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Article - 'Hiroshi Yamauchi' by Andiaz

An item about Miscellanious posted on Aug 8, 2003


An article about the invigorator of the japanese gaming culture!


Hello again. I decided to submit this little article... I remember posting it somewhere before, but I thought I would submit it here too. If you wonder where I got the info, I'd say gaming magazines and Internet =o. Anyway, start reading! :D. For feedback, please mail me:

Hiroshi, the man

Any person in the world that just has a small knowledge about gaming in general recognizes the name Hiroshi Yamauchi. He has been executive producer for ALL the Japanese Nintendo-games. He is also the person that made the base for the whole Japanese gaming culture. He also decided to develop 4 of the top 5 sold gaming consoles, and he discovered Shigeru Miyamoto’s amazing talents. But Hiroshi is also known for his arrogance and for his will of steel.

Tough adolescence

Hiroshi Yamauchi was literally born in Nintendo. The company had been founded by his mother’s grandfather – the artist and craftsman Fusajiro Yamauchi – as early as 1889, and (bad luck, Hiroshi) the family had already decided how Hiroshi’s life should be when he was born (in 1927). First of all, Hiroshi’s father Shikanojo should inherit the company from his father-in-law Sekiryo, and when Shikanojo was retired, Hiroshi would be the leader of Nintendo. This thing shouldn’t, according to the plans, happen until the end of the 1960’s. And until that day came, Hiroshi’s mission was to work for the company as much as he could. In these days, Nintendo actually focused on producing, importing and selling different playing-cards.

But nothing went as planned. Hiroshi was just 5 years old when Shikanojo Yamauchi left the hometown Kyoto, leaving his wife, Kimi, and his son behind. Kimi couldn’t take care of Hiroshi on her own, so she gave him to her parents.

In David Sheff’s book Game Over – one of the few journalists in the world that has got the chance to get so close to Hiroshi Yamauchi –, he talks about how Hiroshi’s grandparents brought up him in the same tough way as they worked with Nintendo. His education and behavior were the most important things in his life, and the older Hiroshi got, the less he cared about listening to them. And Hiroshi started to change more and more, just to become the arrogant person we know him as today.

The 21-year old Hiroshi Yamauchi that went to visit his grandfather Sekiryo, where he lied and rested himself from a heart attack, had been abandoned by his father, given away by his mother, and brought up crudely by his grandparents, and it felt very hard for him to show any feelings due to these reasons. He didn’t want to speak with his father, although that Shikanojo returned, asking for forgiveness.

Sekiryo lied in his bed, totally exhausted, and explained that he couldn’t manage Nintendo anymore and that Hiroshi was the only person that could manage the company now, due to that his father had left.

Hiroshi didn’t hesitate a second. He accepted the offer, abandoned his studies and told his relatives and other persons working with Nintendo, that if somebody would question him, he would fire them immediately. Everybody should know that he was the chief.

Playing-cards and love-hotels

Nintendo was, to be honest, riding a rollercoaster, parallel with Hiroshi’s temper, during the first 20 years he ruled Nintendo.

Sekiryo actually died due to the heart-attack, and he did it believing that the family-company would soon get destroyed, thanks to Hiroshi. Hiroshi’s father also got a heart-attack, and died quite young. And Hiroshi would always see himself as a disappointment for the two most important men in his life.

Hiroshi started to get grey-haired before he had even got 30 years old. His company was selling playing-cards and portion-rice, he opened love-hotels that were hired out per hour, and he started new activities one after another. The world around him saw him as desperate and un-focused, and his employees never felt sure that they would keep their jobs.

But something happened 1969 that should change the future of the whole company. In Uji, one of Kyoto’s suburbs, Yamauchi founded a new part of Nintendo that he named Games. They were supposed to develop new exciting products that could be sold through the enormous distribution-net that Nintendo had built up for their playing-cards.

The Games-part of Nintendo grew fast under the 70’s, with thanks to the Ultra products – the arm Ultra Hand, the baseball-thrower machine Ultra Machine and the periscope Ultra Scope were sold in more than two million copies in Japan –, but there still didn’t be any specific way to go. All Yamauchi wanted was to create good entertainment. This made it hard for Yamauchi to know what kind of people he should employ. He had to trust his instinct, and he tried to find people that were good with technical things. They also had to be young and have lot of ideas.

