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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Man Who Built Nintendo Loses Last Life

Yamauchi Hiroshi (山内 溥 - surname first), who ran Nintendo for more than 50 years and led the Japanese company's transition from a traditional playing-card maker to an arcade and then home video game giant, has died at the age of 85.

Kyoto-based Nintendo said Yamauchi, who owned the Seattle Mariners major league baseball club before selling it to Nintendo's U.S. unit in 2004, died on September 19, 2013 of pneumonia.

Born on November 7, 1927 in Kyoto, Yamauchi was a Waseda University dropout (studied law), proving that brains and drive trump a piece of paper any day.

Yamauchi was Nintendo company president from 1949 to May 31, 2002 and engineered their global growth, including developing the early Family Computer consoles (Got-em all) and Game Boy (Got one) portables. I still have all of these systems. I have never thrown one out or sold one. Man... what's up with that?

Nintendo was founded in 1889 and made traditional hanafuda (flower cards) playing cards before venturing into video games and turning it into a multi-billion dollar company. I used to have a set… and now I don't. Stupid fire.

Now… when Yamauchi took over as Nintendo president in 1949, it was because his grandfather, then president, had suffered a stroke and no other successor could be found… so THAT is why he dropped out of university.

Brains and drive and nepotism trump a piece of paper any day. Everyone… feel free to curse their own parents for not working hard enough for you to retire now.

Here's something interesting… Yamauchi said he would only take the job if her were the ONLY family member working at Nintendo.

Grandpa agreed, and when he ran out of lives, Yamauchi took over… but not before an older cousin was fired from Nintendo to fulfill the agreement.

As you can tell… Yamauchi was a strong bastard… and one who either loved or hated family. I can't tell.

I have no idea what happened to his father. The war? Early death? Abandonment?
Because our young man was considered inexperienced to lead the company, factory employees went on strike hoping his lack of experience would cause him to panic and give into their demands.

They must not have known about that fired cousin… because he fired a butt-load of long-time employees who had dared to question his authority.

"What we have here… is a failure… to communicate."

Or.. if you don't like Cool Hand Luke… how about this classic video game line: "All our base are belong to us."

Don't fug with Yamauchi.

He was the Boss at the end of every video game level, demanding that he be the one and only judge, jury and executioner of any new product the company manufactured. If he liked it, it would be made.
Old Nintendo headquarters nameplate in Kyoto before it went electric. Taken on May 1, 2006, by Eckhard Pecher.
Yamauchi and Nintendo Karuto (old company name he created after taking over… it was Nintendo before that, though) were the first to introduce Western-style playing cards to the Japanese market.

Before that… those types of cards were considered gambling… and gambling, outside of state-run lotteries, horse-racing and pachinko (always pachinko… sigh), gambling was illegal in Japan.

But in 1959 after signing a deal with Walt Disney, playing cards and the whole Goofy gang of pantless ducks and white-faced black mice (think Al Jolson in white face make-up and then see if Mickey Mouse still looks non-racist) became less about gambling and more about family card games.

Thanks to this success, he then changed the company name to Nintendo Company Limited and went public on the stock exchange.

After a trip to the US to see the world's largest manufacturer of playing cards—United States Playing Card Company—he saw that this big gambler was housed in a small office and factory… and that when he realized that his own company was never going to be huge.

So he diversified. He got into a taxi business, a love hotel, and individual packs of instant rice.

Strangely enough… all failed. Okay… the love hotel part confuses me. That should have been a secret level bonus.

Now on the verge of bankruptcy… Yamauchi one day saw a factory employee, Yokoi Gunpei (surname first) playing around with an extendable claw that he had made himself… inspiration!
Marketed as the Urutora Hando (Ultra Hand) - see photo to the left - this toy became a hit and convinced Yamauchi that perhaps moving into the manufacture of toys would be the way to go.

Yokoi was set up under the banner of Games and Setup - a toy research & development department and created such toys as the Love Tester in 1969 and a light gun using solar cells for targets. Electronics. For young adults and kids! Love Tester... what are they hooking up the electrical stuff to?

You can see six seconds of a Love Tester television commercial below:
In the 1970s, Yamauchi saw Atari and Magnavox (I had one - the Odyssey system) release home video game systems… and launched Nintendo's Color TV Game 6 in Japan in 1977… which was essentially a color version of Pong… with six versions of tennis. Trust me… in 1977 this was considered cool. Cool for a videogame, anyway.

Nintendo's Color TV Game 6. The guy on the left sucks.
Buoyed by this success - millions sold - Yamauchi wanted to become involved in the video arcade game industry… and after a few misses, hit gold when Miyamoto Shigeru (surname first) turned his Donkey Kong project of 1981 into a cultural icon.    

As of March 2012, Yamauchi was the 12th richest person in Japan and 491st richest in the world, having a net worth of approximately $2.5 billion.

Not bad, eh? Any time you can crack the Top 500, you did all right. There was no confirmation if any of the fortune was made up of shiny, gold-colored tokens or mushrooms.

At the time of his death Yamauchi was the second-largest shareholder of Nintendo, which we can only assume will make his eldest son richer than Mario after completing 47 levels.

Yamauchi is survived by his son Katsuhito and two other children. The company declined to release other family details, though I believe his wife passed away in 2012. Funeral services are scheduled for Sunday, September 22, 2013 at Nintendo.
Andrew Joseph

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