R.I.P., Hiroshi Yamauchi

Hiroshi Yamauchi: 7 November 1927 – 19 September 2013

Wow – it’s the end of an era. The second-largest shareholder in Nintendo, who also ran the firm for 53 years, passed away at the age of 85. Hiroshi Yamauchi transformed a small trading-card game company into the video-game giant that toppled Atari from its throne. More from the BBC:

“Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Japanese businessman credited with transforming Nintendo
into a world-leading video games company, has died aged 85…

He died of pneumonia at a hospital in central Japan, the company said, adding that a funeral will take place on Sunday.

M.r Yamauchi ran the company from 1949 until 2002.

In that time, he took what was a small-time collectable trading card company and built it into one of the most recognisable – and successful – video games brands today.

“Hiroshi Yamauchi transformed a run-of the-mill playing card company into an entertainment empire in video games,” said Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and former chairman of publisher Eidos.

“He understood the social value of play, and economic potential of electronic gaming. Most importantly he steered Nintendo on its own course and was unconcerned by the actions of his competitors. He was a true visionary.”

Rob Crossley, associate editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, told the BBC: “You cannot overestimate the influence the man had on the games industry.”

“He spearheaded Nintendo as they moved into the arcade business, with hits such as Donkey Kong.

“This man was the president of Nintendo during the NES, the SNES, the N64 and the Gamecube – the first two were transformative pieces of electronic entertainment.”

Mr. Yamauchi took over at Nintendo after his grandfather suffered a stroke. After
several years developing the firm’s existing trading card business, Mr. Yamauchi
turned to electronic entertainment.

He utilised the work of legendary games designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who had made
Donkey Kong, as a way of breaking into the US arcade game market.

Mr. Miyamoto’s later work was pivotal in the success of Nintendo’s home
entertainment systems – titles such as Super Mario, Legend of Zelda and Starfox
became commercial smashes and household names.”

 

A lot of people don’t know that Mr. Yamauchi purchased the Seattle Mariners in the year 1992 – the team name was nearly synonymous with the name of Nintendo; the logos were prominent in the Kingdome when it stood, and you can still see them at Safeco Field. Safeco might be called “the House that (Ken) Griffey Built,” but the Mariners will always be closely linked with one of the biggest and most successful video-game companies of all time. From the Mariners website:

“SEATTLE — The Mariners held a moment of silence before Monday’s game for Hiroshi Yamauchi, the majority owner who was credited with keeping the team from moving in 1992. It was the first Mariners game in Safeco Field since Yamauchi, 85, died in Kyoto, Japan, on Thursday. The owner was instrumental in facilitating the signing of Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Seattle was the entry point for Yamauchi’s Nintendo video-game empire in the United States, and to return the favor he purchased the team to prevent it from being bought by an ownership group from Florida.

On Thursday, the Mariners issued a statement that said, “Mr. Yamauchi will be remembered for his role in moving forward the opportunity for Japanese baseball players to play in the United States. He will forever be a significant figure in Mariners Baseball history.”

Rest in peace, Yamauchi-san. I still have my original NES game system, and the Color Gameboy that my son cherished when he was growing up. Yes, they still work. Yes, I still play them from time to time. Nostalgia isn’t always a bad thing!

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