Nintendo Co., Ltd. (Japanese: 任天堂株式会社 Hepburn: Nintendō Kabushiki gaisha), also known as just Nintendo, is a Japanese video game developer and publisher. The company was originally founded on September 23, 1889 in Kyoto, Japan by Fusajiro Yamauchi as a hanafuda card maker. After multiple experimental ventures in the 1960s, Nintendo began to develop video games in the 1970s. It ultimately has become one of the most influential and well known companies in the industry as well as being Japan's third most valuable listed company with a market value of over $85 billion.
Nintendo was founded as a card company in late 1889, later (1951) named Nintendo Koppai (Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.), by Fusajiro Yamauchi. Based in Kyoto, Japan, the business produced and marketed a playing card game called Hanafuda. The handmade cards soon became popular, and Yamauchi hired assistants to mass-produce cards to satisfy demand. Nintendo now continues to manufacture playing cards in Japan and organizes its own contract bridge tournament called the "Nintendo Cup".
In 1956, Hiroshi Yamauchi, grandson of Fusajiro Yamauchi, visited the U.S. to talk with the United States Playing Card Company, the dominant playing card manufacturer there. He found that the biggest playing card company in the world was using only a small office. Yamauchi's realization that the playing card business had limited potential was a turning point. He then acquired the license to use Disney characters on playing cards to drive sales.
In 1963, Yamauchi renamed Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. to Nintendo Co., Ltd. The company then began to experiment in other areas of business using newly injected capital during the period of time between 1963 and 1968. Nintendo set up a taxi company called Daiya. This business was earlier successful however Nintendo was forced to sell it because problems with the labour unions were making it too expensive to run the service. It also set up a love hotel chain, a TV network, a food company (selling instant rice) and several other ventures. All of these ventures eventually failed, and after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, playing card sales dropped, and Nintendo's stock price plummeted to its lowest recorded level of ¥60.
In 1966, Nintendo moved into the Japanese toy industry with the Ultra Hand, an extendable arm developed by its maintenance engineer Gunpei Yokoi in his free time. Yokoi was moved from maintenance to the new "Nintendo Games" department as a product developer. Nintendo continued to produce popular toys, including the Ultra Machine, Love Tester and the Kousenjuu series of light gun games. Despite some successful products, Nintendo struggled to meet the fast development and manufacturing turnaround required in the toy market, and fell behind the well-established companies such as Bandai and Tomy.
In 1973, its focus shifted to family entertainment venues with the Laser Clay Shooting System, using the same light gun technology used in Nintendo's Kousenjuu series of toys, and set up in abandoned bowling alleys. Following some success, Nintendo developed several more light gun machines (such as the light gun shooter game Wild Gunman) for the emerging arcade scene. While the Laser Clay Shooting System ranges had to be shut down following excessive costs, Nintendo had found a new market.
Nintendo's first venture into the video gaming industry was securing rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey video game console in Japan in 1974. Nintendo began to produce its own hardware in 1977, with the Color TV Game home video game consoles. Four versions of these consoles were produced, each including variations of a single game (for example, Color TV Game 6 featured six versions of Light Tennis).
A student product developer named Shigeru Miyamoto was hired by Nintendo at this time. He worked for Yokoi, and one of his first tasks was to design the casing for several of the Color TV Game consoles. Miyamoto went on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo's most famous video games and become one of the most recognizable figures in the video game industry.
In 1975, Nintendo moved into the video arcade game industry with EVR Race, designed by their first game designer, Genyo Takeda, and several more titles followed. Nintendo had some small success with this venture, but the release of Donkey Kong in 1981, designed by Miyamoto, changed Nintendo's fortunes dramatically. The success of the game and many licensing opportunities (such as ports on the Atari 2600, Intellivision and ColecoVision) gave Nintendo a huge boost in profit and in addition, the game also introduced an early iteration of Mario, known then as Jumpman, the eventual company mascot.
In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi conceived the idea of a handheld video game, while observing a fellow bullet train commuter who passed the time by interacting idly with a portable LCD calculator, which gave birth to Game & Watch. In 1980, Nintendo launched Game & Watch—a handheld video game series developed by Yokoi. These systems do not contain interchangeable cartridges and thus the hardware was tied to the game. The first Game & Watch game released, titled Ball, was distributed worldwide. The modern "cross" D-pad design was developed in 1982, by Yokoi for a Donkey Kong version. Proven to be popular, the design was patented by Nintendo. It later earned a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award.
In 1983, Nintendo launched the Family Computer (colloquialized as "Famicom") home video game console in Japan, alongside ports of its most popular arcade titles. In 1985, a cosmetically reworked version of the system known outside of Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES, launched in North America. The practice of bundling the system along with select games helped to make Super Mario Bros. one of the best-selling video games in history.
In 1988, Gunpei Yokoi and his team at Nintendo R&D1 conceived the new Game Boy handheld system, with the purpose of merging the two very successful ideas of the Game & Watch's portability along with the NES's cartridge interchangeability. Nintendo released the Game Boy in Japan on April 21, 1989, and in North America on July 31, 1989. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa managed a deal to bundle the popular third party game Tetris along with the Game Boy, and the pair launched as an instant success.
