Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former Nintendo President, has died aged 85. Joining the company in 1949, he is credited with the transformation of Nintendo from a card company to a multinational video gaming empire.
Hiroshi Yamauchi was born on November 7th, 1927, in Kyoto. Although too young to fight in the Second World War, he was put to work in a military factory, and thereafter studied law at Waseda University in Tokyo. Upon the death of his grandfather in 1949, and with an absent father, Yamauchi assumed the role of President of Nintendo that year.
Several ventures from the company followed, including, famously, a taxi service, a love hotel and a brand of instant rice. However, starting in the 1970s, Nintendo began to experiment with electronics, producing their first home games machine, the Color TV Game 7, in 1977.
His 53-year tenure as President saw the development of the Nintendo Entertainment System (known as Famicom in Japan) – the first mass-market console to gain traction in the USA after the Video Game Crash of 1983. Yamauchi was heavily involved in deciding which games to release, and oversaw smash hits like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid. In the early 1990s, he also oversaw the purchase of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, which Nintendo still owns.
After running the company through the glory years of the 1990s, during which the SNES, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy reigned supreme, Yamauchi stepped down in 2002 and was replaced by current President Satoru Iwata, the first president not of the Yamauchi family. Yamauchi retired fully in 2005, but refused to accept his $14 million pension, feeling Nintendo could put it to better use.
In retirement, he was a wealthy man – indeed, the 12th richest in Japan – thanks in large part to his 10% stake in Nintendo during the Wii and DS boom. However, he did not hoard his wealth, and paid for the construction of a cancer treatment centre in Kyoto, estimated to have cost 7.5 billion Yen.
While Hiroshi Yamauchi is no longer with us, his creation of Nintendo as a gaming giant has left an indelible mark on our art form – perhaps it is worth remembering that without this man, gaming as we know it today would not exist. We express our condolences to those at Nintendo, and to the surviving family of Yamauchi-sama.
Hiroshi Yamauchi died of pneumonia on September 19th, 2013. He is survived by his children – Yoko, Fujiko and Katsuhito.