History of Nintendo

Nintendo was established in 1889 as a playing card manufacturer based in Kyoto, Japan. Today they are the most successful video game developer and publisher in the world. In this feature we look over key moments in their history.


Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo Koppai in Kyoto, Japan as a Hanafuda playing card manufacturer. Each card was hand crafted and painted, and sold in dedicated Nintendo stores in Kyoto and Osaka.

With success, Nintendo fell under pressure to begin mass producing the cards, especially as the Yakuza (a Japanese organised crime syndicate) were using the cards for high-stakes games. Fusajiro trained apprentices to manufacture cards in higher volumes, and other stores were sought to expand distribution.

Nintendo became the first Japanese company to find success manufacturing and selling western-style playing cards.

Having become Japan's largest playing card company, Fusajiro Yamauchi retired and left the company to his son-in-law, Sekiryo Yamauchi.


Sekiryo Yamauchi set up a joint partnership company named Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. A separate distribution company for the range of Western playing cards was set up, named Marufuku Co. Ltd.

In 1949, Sekiryo Yamauchi retired and the presidency of Nintendo Koppai passed to Fusajiro's grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi.


Hiroshi Yamauchi changed the company name to Nintendo Karuta Co., Ltd. A new headquarters was built in Kyoto, Japan and the Kyoto manufacturing plants were consolidated.

Hiroshi Yamauchi began to explore new avenues for the company. Nintendo Karuta became the first company to successfully manufacture and sell plastic playing cards in Japan. He also struck a licensing deal with the Walt Disney company, allowing Nintendo Karuta to market playing cards featuring popular Disney characters, opening up a new market for children's playing cards.

Nintendo Karuta Co., Ltd. was listed on the second section of the Osaka Securities Exchange and the Kyoto Stock Exchange in 1962, and in 1963 the company name was changed again to Nintendo Co., Ltd., which remains the company's name today.

Part of the reason for the change was to allow the company to expand into other products. The first product launch was packets of portioned instant rice, but this venture proved unsuccessful, as was the "Love Hotel". Nintendo also became the principle operators of the Daiya taxi firm. The business was a small success, but powerful taxi unions forced salaries up and Nintendo lost a significant amount of profit, forcing Daiya to close.


Nintendo's first research and development department, named "Games" was established to create original toys and games for children. The first game released was called Rabbit Coaster.

A maintenance employee named Gunpei Yokoi, who had a personal interest in creating toys during his spare time, was moved to the Games division. His first product, the Ultra Hand (an extendable claw) became the #1 toy in Japan.


Nintendo's stock listing was changed to the first section of the Osaka Securities Exchange.

A deal with Sharp Electronics allowed Nintendo to use Sharp light sensor technology in toys. Nintendo became the first company in Japan to release toys with electronic components.

The Kousenjuu (Light Gun) series was released, each game providing a light-emitting gun and a target to shoot. The series included Target Lion, Duck Hunt and Custom Gunman.

Nintendo expanded on this successful concept by buying up several abandoned bowling alleys in Japan and converting them to Light Gun shooting galleries called Laser Clay Shooting System. In them, you had to shoot projected images of clay pigeons as they were shot across the screens.

The Laser Clay Shooting System was Nintendo's first foray into arcade games, and they followed this with smaller light gun arcade units. Several of these systems, including Wild Gunman, were exported to distribution partners in the U.S. and Europe.


Following Japanese oil shortages, Nintendo had to close the Laser Clay Shooting System ranges. With their arcade business taking off, however, they temporarily moved into importing and distributing the Magnavox Oddysey home videogame system in Japan.

Following the hiring of several Sharp employees, Nintendo moved into creating their first home videogame system, the Color TV Game 6.

In 1978, Nintendo released its first video arcade systems. Their debut game was Computer Othello.

In 1989, Nintendo of America was established in New York to distribute Nintendo arcade and videogame systems in the United States.

Gunpei Yokoi created the first portable LCD videogame featuring a microprocessor, the Game & Watch. The first release in the Game & Watch series was Ball.


Following a tough year, Nintendo of America requested a game to replace the failing Radar Scope. Nintendo set a junior designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, on the task. The game he produced was Donkey Kong, Nintendo's first international smash hit. The game introduced two of Nintendo's most enduring characters, Mario and Donkey Kong, as well as changing the fortunes of the company.

Following the runaway success of Donkey Kong, Nintendo of America relocated to Seattle, Washington and began to expand.

In 1983, Nintendo launched their first home videogame system that ran on cartridges, the Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan. Despite some initial technical problems, the system began to become successful.

Nintendo is listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

In 1985, following a drastic redesign of the hardware, aggressive marketing and licensing, the Family Computer is released in the Unites States as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Nintendo releases Super Mario Bros. in Japan and the U.S. The game becomes a worldwide smash hit and becomes the biggest selling game of all time, a record it held for over 25 years.

Following their successful move into the videogame market, Nintendo restructured its development teams into four research and development divisions, R&D1, R&D2, R&D3 (later known as EAD) and R&D4 (later known as IRD).

And the Rest is History…

Following their huge success with the Famicom/NES and Super Mario Bros., the eyes of the world were on Nintendo, as the very word itself became synonymous with videogames.

Today, Nintendo has passed out of the hands of the Yamauchi family. Hiroshi Yamauchi retired in 2002, leaving it in the capable hands of Satoru Iwata, a former developer, marketer and president of HAL Laboratory, one of Nintendo's closest developers. He has seen in the hugely successful Nintendo DS and Wii systems and has put Nintendo back on the map. Wii Sports finally outsold Super Mario Bros., becoming the biggest game of all time.

Check out the rest of NinDB if you want to find out more about Nintendo's videogaming legacy.