In 1929, Fusajiro Yamauchi stepped down and gave the reins to his son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda, who later changed his surname to Yamauchi.
After joining the company and continuing as the leader, in 1933, Sekiryo decided to enter a joint venture with another company and Nintendo Koppai was hence renamed as Yamauchi Nintendo & Company. The company name remains unknown. 1940, saw the unfortunate demise of the company’s founder.
In 1947, Sekiryo Yamauchi decided to establish a new company, Marufuku Company, Ltd. to shift all production related to Nintendo playing cards (Hanafuda and others) here.
In 1949, Sekiryo suffered a stroke which forced him to step down from his position and have his grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi take over. Hiroshi, who was only 21 at the time and had to leave his law degree mid-semester. His inexperience in the position is said to have initially caused resentment with the employees of the company. Later, however, his ventures were wildly successful. In one instance, he was referred to as the ‘mother brain’ (an antagonist in one of Nintendo’s games) of the company.
Hiroshi, in 1950, renamed the company Nintendo Playing Card Co, Ltd. and Marufuku Company, Ltd. to Nintendo Karuta. In 1952, Nintendo had started displacing factories over Kyoto, and in 1953 they were the first Japanese company to make playing cards from plastic.
In 1959, Nintendo struck a deal with Walt Disney, which allowed them to sell durable, plastic-coated playing cards with Disney characters printed on them. The Disney cards, however, helped them reach a larger audience. Cards became a lot more acceptable and found popularity within Japanese households as well. In the same year, Nintendo also published a book. The book explained several ways one could play Hanafuda games and also other card-related games, making them more popular and mainstream.
Nintendo sold more than 600,000 decks of Disney playing cards. Such immense success prompted Nintendo to go public and list itself on the Osaka and Kyoto stock exchange.
In 1963, Nintendo changed its name to Nintendo Co., Ltd. This helped them branch out and not restrict their identity to just manufacturing playing cards.
Between 1963 and 1968, Hiroshi Yamauchi tried expanding Nintendo and experimented with various industries. Namely, three of Yamauchi’s offshoot expansions can be traced back to:
- Love Hotels: These hotels allowed people to rent rooms on an hourly basis as compared to the traditional system of renting rooms for a fortnight.
- Daiya Taxi Service: The taxi business, although partly successful, was allegedly shut down due to a labor union dispute.
- Instant Rice: The instant rice industry, yet again, although successful, was soon shut down as the company decided to stick to its roots and expand more into the gaming industry. By the early 1960s, the playing card industry was saturated, and people wanted alternatives.
In 1964, after the Tokyo Olympics, Nintendo saw its stocks drop from 900 yen to just 60 yen. It was time for them to venture into the Toy industry instead of expanding out. They opened up a research and development department called ‘games.’ The first toy they introduced in Japan was called ‘The Rabbit Coaster.’
On one of his visits to Nintendo plants in 1964, Hiroshi Yamauchi came across one of the engineers at the plants, Gunpei Yokoi. There, Hiroshi took notice of one of Gunpei’s inventions and loved it so much that he had Gunpei enhance it and sent it out to his manufacturers to produce it. The invention was called The Ultra Hand.
The Ultra hand was an arm that could extend to a certain distance and grasp onto objects. The toy was an amazing success and quickly became popular among the children, selling up to 1.2 million units. This pushed Nintendo in the race to compete with already existing and largely successful toy companies like Bandai and Tomy. Gunpei Yokoi would go and launch some of the most initials (and historic) of Nintendo’s inventions, which would set the company to become a gaming giant. Some of Yokoi’s best toy inventions include Ultra Machine, Ultra Scope, and the famous Love Tester.
In 1969, Nintendo had formed a gaming department and was setting up a producing unit in suburban Kyoto.
Soon, Nintendo entered into a venture with Sony Corporation, and in 1970 began selling their Beam Gun Series, officially introducing electronic games in Japan. The Beam Gun series would later go on to inspire and support various other arcade light gun games. 1972, saw Nintendo’s first venture into video games when they acquired the rights of distribution in Japan of a console game called The Magnavox Odyssey.