In 1989, Nintendo announced plans to release the successor to the Famicom, the Super Family Computer (Super Famicom). Based on a 16-bit processor, Nintendo boasted significantly superior hardware specifications of graphics, sound, and game speed over the original 8-bit Famicom. The system was also said to have backwards compatibility with Famicom games, though this feature was ultimately cut upon release. The Super Famicom was finally released relatively late to the market in Japan on November 21, 1990, and released as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (abbreviated to SNES or Super Nintendo) in North America on August 23, 1991 and in Europe in 1992. Its main rival was the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive, known in North America as Sega Genesis, which had been advertised aggressively against the nascent 8-bit NES. A console war between Sega and Nintendo ensued during the early 1990s. From 1990 to 1992, Nintendo opened World of Nintendo shops in the United States where consumers could test and buy Nintendo products.
In August 1993, Nintendo announced the SNES's successor, code-named Project Reality. Featuring 64-bit graphics, the new system was developed as a joint venture between Nintendo and North-American-based technology company Silicon Graphics. The system was announced to be released by the end of 1995, but was subsequently delayed. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued the Nintendo Entertainment System family with the release of the NES-101, a smaller redesign of the original NES. Nintendo also announced a CD drive peripheral called the SNES-CD, which was co-developed first by Sony with the name "Play Station" and then by Philips. Bearing prototypes and joint announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show, it was on track for a 1994 release, but was controversially cancelled.
During 1995, Nintendo announced that it had sold one billion game cartridges worldwide, one tenth of it being from the Mario franchise. Nintendo deemed 1994 the "Year of the Cartridge". To further their support for cartridges, Nintendo announced that Project Reality, which had now been renamed the Ultra 64, would not use a CD format as expected, but would rather use cartridges as its primary media format. Nintendo IRD general manager Genyo Takeda was impressed by video game development company Rare Ltd.'s progress with real-time 3D graphics technology, using state of the art Silicon Graphics workstations. As a result, Nintendo bought a 25% stake in the company, eventually expanding to 49%, and offered their catalogue of characters to create a CGI game around, making Rare a Nintendo's first western-based second-party developer. Their first game as partners with Nintendo was Donkey Kong Country. The game was a critical success and sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library. In September 1994, Nintendo, along with six other video game giants including Sega, Electronic Arts, Atari, Acclaim, Philips, and 3DO approached the United States Senate and demanded a ratings system for video games to be enforced, with prompted the decision to create the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Aiming to produce an affordable virtual reality console, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in 1995, designed by Gunpei Yokoi. The console consists of a head-mounted semi-portable system with one red-colored screen for each of the user's eyes, featuring stereoscopic graphics. Games are viewed through a binocular eyepiece and controlled using an affixed gamepad. Critics were generally disappointed with the quality of the games and the red-colored graphics, and complained of gameplay-induced headaches. The system sold poorly and was quietly discontinued. Amid the system's failure, Yokoi retired from Nintendo. During the same year, Nintendo launched the Satellaview in Japan, a peripheral for the Super Famicom. The accessory allowed users to play video games via broadcast for a set period of time. Various games were made exclusively for the platform, as well as various remakes.
In 1996, Nintendo released the Ultra 64 as the Nintendo 64 in Japan and North America. The console was later released in Europe and Australia in 1997. Despite the limitations set by using cartridges, the technical specifications of the Nintendo 64 surpassed its competitors. With its market shares slipping to the Sega Saturn and partner-turned-rival Sony PlayStation, Nintendo revitalized its brand by launching a $185 million marketing campaign centered around the "Play it Loud" slogan. During the same year, Nintendo also released the Game Boy Pocket in Japan, a smaller version of the Game Boy that generated more sales for the platform. On October 4, 1996, famed Nintendo developer Gunpei Yokoi died in a car crash. In 1997, Nintendo released the SNS-101 (called Super Famicom Jr. in Japan), a smaller redesigned version of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
In 1998, the successor to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color, was released. The system had improved technical specifications allowing it to run games made specifically for the system as well as games released for the Game Boy, albeit with added color. The Game Boy Camera and Printer were also released as accessories. In October 1998, Retro Studios was founded as an alliance between Nintendo and former Iguana Entertainment founder Jeff Spangenberg. Nintendo saw an opportunity for the new studio to create games for the upcoming GameCube targeting an older demographic, in the same vein as Iguana Entertainment's successful Turok series for the Nintendo 64.
In 2001, just three years later, Nintendo introduced the redesigned Game Boy Advance. The same year, Nintendo also released the GameCube to lukewarm sales, and it ultimately failed to regain the market share lost by the Nintendo 64. When Yamauchi, the company's president since 1949, retired on May 24, 2002, Satoru Iwata succeeded as Nintendo's fourth president, becoming the first Nintendo president who was unrelated to the Yamauchi family through blood or marriage since its founding in 1889.
In 2003, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, its fourth handheld system.