What Is Nintendo?
In 1979, an engineer who worked at Nintendo was taking a long train ride. His name was Gunpei Yokoi (say: GUN--pay YO--koh--ee). On the trip, he noticed a passenger playing with a calculator, pressing all the buttons on it. Gunpei was fascinated. At that time, Nintendo made large--size arcade games with big joysticks. But it suddenly struck him that a handheld gaming device might also be fun. So, he brought his idea to the president of Nintendo.
Did he like the idea?
Yes, a lot!
Right away, Gunpei and his team started to develop the Game & Watch. It was the perfect time for this—-liquid crystal display (LCD) technology had become inexpensive, and video games were now big business.
The finished product could fit in a child’s hand. It had only one game that was played on a screen. The Game & Watch was cheap, and had a long battery life. Most important of all, the game was fun to play.
The first Game & Watch game was Ball, and it was sold around the world. Gunpei had done it! The Game & Watch was a major success. Between 1980 and 1991, Gunpei’s team created sixty different Game & Watch devices.
Gunpei Yokoi worked from a single, simple idea. Because of his creative ability, he helped Nintendo make history in the video game industry. Chapter 1: All in the Family
Nintendo was founded in Kyoto, Japan, all the way back in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi (say: foo--SAH--ji--ro YAH--ma--oo--chi). Fusajiro was a wood--block printer and artist. His new company made beautiful playing cards called hanafuda. (The name comes from a combination of the Japanese words for flower and card.) The cards were made from tree bark. The ink for the designs was made from flower petals and berries.
At this time in Japan, the government banned all playing cards because gambling was against the law. And many card games involved gambling. After a while, though, the government let Nintendo sell its cards because they didn’t have numerals and were so beautiful.
In each deck of hanafuda cards, there are twelve suits—-each named for a month of the year and a flower. Each suit contains four cards, making a total of forty--eight cards. Many different card games can be played with hanafuda cards.
The cards sold well in Japan but nowhere else.
So, Nintendo remained a medium--size playing card company. To become bigger, it would need to head in new directions.
In 1929, after forty years as president of Nintendo, Fusajiro Yamauchi retired. His daughter had married a man who had been adopted by Fusajiro. His name was Sekiryo Kaneda Yamauchi (say: SE--ki--ryo KA--ne--da YAH--ma--oo--chi), and he was the next president of Nintendo.
When Sekiryo took over Nintendo, it was the largest playing card company in Japan. In his twenty years as president, he made Nintendo much more efficient by introducing an assembly line of workers and building a large sales force and factory. He retired in 1949 and chose his twenty--two--year--old grandson to run the company.
Hiroshi Yamauchi (say: HEE--row--shi YAH--ma--oo--chi) had been raised by his grandparents from the time he was five. He had a difficult childhood. His grandparents were very strict. To prepare him to become the next president of Nintendo, they sent him to a school where he would study either law or engineering. But World War II interrupted his grandparents’ plans.
In 1939, when Hiroshi was twelve years old, the Japanese government forced him to quit school. World War II was raging. Hiroshi was too young to fight. Instead, he had to work in a military factory for several years. After the war ended in 1945, he studied to become a lawyer. But he left law school when his grandfather chose him to take over Nintendo.
From the start, Hiroshi was a strong and bold leader. He took the job only after being told that he could fire his relatives at Nintendo. Why was that important to him? He wanted to make sure that no one in the company thought he was favoring his family. And he also didn’t want any relatives challenging his authority. His grandfather did not like this idea, but he agreed to it.
Many workers didn’t think Hiroshi had enough experience to run the company. So, in 1955, some workers went on strike. During a strike, people stop working in order to protest what they don’t like. To show the protesters who was boss, Hiroshi fired all of them, too!
Although he got off to a rocky start as president, he gained the respect of workers by leading Nintendo to great success. In 1959, he made a deal with the Walt Disney Company. Well--known Disney cartoon characters were featured on Nintendo’s plastic playing cards. The deck of cards came with a booklet that gave instructions for different card games. The packs were a very popular and more than six hundred thousand units were sold in the first year.
That wasn’t enough for Hiroshi. He wanted to try other businesses besides cards. He started a taxi service, a chain of hotels, and a TV network. He also tried selling packets of instant rice. None of these businesses, however, were successful, and Hiroshi had to close all of them. At the same time, people were losing interest in playing cards. What would come next for Nintendo?
Copyright © 2021 by Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.