History of Nintendo

Nintendo Company, Limited, a Japanese multinational corporation was originally founded to produce handmade Hanafuda cards. It eventually became one of the most prominent figures in today’s video game industry.


Nintendo started as a small Japanese business by Fusajiro Yamauchi near the end of 1887 as Nintendo Koppai. Based in Kyoto, Japan, the business produced and marketed a playing card game called Hanafuda. In recognition of its card-playing roots, the name “Nintendo” is said to mean “leave luck to heaven,” but there are various translation issues with the word Nintendo and it’s admitted that the true, original meaning isn’t known. The cards, which were all handmade, soon began to gain popularity, and Yamauchi had to hire assistants to mass produce cards to keep up with demand.

Fusajiro Yamauchi did not have a son to take over the family business. Following common Japanese tradition, he adopted his son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda (Sekiryo Yamauchi, after the marriage). In 1929, Yamauchi retired from the company and allowed Sekiryo Yamauchi to take over the company as president. In 1933, Sekiryo Yamauchi established a joint venture with another company and renamed the company Yamauchi Nintendo & Company.

In 1947, Sekiryo established the company Marufuku Company, Ltd., to distribute the Hanafuda cards, as well as several other brands of cards that had been introduced by Nintendo. Sekiryo Yamauchi also had only daughters, so again his son-in-law (Shikanojo Inaba, renamed Shikanojo Yamauchi) was adopted into the family. Shikanojo never became president because he left his family. Subsequently, his son Hiroshi was brought up by his grandparents. Hiroshi later took over the company instead of his father.

The Late Card Era:

Hiroshi Yamauchi attended Waseda University in Tokyo. However, after his grandfather died in 1949, he took office as the president of Nintendo. He renamed Yamauchi Nintendo & Company to Nintendo Playing Card Company, Limited, and in 1951 he renamed their distribution company, Marufuku Company, Limited, to Nintendo Karuta Company, Limited. In 1953, Nintendo became the first company in Japan to produce playing cards from plastic. This was a huge hit and allowed Nintendo to dominate the card market.

In 1956, Hiroshi Yamauchi visited the U.S., to engage in talks with the United States Playing Card Company, the dominant playing card manufacturer in the United States. Yamauchi was shocked to find that the world’s biggest company in his business was relegated to using a small office. This was a turning point for Yamauchi, who then realized the limitations of the playing card business.

In 1959, Nintendo struck a deal with Disney to have them allow Nintendo to use Disney’s characters on Nintendo’s playing cards. Previously, Western playing cards were regarded as something similar to hanafuda and mahjong: a device for gambling. By tying playing cards to Disney and selling books explaining the different games one could play with the cards, Nintendo could sell the product to Japanese households. The tie-in was a success and the company sold at least 600,000 card packs in a single year. Due to this success, in 1962, Yamauchi took Nintendo public, listing the company in Osaka Stock Exchange Second division.

Following the aforementioned success, in 1963 Nintendo Playing Card Company Limited was renamed to Nintendo Company, Limited by Hiroshi. Nintendo now began to experiment in other areas of business using the newly injected capital. During the period of time between 1963 and 1968, Nintendo set up a taxi company, “love hotel” chain, food company (trying to sell instant rice, similar to instant noodles) and several other things (including a vacuum cleaner, Chiritory, which later appeared as a two-player game in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ in 2003). All of these ventures eventually failed, except toymaking, where they had some earlier experience from selling playing cards. In 1964, while Japan was experiencing an economic boom due to the Tokyo Olympics, the playing card business reached its saturation point. Japanese households stopped buying playing cards, and the price of Nintendo stock fell from 900 yen to 60 yen.

In 1965, Nintendo hired Gunpei Yokoi as a maintenance engineer for the assembly line. However, Yokoi soon became famous for much more than his ability to repair conveyor belts.

Toy Company Era:

Riddled with debt, Nintendo struggled to survive in the Japanese toy industry; it was still small at this point, and dominated by already well established companies such as Bandai and Tomy. Because of the generally short product life cycle of toys, the company always had to come up with new products. This was the beginning of a major new era for Nintendo.

In 1970, Hiroshi Yamauchi was observing a hanafuda factory. He noticed an extending arm, which was made by one of their maintenance engineers, Gunpei Yokoi, for his own amusement. Yamauchi ordered Yokoi to develop it as a proper product for the Christmas rush. Released as “The Ultra Hand”, it would become one of Nintendo’s earliest toy blockbusters, selling over a million units. Seeing that Yokoi had promise, Hiroshi Yamauchi pulled him off assembly line work. Yokoi was soon moved from maintenance duty to product development.