In 1973, Gunpei introduced a laser clay shooting system that soon rivaled the bowling alleys of Japan, which at the time were considered a popular and cheap pastime. However, it wasn’t until 1974, that Nintendo started exporting their arcade games to the United States and Europe.
Seeing the success of these games and The Magnavox Odyssey, Nintendo decided to further venture into producing console games for homes, as well as, for arcades. In cooperation with Mitsubishi Electrics, they created their first-ever video game, EVR Race, in 1975.
With Mitsubishi Electronics, Nintendo developed the Colour Tv Game Machine, and in 1977 Nintendo released “Color Tv Game 6” and “Color Tv Game 15.” In the same year, Nintendo hired a freshly graduated art student, Shigeru Miyamoto, who would soon become a pioneer in the gaming industry. Trained by Gunpei Yokoi, Miyamoto is hailed as “The Father of Modern Video Games.”
The first game that Shigeru Miyamoto directly worked upon was an arcade game called Sheriff and was released in 1979. The game required the player to take down the enemies and save the damsel. This was also the time Gunpei Yokoi invented something earth-shattering.
While traveling on a bullet train in Japan, Yokoi encountered a man who was playing around with his calculator simply because he was bored. The instance prompted Yokoi to work on a portable console and hence, give birth to Game & Watch in 1980. However, due to the limited technology at the time, Game & Watch systems could only support a single game at a time. Which meant that if you wished to own more than a single game, you had to buy an entirely new piece of hardware.
By the early 1980s, Nintendo was growing at a rapid pace. Seeing its enormous success both at home and internationally, they decided to open up offices in the United States, Nintendo of America in New York City. An arcade game, called Radar Scope, which was hugely popular in Japan was also marketed in the U.S.A. The makers, seeing its pre-release traction, were confident that the game would be hugely popular in the United States too and hence, mass-manufactured game’ units.
Unfortunately, the game was a big flop show and Nintendo was left with an overwhelming overstock.
Seeing the saddening response, Nintendo decided to start over and asked Miyamoto to design a new game altogether. Desperate to prove himself, Shigeru Miyamoto designed Donkey Kong, a character that is still remembered fondly. It was released on 9 July 1981 and was an instant hit among the public. The main protagonist of the game was called Jumpman, who was up against the villain, Donkey Kong who had kidnapped his Jumpman’s girlfriend, Pauline.
After seeing the success of a portable game console, Nintendo introduced a multi-cartridge gaming system, The Famicom, in 1983, which allowed for players to play more than one game on a single hardware device. On its release, many games were made available for easy access including, Donkey Kong and Popeye.
The newer technology had its woes with one of the most prominent complaints being that of the game freezing mid-way. Nintendo further spent more than a few million dollars trying to locate and rectify the issue, which was eventually found to be due to the gaming chip.
At the same time, Nintendo was also working on creating Mario Bros. In 1984, Nintendo had developed its V.S system and had initiated the worldwide distribution of Famicom Systems (later titled Nintendo Entertainment Systems). Nintendo started developing stunningly brilliant games which would immortalize them for years to come. Some of the most stellar games to come out during the time were Super Marios Bros., Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out!
With games, such as Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto tried something new: these games had an ending. Previously, most players played games to beat high scores but these new games had an ‘ending’ and followed a story structure that kept the player engaged.
Super Mario Bros.’ character, Mario, became popular to the point that children were aware of Mario alongside Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny.
Nintendo Power was a monthly news magazine that was unveiled to keep the audiences updated on Nintendo’s new games and inventions. It was produced by Nintendo of America in 1988.
Early 1990 saw the release of Super Mario 3, in the American market. The installment was the first in the series to provide a world map to the game. The installment also had the addition of costumes and the ‘koopalings.’ The koopalings are a recurring team of seven bosses in the Mario series. Seeing its popularity, DIC entertainment and Viacom 18 tried monetizing off of the game by producing a show called The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
The same year, Japan saw the release of Super Mario World.
In 1994, Nintendo released the Super Gameboy. The Super Gameboy allowed the user to play their favorite games on the big screen. Nintendo also used ACM graphics, exponentially increasing the standards for games in the industry. They rereleased Donkey Kong Country, now more refined and neater with the use of ACM graphics taking America by storm. The new Donkey Kong featured Donkey Kong as a hero rather than a villain.
