Nintendo has celebrated its 125th Anniversary today, with the company founded on 23rd September 1889 in Kyoto, where its headquarters remain. The company has had an extraordinary history that goes well beyond video games, console wars and Mario, a fact that can be easily forgotten.
Founded initially as Nintendo Koppai by Fusajiro Yamauchi (Koppai was rather cutely referenced in Pikmin 3), it was a company that thrived on the hanafuda playing card craze in Japan. Upon Fusajiro Yamauchi standing down in 1947 he was replaced by grandson Hiroshi Yamauchi, who would be a pivotal figure in Nintendo's moves into international markets and new products throughout his reign as President. The company's name was changed to the familiar Nintendo Co., Ltd in 1963 and famously embarked upon some diverse and failed businesses, such as taxi services, food products and, notoriously, Love Hotels. Yamauchi-san's ideas at this point may have failed and put the company at risk, but his acceptance that it needed to evolve from playing cards was fundamental to its future success.
It was when seeing Gunpei Yokoi — a pivotal figure that would revolutionise the concept of portable gaming with Game & Watch and the Game Boy — experimenting with a claw that Yamauchi-san pushed in a more successful direction. It was made into the Ultra Hand, and with its success the company was transformed into a toy company that enjoyed success through the 1970s and into the 1980s. With Yamauchi-san's drive, Yokoi-san's technological design skills and a breakthrough of a young Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo took the step from toys into electronic video games. What began as success for the original arcade Donkey Kong and licensing opportunities became the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System, with the entertainment system branding being particularly important in the West after the failure of the game console industry in the years before. The NES became a huge success with children in particular in the mid to late '80s, followed by the Game Boy as a mainstream portable phenomenon by the close of that decade.
What followed in the years that followed is too much to summarise here, though a key evolution for the company was the appointment of Satoru Iwata to replace Yamauchi-san in May 2002 — Yamauchi-san sadly passed away on 19th September 2013. Iwata-san remains as President and achieved great success with the DS family of systems and Wii, a period of exceptional profits that has been vital for the company in recent years.
Nintendo has undeniably been the most enduring and influential company in the video game medium. Its consoles, branding and game development achievements have given the company a pivotal status in popular culture, and beyond current systems it has plans to further its business with new systems for developing markets and a Quality of Life platform that will be revealed in this financial year.
Happy birthday Nintendo; here's to the next 125 years, whatever they bring.