Former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away this morning at the age of 85. If you don't recognize the name, here's a very brief look at a man whose influence helped shape video games and the industry at large into what it is today.
Abandoning his law career to take over for his ailing grandfather, Yamauchi became the third president of Nintendo way back in 1949. At the time, Nintendo (which has been around since 1889) was in the business of manufacturing playing cards for adults. Not porn or anything (although the company would later famously dabble in the love hotel industry), but hanafuda and poker decks.
Under Yamauchi's guidance, Nintendo eventually got into the toy business and established its identity as an all-audiences entertainment company offering products ranging from Disney-branded playing cards to popular toys such as the Ultra Hand (created by Gunpei Yokoi, a man hired by Yamauchi. Yokoi would later create the GameBoy).
In the early seventies, Nintendo engineers came up with early light gun technology. Seeing the potential, Yamauchi bought up a bunch of failed bowling alleys and converted them into light gun shooting galleries.
Yamauchi started Nintendo onto the path of video games by inking a deal to manufacture and distribute Atari's Pong machines in Japan. But Yamauchi knew that wouldn't be enough. Nintendo needed to create its own video games.
The rest, as they say, is history. Yamauchi branched out into the American and European markets, hired complete unknown Shigeru Miyamoto to create what would become Donkey Kong and kept Nintendo successful and video games as an industry viable after the crash in the 80s.
Yamauchi remained president until 2002. He had a hand in every Nintendo console right up to the Gamecube and even beyond. Of the Nintendo DS he reportedly said, "If the DS succeeds, we will rise to heaven, but if it fails we will sink to hell."
The DS has sold over 150 million units worldwide.
Via Kotaku, current Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had this to say on Yamauchi's passing:
"The entire Nintendo group will carry on the spirit of Mr. Yamauchi by honoring, in our approach to entertainment, the sense of value he has taught us — that there is merit in doing what is different — and at the same time, by changing Nintendo in accordance with changing times."
Yamauchi's contribution to the entire video game industry cannot be overstated. Had he gone on to practice law instead of taking over his grandfather's company, video games would be very different today. Hell, they might not even exist at all.
Image: Sketched by user 911 on Miiverse using Art Academy: SketchPad
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen