Computer games pioneer
Born: November 7, 1927. Died: September 19, 2013.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, who has died aged 85, was a video games pioneer who turned Nintendo into one of the biggest brands in the world. He led the company for more than 50 years and transformed it from a traditional playing-card maker into a video game giant that created popular characters such as Super Mario and Pokemon.
He was born in Kyoto and was raised by grandparents after his father deserted the family. Mr Yamauchi's grandfather ran the family business selling cards for the traditional Japanese game karuta but Mr Yamauchi wanted to become a lawyer and went to Waseda University to study the subject.
However, in 1949, his grandfather fell gravely ill and summoned him to ask him to take over the business, which was founded in 1889. Hiroshi Yamauchi immediately agreed on the condition that all other family members were fired from the company. It was a demonstration of the ruthlessness that would often made Mr Yamauchi unpopular - one of his first acts when he then took over was to begin firing most of the management, including many who had served the company for years.
As karuta cards went out of fashion, Mr Yamauchi's company faced troubled years and he needed to find a new source of income. At first, he branched out into board games and then in the early 1980s arcade games. Their first hit was Donkey Kong - the first game to feature the Mario character - and when it transferred to handheld devices,it became hugely popular all around the world.
Mr Yamauchi's mission statement was always that the quality of the hardware mattered less than the quality of the games and specifically whether they were entertaining or not. Mr Yamauchi himself had no real interest or ability in the games but he knew who to employ - his strategy was to take on opposing teams of programmers and only make the best game.
He also employed the talents of Shigeru Miyamoto, a global star of game design and the brainchild of Nintendo hits such as Super Mario and Donkey Kong.
In the late-1980s, the company produced the Gameboy console. It was a hit, although competition was growing from Sega. In 2001, Nintendo's GameCube was also outsold by the PlayStation and the Xbox, although Nintendo later hit back with its Wii which proved a success, particularly with families.
Mr Yamauchi eventually stepped down in 2002 after 53 years, having engineered the extraordinary global growth of his company.
He was also capable of the surprise move such as buying the Seattle Mariners baseball club in 1992.
He had little interest in baseball, but was approached to buy the Mariners, who may have had to move out of Washington state where Nintendo 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. Mr Yamauchi never watched his team play in person and transferred his majority shares to Nintendo of America in 2004.
After being succeeded at the helm of Nintendo by Satoru Iwata, Mr Yamauchi stayed on as an adviser, although his role increasingly diminished with the years.
Mr Iwata said in a statement: "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."
The company has floundered in the past couple of years, hurt by competition from games on smartphones and tablets.
Mr Yamauchi is survived by Katsuhito Yamauchi, his eldest son.
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