Hiroshi Yamauchi Dies at Age 85…

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Words by James Bacon

Neal, Anthony, and James are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Nintendo’s third President and rise to power, Hiroshi Yamauchi. Without him, there would be no video games industry as we know and love it, today. Yamauchi-sama was responsible for some of the most direct, and often misunderstood speech regarding consumers, consoles, and companies.

After several attempts by Nintendo (which means: “leave luck to heaven”) at branching out into other consumer enterprises including love hotels, and cab services, Yamauchi, in 1974, decided it was time to break into electronic gaming, beginning this phase in their long and storied history as a distributor for the Magnavox Odyssey. It wasn’t until 1975 that they developed their first game, EVR Race, an arcade title designed by Nintendo’s first game designer, Genyo Takeda.

From there, Nintendo exploded into precipitous proliferation: delivering the first widely used video game console to an international market; developing the first handheld electronic gaming system with interchangeable cartridges (karts), and creating a brand new market as the result (a market they still firmly dominate). Nintendo has never stopped innovating, and while their innovations haven’t always been successful, one thing is certain: Yamuchi-sama’s vision for the company involved developing new ways to play games, and not just new software (a legacy Iwata walks within). Innovations taken for granted for how sweeping and significant their use has become: controller rumble features, analogue input devices, the D-pad. All innovations that Yamauchi-sama oversaw. Mr. Yamauchi also oversaw, to his eternal credit, the hiring of one Shigeru Miyamoto.

Not all of his decisions were good, however. He was the one responsible for the decline of Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the aforementioned D-pad; the GameBoy, and with it Nintendo’s most lucrative market; Game & Watch; as well as the Virtual Boy, which is what eventually undid him. Yamauchi didn’t fire Yokoi or anything so direct as that. What happened was that, contrary to the protestations of Yokoi which indicated that the Virtual Boy was NOT yet ready for production and sale, Yamauchi pushed it out the door, incomplete, in order to focus efforts on the development of the Nintendo 64, to the Virtual Boy’s utter failure and Yokoi’s disgrace. Yokoi left Nintendo on August 15, 1996 after 31 years at the company, but that’s not where his story ends. Incorporating his own company, Koto, he went on to craft the WonderSwan to compete with the Neo*Geo Pocket Color, and his own design, the Nintendo GameBoy. Yokoi, however, was never the same.

Famously he stated that the gaming industry wasn’t one that the world ‘needed’ (paraphrased). Was he correct? I don’t know. But I do know that the video games industry needed him. We were all the richer for his colorful personality and business acumen. We are now all the poorer for his passing.

I frequently reminisce about the time when Mr. Yamuchi was in control of Nintendo. I have been quoted in the podcast as having said, and often, “I miss Yamauchi.” I still do. I miss the way he ran Nintendo with an iron fist. I miss his pride. I miss waking up to new headlines of his, and I miss wondering “what’s he going to say next?!”

I regret not being able to attend your memorial, sir. Though it will almost certainly and exclusively be a family affair, I can’t help but feel a certain measure of kinship. I grew up playing the games you oversaw, and when my childhood hobby became an adult pursuit, I followed you, your decisions, and statements with glee. Without you, Nintendo has lost its identity. An identity you were instrumental in creating.

It has been said that the goal of life is to march into the annals of history, ensuring your immortality through the remembrance of those left living by doing things worth remembering. You’re in the history books, Mr. Yamauchi. Mission accomplished.

Without you, sir, Nintendo would still be a little N.

As of June 30, 2013, Nintendo has sold over 655.9 million hardware units and 4.12 billion software units.

Quotables:

“I have been saying this for some time, but customers are not interested in grand games with higher-quality graphics and sound and epic stories. Only people who do not know the video game business would advocate the release of next-generation machines when people are not interested in cutting-edge technologies.”

“The DS represents a critical moment for Nintendo’s success over the next two years. If it succeeds, we rise to the heavens, if it fails, we sink into hell.”

“There are many people in the industry that know nothing about games. In particular, a large American company is trying to do engulf software houses with money, but I don’t believe that will go well. It looks like they’ll sell their game system next year, but we’ll see the answer to that the following year.” re: Microsoft entering the business

“[People who play RPGs are] depressed gamers who like to sit alone in their dark rooms and play slow games.”