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Retro Friday: The History of Nintendo

by Zaid Kriel (Zaid)  Posted Friday, November 23, 2012 4:03:36 PM

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I think we all know that of all the video game console maker, Nintendo is obviously the one that's been around the longest. Before Sony and Microsoft had even considered the idea of entering the video game industry, Nintendo was already an established and entrenched figure. The Japanese company has been around for so long and been producing its high quality line of video games and video game consoles, it may surprise most people to learn that Nintendo was established well before electricity was a wide spread power source.

Nintendo Koppai was established on the 23rd September 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, making the company just two years shy of its 125th birthday. Yamauchi was a talented illustrator who made 'Hanafuda' playing cards. When his cards gained popularity with the public, Yamauchi established Nintendo as a means to boost his production and keep up with demand. The Nintendo Koppai company would remain largely successful for the next few decades, but in the early-1960s Hiroshi Yamauchi, Fusajiro Yamauchi's great grandson, would lay the ground work for what lead Nintendo to becoming an international power house. 

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Nintendo poster from late Meiji Era

It was Hiroshi that brokered a deal with Disney, to license the use of their iconic characters on the cards that Nintendo manufactured. The family friendly appeal of Disney saw a boom in card sales and subsequently Hiroshi took the decision to publicly list the company on the Osaka Stock Exchange and renamed the company to Nintendo Company, Limited. 

Realising that card sales alone would never be able to make Nintendo a large business concern, Hiroshi started experimenting in other industries. The company experimented in the Taxi industry, food and even Love Hotels (yes, it is what you think it is). All were failures, but they did see some success the toy market, their major success being the Ultra Hand, an extendable toy hand. The Ultra Hand was developed by an assembly line maintenance engineer named Gunpei Yokoi, who had initially created it as a bit of fun, but Hiroshi immediately saw it's potential.

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Thanks to the success of the Ultra Hand, Hiroshi promoted Gupei to start working in development. Gunpei would create a number of hit toys for the company including a puzzle game called the Ten Billion Barrel, a baseball throwing machine called the Ultra Machine and the Nintendo Beam Gun Game, the precursor to the NES Zapper. 

It was after securing the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, that Nintendo saw the potential of video games. In the 1970s Nintendo collaborated with Mitsubishi to create the Color TV Game 6, basically the company's first console. The Color TV Game 6 featured six built in games that were basically variations on Pong and would later be upgrade it to the Color TV Game 15 and later to the Color TV Game 112, which added more games. 

For most of the 1970s and early 1980s, the company would release a number of arcade and home games of varying quality and success and would also pioneer the Game and Watch handheld games.But it was in July 1983, that they would unleash the weapon that would would make Nintendo an international household name, the Famicom. It was the company's first first attempt at a cartridge-based video game console and it was a smash success selling 500 000 units in just two monthes.

In 1985, Nintendo released the Famicom in America, with redesigned and renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. It was a risky move, because just two years prior the video game industry had crashed in America and the public had soured on them. The company employed a trojan horse tactic to get the NES into American homes. 

The NES was sold alongside R.O.B., a robotic toy that was controlled with NES. The company essentially tricked Americans into thinking they were buying a toy robot, when they were in fact buying their first videogame console. This little subterfuge saw the NES sell spectacularly well and by the end of it's life the NES had sold in excess of 60 million units. The NES revitalised the video game industry in America and by extension the world and it was during this period that all Nintendo's iconic properties saw there creation.

The rest as they say is history.

For a more in depth look at the company's climb to the top you check the Machinima's detailed look into the companies creation below.

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