By 1995 ACM Graphics was setting high standards for games. Nintendo, through the launch of Donkey Kong Land on its Gameboy, was able to focus on the graphic aspects of gaming. The same year, Nintendo also launched Play It Loud! Series.
1996 saw the release of Nintendo 64, a gaming console system that surpassed anything available in the market. It boasted smooth gameplay, modern graphics, and sound systems. The system also came with a gaming joystick, which gave them an undebated edge over their competitors.
In the same year, Satoshi Tajiri, a keen gamer would propose an idea of a game that allowed users to throw and catch monsters. This would develop into what we know today as Pokémon or Pocket Monsters. The franchise was super successful and soon had an entire media franchise, The Pokémon Company, which would deal with all Pokémon-related content.
1997 saw Nintendo releasing their Nintendo 64 in Europe and Australia after its absolute success in America and Japan.
In Japanese, meanwhile, though the console was successful it was sold out by the Pokémon franchise which was gaining immense popularity and had become a league of its own.
In 1998, Nintendo introduced two colors for Gameboys: purple and clear purple. The following year, Nintendo will release Pokémon throughout Europe and increase their selection of Gameboy colors (red, green, yellow, and blue).
2000 – Present
The early 2000s saw the Nintendo Gameboy selling almost 100 million units, making it the bestselling console within the industry.
In 2002, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had led the company to such great heights, stepped down from his position and transferred his powers to Satoru Iwata. Iwata became the first successor of Nintendo who wasn’t related to the Yamauchi family.
The 21st century continues to see Nintendo growing and introducing newer models and technology into the gaming industry. The 21st century is also, without an argument, also the time frame where Nintendo has advanced its technology by leaps and bounds. As newer and newer components are introduced within the market, the gaming industry becomes more advanced.
In 2006, when Nintendo released their Nintendo Wii, just after the release of PlayStation. Manu believed that Wii, a bulky structured gaming system would flop before the slim, modern, and sleek PlayStation. However, the Nintendo Wii had more to offer. Their games, their technology, and the tears of experience within the market fared well.
The Wii was advanced for the time with its controllers and unique motion controls and other interactive features. Nintendo’s legacy where they believed that graphics are not greater than the actual gameplay paid them off well when faced with such competition in the market.
Since then, Nintendo has come a long way. Some of the most famous creations of Nintendo in the 21st century include Animal Crossing Franchise, Mario Kart, Xenoblade Chronicles along with the continuing franchises of Pokémon, Legend of Zelda, and Mario Bros.
In 2016, Nintendo created an Augmented Reality (AR) mobile game called Pokémon Go, in collaboration with Niantic. The game took the world by storm with people organizing Pokémon Go walks in real-time. The game, one of its kind, remains popular.
It has been 131 years since Nintendo was founded, and since then it has come a long way. Nintendo’s existence is not just of a large conglomerate but one of a conception of a new industry. The gaming industry continues to change and grow and Nintendo has been there and experienced it all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Who founded Nintendo?
Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo on 23 September 1889. Initially called Nintendo Koppai, it sold Hanafuda, a type of traditional Japanese playing card.
Q2. Who is Mario?
Mario is a popular character in a Nintendo game franchise, Super Mario Bros, designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. In the game, Mario jumps over hurdles and clears levels to save Princess Peach. He is one of the most easily recognized fictional characters and also Nintendo’s mascot. By profession, Mario is a plumber.
Q3. Is Pokémon a Nintendo game?
The rights to Pokémon are owned by The Pokémon Company, a collaboration franchise founded by Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures in 1996.
Q4. When was Animal Crossing released?
Animal Crossing, a simulation game, was released by Nintendo on April 14, 2001, in Japan.
Q5. Did Nintendo develop Pokémon Go?
Niantic developed and published Pokémon Go in collaboration with Nintendo in 2016.
Q6. What is Nintendo’s Net worth?
$65.2 Billion, as of September 2021.
Q7. Who is the current Nintendo CEO?
Shuntaro Furukawa is the current CEO of Nintendo. He has served the role since 28 June 2018.