Nintendo’s 130th Anniversary: The Story That Goes Beyond Games
The year was 1889. In a time when cinema was making its first steps and video games didn’t even dream of existing, non-digital games played an important role in personal entertainment. Several types of card games and systems, however, were prohibited in Japan because they were widely associated with illegal gambling and criminality.
At the height of his thirties, Fusajiro Yamauchi decides to open Nintendo Koppai in Kyoto City , a shop that sold hanafuda decks , but featuring colorful hand-made prints. Approved by the Japanese government as well as popular taste, the “flower cards” were the company’s kick-off to entertainment. Little did the young entrepreneur know that his store would become part of such a lasting and promising legacy as Nintendo today.
The Yamauchi Family
In the early twentieth century, Fusajiro Yamauchi took advantage of opportunities to expand his business to other Japanese cities (such as Osaka). Motivated by the success of the cards – even played by Yakuza mobsters -, he also decided to start producing western decks and close partnerships with tobacconists to further popularize the activity.
Satisfied with the legacy left in what had already become Japan’s largest card game company, the founder and first president decides to retire at age 70 and hand over business in 1929 to his son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda (who came to Japan). become Sekyrio Yamauchi). For 20 years, the company’s second president has invested in the assembly line model and founded Marufuku, which is focused solely on product distribution and logistics.
In 1949, Sekiryo Yamauchi suffered a stroke and was promptly removed from his post. Shortly before his death, he handed over his professional responsibilities to his only 22-year-old grandson and, reluctant about the consequences, gave the inexperienced young man absolute power within the company if asked about his decisions. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s third president, was known primarily for being a difficult person to deal with.
Quality and variety
During his early years, Hiroshi Yamauchi laid off managers, proposed moving offices to a new building, and merged the company’s commercial arms into one name: Nintendo Playing Cards. With a solid reputation in foreign lands, the company has signed an image usage agreement with Disney, stamping iconic Western characters on plastic decks.
The business traditionally focused on letter production and marketing until 1963, when Yamauchi showed an interest in diversifying the company’s products and business areas. Nintendo Company, as it came to be called, created an instant rice brand, invested in a taxi company called Daiya, and even opened a motel franchise.
With an ever-growing association of card games with misdemeanor activities of Japanese mafias, the popularity of this type of business began to wane in the mid-1960s. Other alternatives for services and products were not as promising as investors expected and Again, the company needed to change its business model.
A new audience was emerging
While visiting one of his factories in 1966, Hiroshi Yamauchi came across a device that picked up objects at close range. Ultra Hand, as it came to be known after its booming commercial phenomenon, was designed as a hobby by Gunpei Yokoi, a plant maintenance worker. From that time on, a new business mentality began at Nintendo aimed at children / young people through the creation, production and marketing of toys.
Promoted from the “shop floor” to the position of designer, Yokoi and the new department called “Nintendo Games” were responsible for a number of creative, mind-boggling and even bizarre inventions of subsequent years. The Ultra Machine, for example, worked with a baseball pitcher. N&B Blocks, on the other hand, were created to compete with the success of the LEGO brand. The company division even created a kind of early Tinder prototype, the Love Tester, used to measure the degree of love between two people!
The non-electronic toy department continued its studies and production on this operating model until 1983. Parallel to this Nintendo arm, some programmers and game designers – such as pioneer Genyo Takeda – began hiring from 1972 for a new venture. : electronic games.
A beginner in the world of electronics
Beginning in 1974, Nintendo kicked off the distribution of electronics. The Magnavox Odyssey , one of the first consoles launched personal use, first came to Japan at the hands of the Kyoto giant in the same year that Yokoi began working alongside Takeda to new technologies for electronic devices. The following year marks the company’s entry into the arcade business with the original title EVR Race.
The next few years have been very fruitful for the electronics industry. While Takeda coordinated the development of original arcade-adapted electronic games, Yokoi was primarily responsible for the hardware part. In 1977, for example, Nintendo launched Color TV-Game, its first proprietary hardware that flirted with the early idea of home consoles. Shigeru Miyamoto, a recent graduate student in industrial design, was also invited to join the creative team in the same year.
During a train ride, Yokoi drew inspiration from a passenger fiddling with his digital clock to devise the concept of the first portable console in 1979. In addition to functions such as digital time and alarm clock, each Game & Watch model had a specific game. Important figures that stand out for their presence on console models include Disney’s mascot Mickey Mouse.
Despite having released several games on Game & Watch and Color TV-Game , it was not until 1981 that Nintendo created something really popular that would change its story forever: Donkey Kong. The platform game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and supervised by Gunpei Yokoi was a breather for the amount of throwaway titles that went public at the time – as well as introducing Jumpman, which would eventually be given a new name and become the best-known character in history. of video games.
The golden age of consoles
After surviving the 1983 video game crash , Nintendo launched its first major commercial console hit in Japan: Family Computer (Famicom), launched with a new external design in the west under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. Bringing classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, was an important time for new franchises and consolidation of ideas.
The era of laptops began in earnest from 1988 when Gunpei Yokoi and his team designed Game Boy. The ability to experience different games and the advantage of portability were decisive factors in the success of the product. Among the most popular games, it is worth mentioning Tetris, Super Mario Land and the first games of Pokémon.
The early 1990s were marked mainly by a public dispute between the Sega Genesis (known in Brazil as Mega Drive) and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). At this point, Nintendo suffered from the amount of great arcade ports brought to its rival console, but took advantage of the support of several third parties (Squaresoft, Enix, Rare, etc.) to make its library varied.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Nintendo has gone through several phases with its desktop and portable consoles: Virtual Boy’s conceptual failure ; the old-fashioned but lucrative Nintendo 64 cartridge system ; GameCube’s comfortable and precise controls ; the interesting but underused, two DS screens ; the risky casual move with Wii motion sensors ; Wii U’s local asymmetrical gameplay proposal , and so on.
Nintendo in 2019
It’s been over two and a half years since the Nintendo Switch was launched with its proposal to cater to both portable gamers and those who prefer desktop consoles. Its hybrid feature, as well as its library of several unique titles, has been a big draw on console sales – which, month after month, seems to only grow, taking advantage of the end of console generation for their benefit.
What is noticeable throughout this 130-year trajectory, however, is how the company’s early philosophy reflected the kind of products that were most present in its history. Nintendo started making games and perfected toy making, going through several stages of the human creative process.
When we see something like Nintendo Labo or Ring Fit Adventure being announced, we are not astonished. After all, it’s Nintendo we’re talking about. The company that puts fun in front of every other aspect. The company that thinks of its products primarily as games and not as movies or other forms of entertainment. The company that risks in uncertain, even knowing that everything can go wrong. To Nintendo long life.