Due to his electrical engineering background, it soon become apparent that Gunpei was quite adept at developing electronic toys. These devices had a much higher novelty value than traditional toys, allowing Nintendo to charge a higher price margin for each product. Yokoi went on to develop many other toys, including the Ten Billion Barrel puzzle, a baseball throwing machine called the Ultra Machine, and a Love Tester. Another invention of his, in collaboration with Masayuki Uemura from Sharp, was the Nintendo Beam Gun Game, the precursor to the NES Zapper.

In 1977, Nintendo saw the hiring of Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who (along with Yokoi) would become a living legend in the world of gaming and the secret to Nintendo’s longevity; his creative vision was instrumental in determining the path Nintendo’s future (and the industry’s as a whole) would follow.

Electronic Games Era:

Nintendo at this time saw how successful video games were and began to dabble in them. Their first step in that field was to secure the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, which they did in 1975. At the time, home video game consoles were extremely rare—even the seminal Atari Pong console had yet to be produced. After experiencing reasonable success at this, Nintendo began developing its own video games, both for the home and for arcades. In the 1970s, Mitsubishi Electric proposed joint development of “Color TV Game Machine”. In 1977, they released “Color TV Game 6” and “Color TV Game 15” (6 and 15 indicates the number of games).
Their first video arcade game was 1975’s EVR Race; a large handful of others followed in the next several years, Radar Scope and Donkey Kong being among the most famous of these. The early 1980s saw Nintendo’s video game division (led by Yokoi) creating some of its most famous arcade titles. The massively popular Donkey Kong (which starred Mario as Jump Man before he got his name) was created in 1981 with Miyamoto as its mastermind, and released in the arcades and on the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and ColecoVision video game systems (although Nintendo themselves generally had no involvement with these early console ports). This release method would be used on several later Nintendo arcade games of this same period, including the original Mario Bros. (not to be confused with the later Super Mario Bros. but rather more like the two-player levels in Super Mario Bros. 3) In addition to this arcade and dedicated console game activity, Nintendo was testing the consumer handheld video game waters with the Game & Watch.

1983 – 1989:

In July 1983, Nintendo released their Famicom (Family Computer) system in Japan, which was their first attempt at a cartridge-based video game console. The system was sold over 500,000 units within two months at a price around $100 USD. However, after a few months of the consoles selling well, Nintendo received complaints that some Famicom consoles would freeze when the player attempted to play certain games. The fault was found in a malfunctioning chip and Nintendo decided to recall all Famicom units currently on store shelves, which cost them almost half a million USD.

The Nintendo Famicom, released in 1983, sold well in Japan.
During this period of time, Nintendo rekindled their desire to release the Famicom in the USA. Since the company had very little experience with the United States market, they had previously attempted to contract with Atari for the system’s distribution in 1983. However, a fiasco involving Coleco and Donkey Kong soured the relationship between the two during the negotiations, and Atari refused to back Nintendo’s console. The video game crash of 1983 soon took out not only Atari, but the vast majority of the American market itself. Nintendo was on their own.

Nintendo was determined not to make the same mistakes in the US that Atari had. Because of massive influxes of games that were regarded as some of the worst ever created, gaming had almost completely died out in America. Nintendo decided that to avoid facing the same problems, they would only allow games that received their “Seal of Quality” to be sold for the Famicom, using a chip called 10NES to “lockout” or prevent unlicensed games from working.

In 1985, Nintendo announced that they were releasing the Famicom worldwide with a different design under the name the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). They used a trojan-horse tactic to counter the bad view that the media was giving on video games, and released the NES with R.O.B. units that connected to the console and were synchronised to the games. To ensure the localization of the highest-quality games by third-party developers, Nintendo of America limited the number of game titles third-party developers could release in a single year to five. Konami, the first third-party company that was allowed to make cartridges for the Famicom, would later circumvent this rule by creating a spinoff company, Ultra Games, to release additional games in a single year. Other manufacturers soon employed the same tactic. Also in 1985, Super Mario Bros. was released for the Famicom in Japan and became a large success.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), released in 1985, is one of the most popular consoles of all time.

Nintendo test marketed the Nintendo Entertainment System in the New York area on October 18, 1985. They expanded the test to Los Angeles in February 1986 followed by tests in Chicago and San Francisco. They would go national by the end of 1986, along with 15 games, sold separately. In the US and Canada, it outsold its competitors by a wide margin. This was also the year that Metroid and Super Mario Bros. 2 (the Japanese version) were released.

In 1987, The Legend of Zelda was released to much critical acclaim.

