There is no doubt that many of you have read about Nintendo’s videogame history. In fact I’m sure many of you even know about their pre-videogame history but for those of you who haven’t stick around because I’m going to take you back, way back, to a time very long ago, before videogames existed. Heck before television and radios existed. Cars weren’t even common. Welcome to the year 1889, welcome to the birth of a company that would eventually rise to dominate the industry of gaming for over ten years.
Started In 1889
We will start at the beginning. Yes, Nintendo was established in 1889 and they did something very different from what they did today. They were a playing card company, the first of their type. It started out simply as something that a man named Fusajiro Yamauchi started in his hometown of Kyoto. He began to manufacture playing cards called Hanafunda or “flower Cards. They were very different from traditional playing cards. Each deck contained 48 cards with 12 suits rather than just 4. The decks also used symbols rather than numbers (such as wind, rain, a deer, the moon or the chrysanthemum [a plant with brightly colored flowers]). Needless to say they grew very popular in Kyoto.
Yakuza, Gambling & Expansion
Eventually, Yamauchi-San had trouble keeping up with the demand. His shops expanded into other regions and apprentices were trained to help produce the Hanafunda cards. The playing cards began to be used for more than just entertainment. Gamblers tended to start using these playing cards, heck the freaking Yakuza used them in high stake games. The cards grew to have tremendous popularity and the company would be called Nintendo, which translates to “Leave Luck to Heaven.”
1907 – The Japan Tobacco Deal
Now let’s skip forward a few years. In 1907, Nintendo made a deal with Japan Tobacco & Salt Public corporation to have their cards sold in Cigarette shops. In the same year, a man named Sekiryo Kaneda married Tei Yamauchi, Fuajiro’s daughter. Sekiryo took the Yamauchi surname later on. He would eventually lead the company. Two decades later, Hiroshi Yamauchi was born. A distribution company called Marufuku Co. Ltd was started 20 years later in 1947. The company’s name was changed to this.
1949 – Enters Hiroshi Yamauchi
In 1949, Sekiryo Yamauchi had a stroke and Hiroshi would become the new president. He sought out to modernize the company, even if it meant firing anyone that went against him and didn’t welcome him as the new leader. He knew he would never gain the respect of the employees that Sekiryo had. So in 1952, a year after Yamauchi changed the distribution name to Nintendo Playing Cards Co Ltd, plans to modernize the company began. The headquarters were moved to a newer building and the cards were plastic coated to make them more durable. The distribution system was also improved and in 1959 a deal was made with Disney, to put Disney characters on the trading cards.
600,000 packets of cards were sold that year. In 1963, Hiroshi Yamauchi decided to expand the company to more than a trading card company. After some failed ideas (Instant Rice, A Love Hotel, and Taxi service) Yamauchi-San took advantage of the fact that many of the cards were being distributed in toy stores, and so began a “games” department, one that would eventually lead to electronic entertainment many years later.
1974 – Ultra Hand, Ultra Machine, Ultra Scope
By 1974, Nintendo had become a successful toy company in Japan. Thanks to the creative mind of the new employer, Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo’s products had become a hit. When Yokoi-san was hired in 1970, he was asked to “do something good.” He made the ultra-hand, which was an expansion arm-toy. 1.2 million ultra-hands were sold for the holiday season. Then after that the baseball throwing Ultra Machine was introduced, and a periscope called the Ultra Scope shortly after (very original names). But perhaps the quirkiest and most original was the Love Tester. It was a device that tested the “love” through a Boy and a Girl. Okay, it was just the current flowing through them and had nothing to do with the love. However it was highly successful.
Gunpei Yokoi hired Masayuki Uemura and they made the Nintendo Beam gun. It could be considered an early light gun, because you shot targets with solar cells mounted on it. These solar cells were used as sensors to detect light coming from these early “light guns.” Over one million Beam guns were sold. This solar cell light gun game was taken further in 1973.
The Birth Of The Light Gun
After Masayuki Uemura told Gunpei that the light gun system worked with clay shooting, Yokoi-san and Uemura-san had an idea to convert bowling alleys (bowling had become a fad in Japan during the 60′s and many alleys just stood empty by the 70′s) into simulated clay shooting galleries. However there was a problem, the solar cell system malfunctioned when the press came to check out the new system. Luckily Genyo Takeda, a new Nintendo Employee saved the day by changing the scores manually that night. Everyone bought it, and the clay shooting system became a hit.
1975 – Introduction Of Microprocessors
In 1975 Yamuchi had dinner with an old friend and it was at this dinner that Nintendo’s future changed. It was the end of the beginning, and a start of a new age. Yamauchi’s friend was talking about how microprocessors had become advanced enough to be used for entertainment purposes. This discussion inspired Yamauchi to research this, and he contacted Magnavox and they agreed to license their Odyssey system to Nintendo. Nintendo didn’t have a department for making Microprocessors so they teamed up with Mitsubishi Electronics. Two years later, Nintendo and Mitsubishi created an entirely new system called the Color TV Game 6.
This system was designed to play different versions of Tennis. An updated version was released the following year called the TV Game 15. Nintendo also went on to release a number of arcade games. Later in 1980, Gunpei Yokoi came up with an idea after watching the calculator industry boom; the Game and Watch. This product was not only popular in Japan but America too. It was a predecessor to the Gameboy in many ways.
1977 – Shigeru Miyamoto Hired
In 1977, the master games designer Shigeru Miyamoto was hired. At first, Yamauchi didn’t hire him. You see, Miyamoto-san wasn’t an engineer; he was more of a cartoon artist. Artists weren’t what Nintendo needed, at least not at the time. However after Miyamoto showed Yamauchi drawings of some toys he thought up of, Yamauchi hired him as Nintendo’s first staff artist. However Nintendo technically didn’t need a staff artist so he was an apprentice at the planning department. Then in 1980, it began. He was asked to redesign an arcade game called Radarscope; a mediocre vertical side shooter that played suspiciously like Space Invaders. However Miyamoto scrapped the title completely, and made a new game. With the guidance of Gunpei Yokoi, Miyamoto-san made Donkey Kong. The rest is history.
Now & Tommorrow
Today, Nintendo is still one of the most successful companies in History. The company began as one man’s idea, and expanded into the Videogames industry many years later. They are a company that still strives for originality just as much as they did back then. The originality that was in the company still exists today. They took chances and left luck to heaven. Their hard work has paid off. For they are practically living in Heaven with their success right now. Kudos for over 100 years of work Nintendo Corperation.