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As I'm sure many of you have heard by now, Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo from 1949 - 2002, passed away this week. Many people have already made their tributes and payed their respects to this man who has changed us all (or at least the people reading this). Now is the time for me to do the same.
Hiroshi Yamauchi inherited Nintendo, which at the time was still a family-owned Hanafunda card company at the time, from his ill grandfather in 1949. Even though he was too inexperienced at the time, he accepted the role. In his first years, he tried many things with the company. This includes many things from taxis to love hotels. While many of these failed, he had his first major success in the 50s when he licensed to have Disney characters on Nintendo's playing cards. Then, in the 66, while investigating talent internally in the company, he saw something. What that was was a factory worker who showed extreme creativity and inventiveness. He was none other than Miyamoto's mentor, Gunpei Yokoi. Yamauchi promoted young Yokoi, who then created many toys for the firm, most notably the Ultra Hand.
The promotion of Yokoi was something that changed Nintendo forever. Yamauchi had turned a playing card company into a toy company. And in the 70s, the company changed even more when Yamauchi licensed the use of Pong machines for Japan. Then, in 1977, Yamauchi had Yokoi create the first Nintendo console, the Color TV Game 6. After this, in 1980, Yamauchi set his eyes on the US. He had many arcade cabinets of Radar Scope unused and needed to fill them up. In his search, Gunpei Yokoi had found someone who he believed was fit for the job. However, this man was unproven. Yamauchi still sensed talent in him, and this man, who, by the way, was Shigeru Miyamoto, went on to create the legendary Donkey Kong.
In 1983, Nintendo had released the piece of hardware that changed all of gaming; the Famicom Disk System. It was a major success in Japan, but it was only in Japan. Despite the US Games market being at the brink of destruction, Yamauchi still sensed success in the western world. Many doubted his efforts, but in 1985, Nintendo had finally released what would set the world on fire: The Nintendo Entertainment System. This device almost instantly changed the face of gaming. Gone was the games crash of 1983. Gone was the view that video games were still a fad. Nintendo, through the efforts of Hiroshi Yamauchi, is likely the reason that games are what they are now. I wouldn't be writing this if it weren't for the NES. You wouldn't be reading this. Game Informer probably wouldn't even exist. No, the NES was such a monumental event in our great industry. It not only saved it, but it also brought it up into popularity. Part of this was the quality control on the system. If you wanted a game on the NES, it had to go through Yamauchi. He could approve it, request changes, or scrap it completely. The man never played a video game in his life, but he had a magic touch. He knew what greatness was. Very few people ever have this skill, and Yamauchi made even the other people who did look like amateurs.
Yamauchi became a legend in the industry. Whenever he said something, everybody looked. And boy, did he talk a lot. Around the end of the end of his tenure at Nintendo, he said a lot of controversial things. He's on record of saying that the he demanded the N64 be hard to develop for to make developers have to work to make good games. He said that hardware is not what matters most. He's even said that he never played a video game in his life. The guy bought the Seattle Mariners. At the height of the Wii he was the richest man in Japan, and was 12th at the time of his death. People showed nothing but respect for this intimidating man when he walked into a room. It's a shame that there aren't very many figures like Hiroshi Yamauchi out there.
In short, Hiroshi Yamauchi changed the landscape of video games. If it weren't for his push to release the NES in the US, we might not even have video games. Grand Theft Auto V is a game that is receiving universal praise right now, but if it weren't for Yamauchi, it might not even exist. This man also created the Playstation brand. The SNES was originally going to have a CD-ROM add-on from Sony called the Play Station. However, when Sony revealed the device too early, the deal was off. Sony retaliated by releasing the Playstation in 1994 in Japan and 1995 in the rest of the world. Hiroshi Yamauchi is one of the most important figures in gaming. In fact, I'd even say he is the most important person to ever be a part of the industry. He created one of the largest brands of the world, saved one of the largest forms of entertainment in the world, and also created the people who made some of the most recognizable characters in all of pop culture.
Mr. Yamauchi, you might have been out of the limelight since you left the board at Nintendo, but we will not forget you. You accomplished many great things over the course of your life. What you did changed many people. I would not be the same man I am today if it weren't for you. You once said that gamers don't like epic stories, but you're wrong. Why else would so many people be paying tribute to you? We respect the badass, wise businessman that you were. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, on behalf of all of the people I know who love video games. Thank you.
May you rest in peace. I only wish I could live to see another man as awesome and unique as you.
If you enjoyed this, I recommend these IGN articles (#1 and #2) this Nintendolife tribute, or this tribute from a former Nintendo composer.