In 1988, Nintendo of America unveiled Nintendo Power, a monthly news and strategy magazine from Nintendo that served to advertise new games. The first issue published was the July/August edition, which spotlighted the NES game Super Mario Bros. 2. Nintendo Power is still published today (though by a third-party) with its two hundredth issue released in February 2006.

In 1989, Nintendo (which had seen a large amount of success from the Game & Watch) released the Game Boy (both created by Gunpei Yokoi), along with the accompanying game Tetris (Russian-created game which Nintendo paid a lot of money to have as an exclusive). Due to the price, the game and its durability (unlike the prior Microvision from Milton Bradley Company, which was prone to static and screen rot), the Game Boy sold extremely well. It eventually became the best selling portable game system of all time. Later, Super Mario Land was also released for the Game Boy, which sold 14 million copies worldwide. 1989 was also the year that Nintendo announced a sequel to the Famicom, to be called the Super Famicom.

They changed this rule during the Super NES era, allowing Sega to start a massive console war against Nintendo with the Sega Mega Drive and Game Gear. This occurred once more in 1996, when Sony released the PlayStation.

1990 – 1995:

The last major blockbuster game for the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3, was released in early 1990. The game went on to sell over 18 million units.
The Super Famicom was released in Japan on November 21, 1990. The system’s launch was widely successful, and the Super Famicom was sold out across Japan within three days. In August 1991, the Super Famicom was launched in the US under the name “Super Nintendo Entertainment System” (SNES). The SNES was released in Europe in 1992.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System followed in the steps of its predecessor, with a low price and high technical specifications for its era. The controller of the SNES had also improved over that of the NES, as it now had rounded edges and four new buttons.

In Japan, the Super Famicom easily took control of the gaming market. In the US, due to a late start and an aggressive marketing campaign by Sega, Nintendo saw its market share take a precipitous plunge from 90-95% with the NES to a low of approximately 35% against the Sega Genesis. Over the course of several years, the SNES in North America eventually overtook the Genesis, thanks to franchise titles such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Street Fighter II (and its many versions), and the Final Fantasy series. Total worldwide sales of the SNES were higher than the Genesis.

In 1992, Gunpei Yokoi and the rest of R&D 1 began planning on a new virtual reality console to be called the Virtual Boy. Hiroshi Yamauchi also bought majority shares of the Seattle Mariners in 1992.

In 1993, Nintendo announced plans to develop a new 64-bit console codenamed Project Reality that would be capable of rendering fully 3D environments and characters. In 1994, Nintendo also claimed that Project Reality would be renamed Ultra 64 in the US. The Ultra 64 moniker was unveiled in arcades on the Nintendo (with Rare and Midway) branded fighting game Killer Instinct and the racing game Cruisin’ USA. Killer Instinct was later released on the SNES instead, but a completely new game called Killer Instinct Gold would eventually be released for the N64. Soon after, Nintendo realized they had mistakenly chosen a name for their new console that the Konami corporation owned the rights to.

Specifically, only Konami would have the rights to release games for the new system called Ultra Football, Ultra Tennis, etc. Therefore, in 1995 Nintendo changed the final name of the system to the Nintendo 64, and announced that it would be released in 1996. They later showed previews of the system and several games, including Super Mario 64, to the media and public. 1995 is also the year that Nintendo purchased part of Rare.

In 1994, after many years of Nintendo’s products being distributed in Australia by Mattel since the NES in 1985, Nintendo Co., Ltd opened its Australian headquarters and its first Managing Directors were Graham Kerry, who moved along from Mattel Australia as Managing Director and Susumu Tanaka of Nintendo UK Ltd.

In the mid-90s Nintendo of America eased up on its stringent policies on blood and violence. Nintendo also contracted with Sony to develop an add-on CD-ROM drive for the SNES, but realized that Sony would get all the profit from the CD-ROM media, and also surprised at the failure of Sega CD, Nintendo terminated the contract and went with Philips. Nintendo announced their alliance with Philips at the same conference that Sony announced their CD-ROM drive. Nothing happened about the add-on drive in regard to the SNES, but Sony took the time and research and began to spin it off into a new product, the PlayStation. Since Philips had already gained license to create games using Nintendo’s exclusive characters, games from series such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda appeared on the CD-i, though most fans discard them from being part of the series due to their entirely third-party development and poor quality. The deal between Philips and Nintendo eventually fell through, and the CD-i was seen as another ill-fated attempt by Philips to enter the computer market.

In 1995, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in Japan. The console sold poorly, but Nintendo still said they had hope for it and continued to release several other games and attempted a release in the US, which was another disaster.

