The History of Nintendo Video Games

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The Nintendo Corporation's domination of the gaming industry didn't start with their first video game console. As a matter of fact they had already established themselves as a quality game company almost 70 years before the first video game was invented. Not only did Nintendo bring back the popularity of video games after the industry crash of 1983 , but they first established themselves in the 19th century when they brought back the popularity of card games to Japan.

When Japan cut off its relations with the Western World in 1633 there was a ban put on all foreign playing cards as they encouraged illegal gambling. Playing cards were extremely popular at the time (mainly because of the gambling) so it wasn't long before the Japanese started creating their own home grown card games. The first of these were designed for a game called Unsun Karuta, but eventually the game started also being used for a form of gambling, so the government put a ban on them as well. A volleying of new card games, followed by a subsequent government bans went back and forth over the next century.

Finally in the 19th century a new card game, Hanafuda, was invented which used images instead of numbers, making it difficult for gambling. The government relaxed its laws on playing cards allowing the Hanafuda cards to be sold. Unfortunately the constant banning of card games and the lack of use for gambling took its toll and the new card game received a lackluster response, until a young entrepreneur, Fusajiro Yamauchi, came on the scene.

In 1889 a 29 year old Fusajiro Yamauchi opened the doors to his company Nintendo Koppai, which manufactured Hanafuda cards made up of paintings on cards from the bark of a mulberry tree. Fusajiro sold the cards at two Nintendo Koppai stores and the quality of the art and design broke Hanafuda into enormous popularity and establish Nintendo as the top game company in Japan.

The same year Fusajiro started Nintendo Koppai, the Japanese government put into effect the first general election for the House of Representatives of Japan and instituted the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, called the Meiji Constitution.

These government changes lead to the revision of numerous laws which included relaxing the ban on countless types of playing cards. As Nintendo was the most popular card company they were able to expand faster than any of the competition.

Over the next 40 years, under Fusajiro Yamauchi tutelage, Nintendo Koppai remained the top card company in Japan as they continued adding the most popular games as well as inventing several of their own. At the age of 70, Fusajiro retired and his adopted son-in-law Sekiryo Kaneda (who changed his name to Sekiryo Yamauchi) took over the business in 1929.

After continuing to run the company as the largest Japanese card manufacturer, Sekiryo sought to expand the company and established a joint venture which renamed the company Yamauchi Nintendo & Company in 1933, and formed a card game distributor called Marufuku Company, Ltd. These two companies continued to grow the business into a corporate giant.

After running the company for 20 years, Sekiryo suffered a stroke in 1949 forcing him to retire. Sekiryo called for his grandson Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was in law school at the time, and asked him to take over the family business.

Becoming the new president of Yamauchi Nintendo & Company was a tumultuous time for Hiroshi, who had to drop-out of school at the age of 21 to take over the family business. His lack of experience caused resentment among the Nintendo employees, followed by a factory strike. Hiroshi shocked everyone by firing all of the employees who crossed him and established new policies that required all potential products and ventures to first be cleared by him alone.

He changed the name of the company to Nintendo Karuta and then again to Nintendo Company Ltd. Amazingly Hiroshi first several ventures were a dead on success, which included...

 

  • Reintroduction of western playing cards, which hadn't been sold in Japan since they were banned in 1633.
  • The first game card licensing deal in Japan with the Disney Company. A monumental success, the Disney characters were featured on decks of cards designed for party and family games.
  • Took the company public on the Japanese stock market.

Eventually Hiroshi decided to expand the company into non-game related markets which included a taxi service, hotels, and even the food industry, all of which failed. This combined with a crash in the game card market caused a nosedive for Nintendo profits. Without a major reinvention of the company Nintendo risked bankruptcy.

On a visit to the dying Nintendo card game manufacturing assembly line, Hiroshi noticed a low-level maintenance engineer named Gunpei Yokoi playing with an extending arm he had designed and built.

Hiroshi was amazed by the extending arm and quickly ordered it into mass production calling it the Urutora Hando aka Ultra Hand. The Ultra Hand was an instant success and the decision was made to transition Nintendo into a toy manufacturer. Yokoi was moved from maintenance into the head of Games and Setup which oversaw product development.

Yokoi and Hiroshi's partnership would reignite Nintendo into once again becoming an industry giant, which would turn Hiroshi into the richest man in Japan, but end tragically for Yokoi.

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