Before The NES

January 29, 2021

The video game industry giant, Nintendo has become a household name. Their games are a big part of many childhoods and continue to make games of amazing quality. Former President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimé, famously quotes “If it’s not fun, why bother?” To many’s surprise, the video game company started out as a family business in Japan, creating playing cards.

Nintendo Koppai was founded on September 23, 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi. At the time, Nintendo produced handmade hanafuda cards. The name “Nintendo” is often believed to mean “Leave luck to heaven.” With the evolution of Japanese culture, customers demanded more from the company which helped the company flourish in a healthy amount of sales. Yamauchi adopted his son-in-law so that he could take over the business. Sekiryo Kaneda adopted the Yamauchi surname in 1907 and took over the company after Yamauchi’s retirement in 1929. Sekiryo established the company as a general partnership called Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. Ltd. During World War 2, Nintendo experienced financial struggles due to the culture of Japan changing in the midst of war. After investing in a new corporate headquarters next to the original building Sekiryo began planning to adopt his son-in-law Shikanojo Inba because Sekiryo and his wife had no sons. Inba abandoned his family and Sekiryo was left with leaving the company to his grandson, Hiroshi. After Sekiryo retired due to his deteriorating health in 1950, Hiroshi Yamauchi took over to become the 3rd President of Nintendo. Hiroshi made several decisions that put Nintendo on the path to where they are today. 

Hiroshi first changed the company name to Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. He expanded their offices by centralizing the production of cards in the Kyoto factories. Hiroshi’s risky way of running the company led to many workers worrying about the future of the company and a strike was called. In the face of adversity, Hiroshi dismissed several workers who were dissatisfied with the direction the company was taking. In 1959, Nintendo and Walt Disney entered into an agreement to incorporate Walt’s animated characters onto the cards. By 1964, the name was changed to finally changed to Nintendo. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Nintendo was experiencing its lowest stock price recorded, ¥60. This happened due to Japanese culture shifting and more people playing pachinko, bowling and nightly outings. With Nintendo at its lowest in history, Hiroshi made the decision to increase their investment in a department dedicated to researching and developing electronic devices. During this unfortunate period for Nintendo, they began producing classic tabletop games and other foreign games under a different brand name, Nippon Game. The early 1970s represented a huge change in future once Nintendo released Japan’s first electronic toy, the Nintendo Beam gun. More than a million units were sold. Nintendo continues to release other toys like the Ultra Hand, the Ultra Scope, the Ultra Machine and the Love Tester. All of these were designed by a man named Gunpei Yukoi. This would mark the beginning of Nintendo’s presence in electronics.

Due to Nintendo’s rising popularity, the growing demand for their products led to further expansion of Nintendo’s offices. In 1979, Nintendo created a new department dedicated to focusing on arcade game development. Using technology in most portable calculators, Yokoi created  the first handheld gaming system, the Game & Watch. Quickly becoming Nintendo’s most successful products with over 43.4 million units sold worldwide during its production period. In 1981 the iconic Donkey Kong was released. Starring Donkey Kong, Pauline, and Jumpman, the game was developed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Jumpman would later become Mario and Nintendo’s official mascot. Miyamoto confirmed in a Nintendo UK video that the character Mario was named after Mario Segale, an American businessman, while he was renting a warehouse to Nintendo in Tukwila, Washington. The classic Famicom released in Japan in 1983. It was released with original arcade versions of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye. Nintendo’s initiative to release the Famicom in America was highly impacted by the video game crash of 1983. Due to the amount of game consoles and low quality games produced by third-party developers, the market was oversaturated leading the event. Nintendo wanted to differentiate the Famicom from its competitors in America by designing it as a “entertainment” system. After implementing a lockout chip in Game Paks that gave Nintendo control of what could be published for the console, it was given a look similar to that of a VCR’s design.

The final product was the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, that was released in North America in 1985. Birthing two of some of the largest video game franchises, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. These games were developed for the console by Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. Koji Kondo wrote the music for both games, composing music that complimented the game mechanics. Miyamoto has been developing games from the beginning and it’s no surprise that he is considered to be one of the best game developers. “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” stated Shigeru Miyamoto. 62 million Famicom and NES consoles were sold worldwide. To prevent piracy, Nintendo created a sticker added to their products called the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality. Through thick and thin, Nintendo has been there before the start of video games and will most likely be there to see the end of video games.

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