Also in 1995, Nintendo found themselves in a competitive situation. Competitor Sega introduced their 32-bit Saturn, while newcomer Sony introduced the 32-bit PlayStation. Sony’s fierce marketing campaigns ensued, and it started to cut into Nintendo and Sega’s market share.

1996 – 2001:

On June 23, 1996, the Nintendo 64 (N64) was released in Japan and became a huge hit, selling over 500,000 units on the first day of its release. On September 29, 1996, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 in North America, and it too was a success. Many feel that the advertising onslaught by Sony at this time did not truly begin to take effect until many of the consumers who held out for the N64 became frustrated at the lack of software following the first few months after the system’s release. What also greatly contributed to the extremely competitive climate that Nintendo was entrenched in was the fact that many third-party companies immediately began developing and releasing many of their leading games for Nintendo’s competing consoles. Many of those third party companies cited cheaper development and manufacturing costs for the CD format, versus the cartridge format. On December 1, 1999, Nintendo released an add-on to the Nintendo 64 in Japan, titled the Nintendo 64DD, although it was never released elsewhere.

Nintendo followed with the release of the Game Boy Pocket, a smaller version of the original Game Boy. A week after the release of the Game Boy Pocket, Gunpei Yokoi resigned from his position at Nintendo. Gunpei Yokoi helped in the creation of a competitor system named the WonderSwan, using the skills he gained in the creation of the Game Boy.

In 1996, Pocket Monsters (known internationally as Pokémon) was released in Japan to a huge following. The Pokémon franchise, created by Satoshi Tajiri, was proving so popular in America, Europe, and Japan, that for a brief time, Nintendo took back their place as the supreme power in the games industry.

In 1997, Gunpei Yokoi died in a car accident at the age of 56.

On October 13, 1998, the Game Boy Color was released in Japan, with releases in North America and Europe a month later.

Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance in Japan on March 21, 2001. This was followed by the North American launch on June 11 and the European launch on June 22. Nintendo released the GameCube home video game console on September 14, 2001 in Japan. It was released in North America on November 18, 2001, Europe on May 3, 2002 and Australia on May 17, 2002.

2002 – 2007:

In 2002, Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down as the president of Nintendo and named Satoru Iwata his successor. Nintendo and Chinese-American scientist Dr Wei Yen co-founded iQue to manufacture and distribute official Nintendo consoles and games for the mainland Chinese market under the iQue brand.
During the same year, Nintendo’s aggressive business tactics in Europe would catch up to them. The European Commission determined that Nintendo had engaged in anticompetitive price-fixing business practices dating at least as far back as the early 90s. This resulted in a heavy fine being laid against the company- €149 million, one of the largest antitrust fines applied in the history of the commission.

In May 2004, Nintendo announced plans to release a new brand of handheld, unrelated to the Game Boy, featuring two screens, one of which was touch-sensitive. The Nintendo DS, released on November 21, 2004, received over three million pre-orders. In addition to the touch screen, the DS can also create three-dimensional (so not to confuse it with 3D graphics of the 3DS, this can be known as “polygonal”)  graphics, similar to those of the Nintendo 64, although its lack of hardware support for texture filtering results in more pixelated graphics than on the Nintendo 64. The Nintendo DS also had a built in GBA cart slot for backwards compatibility. This wasn’t only for customers to feel better about upgrading to the DS, but also because Nintendo was a bit unsure about switching to a new handheld name completely and they wanted to have a backup plan. This way, if the DS failed, they could still work on GBA games. This was also prevalent in the details of Nintendo’s conferences and interviews where the DS was considered to be a “third hardware pillar” at first.

President Satoru Iwata reassigned all of Nintendo’s software designers under new managers and different division; most of the resources were allocated to Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and the Nintendo EAD department. As of 2005, (much different before 2005 changes) Nintendo’s internal development divisions are the following five groups:

Nintendo Software Development & Planning
Group No.1 (Yoshio Sakamoto)
Group No.2 (Hitoshi Yamagami)
Group No.3 (Kensuke Tanabe)

Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development
Group No.1 (Hideki Konno)
Group No.2 (Katsuya Eguchi)
Group No.3 (Eiji Aonuma)
Group No.4 (Hiroyuki Kimura)
Group No.5 (Tadashi Sugiyama)

Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development Tokyo
Group No.1 (Yoshiaki Koizumi)

Nintendo Network Service Development
General Manager Masaru Shimomura

Nintendo Integrated Research & Development
General Manager Genyo Takeda

Nintendo Software Technology Corporation
General Manager (Shigeki Yamashiro

On May 14, 2005, Nintendo opened its first retail store accessible to the general public, Nintendo World Store, at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. It consists of two stories, and contains many kiosks of GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS games. There are also display cases filled with things from Nintendo’s past, including Hanafuda playing cards, Nintendo’s first product. They celebrated the opening with a block party at Rockefeller Plaza.

