The world of video games lost one of its founding fathers today as Nintendo’s iconic leader Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away at the age of 90 following complications with Pneumonia.
[Based on my original post at gamingindustryiq.com]
Nintendo issued this statement: “Nintendo is in mourning today from the sad loss of the former Nintendo president Mr Hiroshi Yamauchi, who sadly passed away this morning.”
Yamauchi-san was born in November 1927 and studied law before joining Nintendo in 1949 after his grandfather and then Nintendo president suffered a stroke.
During his 53 year tenure as president, he foresaw the potential of electronic gaming as others started to write it off and under his astute leadership, steered the company to huge success with the Game & Watch, NES, Gameboy, Super NES and Nintendo 64 systems and helped make the likes of Mario and Zelda household names.
Yamauchi-san was credited with transforming Nintendo from a hanafuda playing card company to a global giant that was famously once the richest company in Japan (it still sits atop huge cash reserves) and made Yamauchi the richest man in Japan. He also once owned the Seattle Mariners major league baseball club but surprisingly never actually attended a game.
He was also noted for his philanthropic work and in 2010 donated the majority of the 7.5 billion yen / $83m used to build a new cancer treatment center in Kyoto.
He stepped down in 2002 upon the release of the GameCube and was succeeded by then head of Nintendo’s Corporate Planning Division, Satoru Iwata. Always committed the company he built, Yamauchi-san refused to accept his retirement pension (estimated in the region of $9 to $14 million) as he considered it would be better used by Nintendo and at the time of his death was still the second largest shareholder in Nintendo.
It could be argued that after the disastrous crash in the early 80s, Yamauchi’s management of Nintendo and the incredible work of his development team including Shigeru Miyamoto and Gameboy designer Gunpei Yokoi saved the industry itself and allowed it to grow in to they multi billion dollar behemoth it is today.
In an era of corporate bosses who often come across as impassionate pen-pushers only interested in the bottom line, Yamauchi-san was an imposing figure who genuinely cared about gaming. He was known to value the quality of gaming over the hardware it was delivered on and argued that gamers “do not play with the game machine itself. They play with the software, and they are forced to purchase a game machine in order to use the software. Therefore the price of the machine should be as cheap as possible” – it’s an ethos that served Nintendo well with the Wii and Ds and is perhaps something current games creators should take on board.
At the end of the day its the game play that counts.
The words pioneer and visionary are often splashed around these days but few can argue that Hiroshi Yamauchi defined both in the world of video games.
The Dream Team
On a personal note, my love affair with video games blossomed in the 80s and 90s era and was defined by Nintendo. I was a Nintendo fan boy through and through – and in a lot of ways I still am.
I remember poring over Edge & Total magazine in the early 90s and the triumvirate of Yamauchi, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Nintendo of America Boss Howard Lincoln that were often featured was, to me, gaming itself.
I really love that era of gaming. The Super NES is still my favorite system of all time. Something about the excitement and the wonder of it all.
Games were still slightly mysterious – they came all the way from Japan and being in London meant I would hear about these fascinating new titles months before I got a chance to actually play them. We would go to our game import shop to watch in awe at Japanese SNES systems playing Street Fighter 2 – with no borders and PAL slow down to boot! Pity the cart cost £100!
They don’t make ads like that anymore!
So with today’s news it feels like the light from that era has dimmed a little. Of the three I mentioned above only Shigeru Miyamoto is still around today. Thankfully he’ still fully immersed in all things Nintendo. That era reminds me of Marvel’s silver age renaissance when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko created a whole universe of characters that still endure today.
Maybe its just nostalgia, but as much as I still love Nintendo, I don’t think they have hit that same creative stride since – an era of video game genius.
I wonder if they ever will again?
In any case, Yamauchi will be missed his legacy will undoubtedly live on.
And maybe this weekend I’ll venture into the attic and dust off my trusty Super NES and N64 once more…