The long-time leader of Nintendo, an icon of Japan’s videogame industry, who autocratically transformed Nintendo from a purveyor of playing cards to a gaming gargantuan, Hiroshi Yamauchi, passed away in Japan on Thursday of pneumonia, at the age of 85.
Mr. Yamauchi ran the firm for 53 years, and was its second-largest shareholder at the time of his death. The company confirmed the death in a statement, saying that “former Nintendo president Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi… sadly passed away this morning”.
Yamauchi is regarded as a legendary figure in gaming history, and was one of the principal drivers of home consoles in the 1980s. He ran the company for 53 years, from 1949 until 2002, and was its second-largest shareholder at the time of his death.
Born on Nov.7, 1927, in Kyoto, Yamauchi grew up in a privileged but unhappy household. His father abandoned the family when Yamauchi was 4. When he returned years later, ill and eager to reconcile, Yamauchi would not see him.
Yamauchi took over the family company, founded by his grandfather in 1889 as a maker of playing cards, after his grandfather suffered a stroke. Over his 53 year reign, the college dropout transformed Nintendo into a global video game industry powerhouse. His vision launched the Game Boy console and the classic Donkey Kong and Super Marios video games, says the Forbes.
Despite several innovations, Yamauchi’s major success did not come until the late 1970s and early 1980s. The turning point was the year of 1977, when he met nd hired Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s chief game designer, who went on to create game characters Mario the plumber, Donkey Kong and Zelda.
In 1980, Nintendo released Game & Watch, the world’s first hand-held game player. Next came the release of Famicom, or the Family Computer console, in 1983, a home video-game console system.
That was followed by the introduction of the “Super Mario Bros.” game in 1985 and the unveiling of Famicom in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
“Hiroshi Yamauchi transformed a run-of the-mill trading card company into an entertainment empire in video games,” said Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and former chairman of publisher Eidos.
“He understood the social value of play, and economic potential of electronic gaming. Most importantly he steered Nintendo on its own course and was unconcerned by the actions of his competitors. He was a true visionary.”
In the U.S., Yamauchi had his son-in-law run the company’s Seattle headquarters. When the Mariners foundered, Yamauchi saw a public relations opportunity in a country that spent more than $17 billion on Nintendo products, write the LA Times.
In 2005, Yamauchi left Nintendo’s board of directors, but remained the largest individual shareholder with a 10% stake. He was succeeded by Satoru Iwata at the helm of Nintendo.
“We will continue to treasure the values Yamauchi taught us – that what makes you unique lies at the core of entertainment. And we at Nintendo will continue to change the company flexibly to adapt to the times, as Yamauchi did, to carry on his spirit,” Iwata said in a statement.
Since Yamauchi’s retirement, the company has struggled. Over the last four years, sales dropped by 64%. Early results from its new Wii U console have not been encouraging, company officials have acknowledged.
However the legacy and reputation of Nintendo is undimmed and the company continues to be recognized for its unique commitment to family-friendly story-telling, innovation and high-quality production values.