At E3 in May 2005, Nintendo displayed the first prototype for their “next-generation” system, codenamed the Nintendo Revolution (now known as the Wii), its controller revealed at the Tokyo Game Show later that year.

On January 26, 2006, Nintendo announced a new version of their Nintendo DS handheld, the Nintendo DS Lite, designed to be smaller and lighter, with a brighter screen. It was launched in Japan on March 2, 2006.

On May 25, 2006, Reggie Fils-Aime was promoted to President and COO of Nintendo of America, Inc. The former President, Tatsumi Kimishima, was promoted to Chairman of the Board and CEO.

On June 11, 2006, Nintendo released their update to the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo DS Lite, in North America, also on this day Nintendo opened its official US press site to the public which continued until June 17, 2006.
On June 23, 2006, Nintendo released the Nintendo DS Lite in Europe.

On July 7, 2006, Nintendo officially established a South Korean subsidiary, Nintendo Korea, in the country’s capital, Seoul, which replaced Daewon Media as the official distributor of Nintendo products in South Korea.

In early August 2006, it was revealed that the Nintendo corporation (along with Microsoft) was the target of a patent-infringement lawsuit. Leveled by the Anascape corporation, the suit claims that Nintendo’s use of analog technology in their remote game controllers constitutes a violation of their patents. Microsoft is also named in the lawsuit, for the same reasons. The lawsuit seeks to bring damages to both corporations and possibly force them to stop selling controllers with the violating technology.

In mid-September 2006, during press conferences held in Tokyo, New York, and London on 13, 14 and 15 September, respectively, Nintendo announced launch details for its Wii console, as well as demonstrated features of the “Wii Menu” GUI. The Retail price was going for US$249.99 and was released on November 19, 2006. The console sold fast and was a big breakthrough for Nintendo, picking up the pace lost from their last console, the Nintendo GameCube. The Wii was released in Europe at €249 (£179.99 in the UK).

On September 17, 2007, Nintendo of America closed its official forums, the NSider Forums, indefinitely due to a major overhaul of their site; for months prior, cutbacks in Nintendo of America’s online department led to the trimming back of NSider’s chat hours and the replacement of their annual Camp Hyrule event — held during August — with a sweepstakes. In the meantime, Nintendo encouraged fans to run their own forums. In response to this, some members of the NSider forums created a couple of online communities. The most notable ‘replacement’ communities are NSider2, created two days after the closure and arguably the largest Nintendo based community on the web, and nsiderforums.org, formed the same day of the closure, which has merged with other forums into what is now called NSFCD,. Nintendo-Europe’s forum section of their site was also officially closed down a week later due to a site revamp, however it had been offline citing “security issues” since June of that year. On December 19, 2007, Nintendo opened new technical support forums, but discussion is now limited to technical support.

In October 2007, Nintendo Co., Ltd announced Nintendo Australia’s new Managing Director, Rose Lappin, who is Nintendo’s first Female head of one of its subsidiaries and worked for Nintendo before it started in Australia as Director of Sales and Marketing for Mattel and had that role until she was announced Managing Director.

2008 – Present:

On November 1, 2008, Nintendo Co., Ltd released an updated version of the Nintendo DS Lite in Japan; the Nintendo DSi. It includes all features of the Nintendo DS Lite (minus the GBA slot), but it includes an SD card slot, a camera on the inside and outside of the system, a faster CPU and newer features. It is the first handheld game system manufactured by Nintendo that allows you to download gaming content to the system. The Nintendo DSi was released April 2, 2009 in Australia and Asia, April 3, 2009 in Europe, and April 5, 2009 in North America.

Yet another update to the DS family of handhelds was released after the DSi. The DSi XL is a bigger version of the DSi with bigger screens and a pen-like stylus. All other features are the same. The DSi XL seemed to catch on more for training and learning purposes.

On February 26, 2011, the Nintendo 3DS was released in Japan. It was released on March 25 and 27 to Europe and the US, respectively.

In April 2011, Nintendo confirmed that a successor to the Wii home console is in development and will be shown at E3 in June 2011 with a planned 2012 release.


  1. Site Update 1.1: History of Nintendo Now Up! | The Great Gaming Crusade - April 28, 2011

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