Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was at the helm of Nintendo during its transition from a playing card manufacturer to a worldwide power in the video game industry, has died.
He was 85 years old, and died in a hospital in central Japan, after a bout with pneumonia.
Yamauchi took over at Nintendo in 1949, and stepped down in 2002. The Kyoto-based company’s flagship product at the time were hanafuda cards, which were used to play traditional card games. As demand for the cards waned, Yamauchi branched out into sporting goods and board games, out of a “lack of imagination,” as he was quoted as saying.
Eventually, Nintendo moved into arcade games, and after the runaway success of “Donkey Kong” in 1981, the company had found its niche. The Famicom was released in Japan in 1983, and it began selling outside of Japan in 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Subsequent systems included the Game Boy, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Nintendo 64.
Nintendo is home to some of the most loved characters in video games, such as the intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi, The Legend of Zelda’s Link, and Metroid’s Samus Aran.
Towards the end of his tenure, Nintendo bought a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners baseball team. But Yamauchi was not a fan of baseball, nor did he play many of his company’s globally popular games. His game was go, the Japanese game of strategy. He played at a master’s level.