The man who built the Nintendo empire into what it is today and led the company for over half a century, former President and Chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi, passed away in both his — and Nintendo’s — hometown of Kyoto at the age of 85, on Tuesday.
Yamauchi not only spearheaded Nintendo’s advancement into the gaming business, but arguably helped shape the video games industry into what it is today. The grandson of Nintendo founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, he took control of the family business in 1949 and guided Nintendo from manufacturing trading cards to specializing in consoles and games, which ultimately led to the company’s tremendous global growth in terms of both success and respect.
Famous for his unconventional school of thought and strong leadership, during his time as President of Nintendo he helped to not only pick up the pieces of the North American video game industry crash of 1983, but also to capitalize upon it. At the time he guided Nintendo to a 90-95 percent market share of the Japanese industry and a 70 percent share of the American market thanks to innovative consoles and such as the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System), Super Famicom (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), the Game Boy, and legendary gaming franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon. He also helped Nintendo remain relevant in a rapidly growing and changing industry despite heavy competition from the likes of SEGA and Sony.
Further to this he personally recruited some of the most iconic names within the industry such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, designer of the Game and Watch and the Game Boy Gunpei Yokoi, and current President Satoru Iwata who he personally selected to succeed him after the launch of the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, despite not being a family member.
Following his succession by Satoru Iwata in 2002, he continued on as head of the board of directors and later as a special adviser, where he suggested the idea of two screens for the successor to the Game Boy Advance, leading to one of the world’s most successful consoles of all time, the Nintendo DS. He was also Nintendo’s largest shareholder owning around 10 percent of Nintendo stock, and thanks to the company’s success under his leadership he was able to amass a fortune to the figure of $2.5 billion, making him the 13th richest man in Japan. To this day Nintendo remains a company free from debt with a cash war chest estimated to be over $5 billion; a testament to Yamauchi’s incredible success.
Satoru Iwata and Nintendo issued a statement relaying the importance of Yamauchi’s contribution to the company he and has family founded and grew, and the industry that he helped shape. “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.”
This can also be seen to clearly reiterate a famous quote of Yamauchi’s in the wake of Nintendo’s apparent struggles when faced with Sony’s PlayStation 2 and SEGA’s elimination from the home console market when he declared that, “a number of companies will be eliminated, but Nintendo will survive,” something which was later supported through the hugely successful Nintendo Wii spearheaded by his handpicked successor Iwata.
As such the loss of Nintendo’s third president and the pioneer of its global achievements represents a great loss not only for Nintendo but for the video game industry at large. His funeral will be held this Sunday at Nintendo, following a wake on Saturday.