Some people that were employed in this early “version” of Nintendo’s gaming-division were Gumpei Yokoi, Masayuki Uemura, Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto. The persons that were employed didn’t get any specific orders, so they didn’t have to create electronic games if they didn’t want to. The only things Yamauchi said was “make something good” and “trash all your old ideas and create something new”.

But I don’t think that Yamauchi realized that these 4 people should together create an entire gaming generation. And during the following decennium, the 80’s, Gumpei Yokoi would found Game & Watch and Game Boy, Masayuki Umera would design NES and Super NES, Genyo Takeda would make a revolution in the gaming-technology with his chip and battery-memory, and Shigeru Miyamoto would become the most powerful gaming-director ever.

Against all odds

The most productive years of Nintendo were between 1977 and 1982. They developed their first gaming machine for home usage – Color TV Game 6, that had 6 different Pong-clones –, they released arcade games and they developed the first Game & Watch-games.

Nintendo had suddenly become one of Japan’s most creative companies, and Hiroshi started to trust his staff more and more. He encouraged all original ideas, and his staff started to feel sure that they would keep their jobs.

Yamauchi also took all the big decisions himself. Nintendo-staff and other people could question him as much as they wanted; it still didn’t make any difference. Yamauchi trusted his instinct to 100 percent.

Yamauchi took the absolutely most questioned decision in 1983. The whole western gaming industry had just collapsed, Atari’s consoles were dead and everyone that thought they knew something about gaming in general believed that the future was home-computers. Everyone except Hiroshi Yamauchi, that believed that computers could do a lot of things, which meant that they weren’t great at anything. The ultimate gaming machine would be able to just do one thing and the machine would be a master at it.

While the gaming industry was producing computers as fast as they could, Hiroshi Yamauchi ordered Masayuki Uemura to develop the perfect gaming console, without keyboard, floppy stations or other functions that a computer had.

After some time, Nintendo promised that they within two years should have produced 3 million copies of the console; a number that the critics thought was totally impossible. Even more people questioned Yamauchi when he told the people HOW he would sell the console, which by now had changed name to Famicom, and started to get known as NES in Europe and USA. The consumers didn’t need to pay more than 100 $ for the console, which meant that the Japanese stores would sell the console without earning anything at it. Instead they could earn money on the games to Famicom.

The cynical people claimed that the whole Famicom-project was doomed, and when Nintendo, on the top of everything, had to take back the first 500 000 copies, due to technical problems, the critics really made fun of Hiroshi Yamauchi.

But this didn’t do any difference. Famicom had already been taking whole Japan by storm and Nintendo prepared their selves to conquer the western world.

Original ideas

Three Nintendo-games per second were sold, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, between 1983 and 1995, and Nintendo was the biggest gaming-company by far. The producers that wanted to cooperate with Nintendo had to pay a high price – it costed 15 $ to produce 1 copy of a game, and half of the money was so called license-money – and the companies that didn’t want to cooperate almost got destroyed, due to Hiroshi’s power.

A LOT of money was put into the developing of new products, and although that Yamauchi has been spending lot of money in failed projects such as Virtual Boy and 64DD, he has been taking Nintendo this far by daring to try original ideas and new concepts.

Because even if we don’t look at the fantastic games that Nintendo has produced in all these years, we can’t say anything else that it was Nintendo that took patent on the first camera system for 3D games, they developed the first gaming cassette with battery-memory, and they introduced the lightning pistol, and the rumbling control, to mention some things.

Nintendo was also the first company that released a modem (in 1988!) to Famicom and released the first online-based game ever. The modem didn’t sell anything, but Yamauchi still claimed that it’s just a matter of time before we will see this kind of network all around the world.

It’s hard to even speculate what Nintendo would have been without Hiroshi, and what the gaming industry had been without Nintendo. But one rumor with Hiroshi is that people say that he never had played a Nintendo game. His enormous strength is to trust his staff and their ability to make something good.

So I guess Hiroshi was quite happy when he left the main office in Kyoto the 31st may, leaving his ‘whole life’ behind, after being the executive producer of almost 300 million consoles and more than 1.3 billion Nintendo games.