Nintendo’s Road to the Top of Games

Written by Phin Upham

Nintendo was a playing card maker up until the early 70s, when limitations in the business became apparent to the company CEO. They had been making handmade cards for a game that was extremely popular in Japan. Similar to Poker or Bridge, Hanafuda was Nintendo’s primary revenue source for almost 100 years.

On a trip to the states to meet with executives of the United States Playing Card Company, then the world’s largest supplier of playing cards, Hiroshi Yamauchi found that the employees of US Playing Card Co were occupying a tiny office. Yamauchi saw then the limitations of his profession, and worked to change the direction of his company soon afterward.

His first attempt was acquiring rights to Disney characters, so that he could print them on his playing cards. The company also explored starting its own TV network, and a venture selling instant rice. Nintendo’s new ideas failed, which sent its stock price tumbling to 60 yen.

Then Nintendo shifted its focus to games in 1966. It developed a series of light gun games, the most popular being the Laser Clay Shooting System, but not much else happened until 1979. By then, Nintendo had already hired Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto gave birth to Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda and Pikmin just to name a few of his accomplishments.

In 1979, Nintendo debuted its first foray into gaming consoles. It was called Game & Watch, and it used a d-pad to maneuver characters onscreen. It was a huge success, catapulting the company into the realm of video games.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website