The father of Super Mario, who also gave the world Pokemon, dies aged 85 after 50 years at helm of Nintendo
- Hiroshi Yamauchi went from university dropout to Japan’s richest man
- After battle with pneumonia he died in a Japanese hospital
- He ran the company from 1949 to 2002, overseeing birth of Super Mario Bros
- He was the first foreigner to own a US major league baseball team
Nintendo’s ‘visionary’ former president, who oversaw the births of Super Mario and Pokemon, has died after a career spanning more than 50 years at the helm of the world’s largest computer games company.
Hiroshi Yamauchi passed away yesterday at a hospital in central Japan after becoming ill with pneumonia. He was 85.
Revered as one of the video-game industry’s founding fathers, Kyoto-born Yamauchi went from university dropout to Japan’s richest man as he transformed the Nintendo from traditional playing-card maker to games-console giant.
The firm said it was ‘in mourning from the sad loss’ of Yamauchi, who was company president from 1949 to 2002.
He is credited with engineering Nintendo’s global growth, including the early Family Computer consoles and Game Boy portables.
He was also the first foreigner to own a major league baseball team after acquiring the Seattle Mariners in 1992.
Nintendo, which makes Super Mario and Pokemon games as well as the Wii U home console, was founded in 1889. It made traditional playing and trading cards before venturing computer and video games.
Yamauchi was instrumental in transforming the company into an entertainment giant, by hiring the talents of Shigeru Miyamoto, a global star of game design and the brains behind Nintendo hits such as Super Mario and Donkey Kong.
‘He’s not a hardware guy,’ noted software entrepreneur Henk Rogers. ‘He doesn’t understand games. He understands people and he plays people.’
A dropout of the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, Yamauchi’s raspy voice and tendency to speak informally in his native Kyoto dialect was rare among Japanese executives.
Yamauchi had little interest in baseball, but was approached to buy the Mariners, who may have had to move out of Washington state where Nintendo of America Inc. was headquartered to Florida without a new backer. The acquisition in 1992 made the Seattle club the first in the major leagues to have foreign ownership.
‘Hiroshi Yamauchi is the reason that Seattle has the Mariners,’ the American politician Slade Gorton said. ‘When no one else would stand up and purchase them and they were about to leave to go to Florida, he did, simply as a civic gesture.’
Yamauchi sold the Mariners to Nintendo’s U.S. unit in 2004.
Succeeded by Satoru Iwata at the helm of Nintendo, Yamauchi stayed on as adviser, but his role diminished with the years.
‘We will continue to treasure the values Yamauchi taught us – that what makes you unique lies at the core of entertainment. And we at Nintendo will continue to change the company flexibly to adapt to the times, as Yamauchi did, to carry on his spirit,’ Iwata said in a statement.
The company has floundered in the past couple of years, hurt by a strong yen and competition from games on smartphones and tablets.
Ages of gaming: Yamauchi was Nintendo’s president when the first-generation GameBoy (left) came out in 1989 and when the GameCube (right) was released in 2001
Yamauchi is survived by Katsuhito Yamauchi, his eldest son. A funeral is scheduled for Sunday at Nintendo, following a wake on Saturday.
Rob Crossley, associate editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, told the BBC: ‘This man was the president of Nintendo during the NES, the SNES, the N64 and the Gamecube – the first two were transformative pieces of electronic entertainment.’
‘Hiroshi Yamauchi transformed a run-of the-mill trading card company into an entertainment empire in video games,’ Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and life president of games developer Eidos, told the Guardian. ‘He understood the social value of play, and the economic potential of electronic gaming. Most importantly, he steered Nintendo on its own course and was unconcerned by the actions of his competitors. He was a true visionary.’