The man credited with turning Nintendo from a playing card company into the world-wide video game giant it is today has died aged 85. Hiroshi Yamauchi was the third president of the company – the predecessor to Satoru Iwata – and was in charge from 1949 until May 2002.
Yamauchi took the reins at Nintendo when he was just 22, taking over from his grandfather after the elderly man suffered a stroke. Yamauchi’s great grandfather – Fusajiro Yamauchi – had founded the company back in 1889. The young upstart’s first command: All other family members were let go from the company, ensuring that he would have no challenges to his leadership.
Over the years, the university drop-out worked together with visionaries like Gunpei Yokoi to take Nintendo into the electronic toy market – he was responsible for the hiring of Shigeru Miyamoto, who went on to create Super Mario Bros. The Game and Watch project was one of the first to herald the future direction of the company.
He was also responsible for Nintendo’s expansion into America, taking control of a market that was being largely ignored locally. Yamauchi looked after the creation of the first Famicom/NES, and its successors the SNES, N64 and Gamecube. At one time, one in four American households had an NES – a device that had been created so simply that “anyone” could use it.
In 2002, after great successes at the helm of the company, Yamauchi stepped down so that Satoru Iwata could step up into the top job. Yamauchi stayed on as an advisor, but had been quiet in recent years.
Yamauchi died from pneumonia in a hospital in central Japan, on what was the first day of the Tokyo Game Show.