“Work hard, but in the end it’s in heaven’s hands.” This is a quote from Game Over about the meaning of the word “Nintendo.” In the video-gaming market, though, it was really in consumers’ hands. Nintendo has always needed to adapt to survive in the market. Nintendo always needed to be on top; it was a company that needed to be ahead of the rest. Nintendo had to set new standards, or improve on an existing product or idea.
The Dutch and Portuguese first brought their card games over to Japan 355 years ago. For the longest time, the kuruta (playing cards) in Japan were Dutch and Portuguese. Fusajiro Yamauchi came along and integrated the cards into existing Japanese games that originally used clams and stones. Fusajiro called these cards Hanafuda (flower cards), and many varieties of games were made using these cards (Game Over). In 1889, Fusajiro founded his own playing card company (Company History). Using the Japanese Kanji characters – nin, ten and do – Fusajiro named his company Nintendo (Game Over). As quoted from the book Game Over, the Kanji characters Nintendo meant “Deep in mind we have to do whatever we have to do,” or even “Work hard, but in the end it is in Heaven’s hands.”
To gain more business, Nintendo needed to reach other regions of Japan. To do so, Fusajiro decided to have symbols painted on the cards that reflect the characteristics of various regions of Japan. Nintendo then signed up with tobacco shops to sell the Nintendo Hanafuda easily around the nation. All was doing modestly well until the Yakuza showed up. The Yakuza, the Japanese equivalent to the Mafia, set up many gambling parlors in Japan. Hanafuda were used for a variety of card games in these parlors, and like in casinos: new games were started with new decks. With these bustling gambling parlors going through so many Nintendo brand playing cards, Nintendo profited handsomely (Game Over).
In 1907, Nintendo started manufacturing western-style playing cards for bringing out a wider variety of card games from the United States of America. In 1927, Nintendo started to put fancy backing on the cards (they were originally blank). In 1949, Nintendo’s current president, Hiroshi Yamauchi, came into office (Game Over). Four years later Nintendo became the first company in Japan to manufacture plastic-coated cards. This was done to compete with plastic-coated imported playing cards. In 1959, Nintendo had its first licensing agreement. The license was with an American company, Walt Disney, to make playing cards with Disney characters on them. It turned out to be a good move for Nintendo, as Nintendo’s market now included young people and families; soon their playing card profits sky-rocketed (Company History).
Nintendo’s president, Hiroshi Yamauchi, wanted the company to expand faster; he wanted to be able to compete in a bigger portion of the market. Hiroshi came up with his own ideas to do so: individually portioned instant rice, a taxi service, and a “love hotel” that charged rooms by the hour (Game Over). Hiroshi later trashed these services and products to focus back on the part of the company that succeeded all the rest, the playing cards. Later on he sprouted another idea; and in 1969, Hiroshi set up a Games department for Nintendo (Company History). In order to compete with the toy industries: Hiroshi Yamauchi hired many people to the new department. Yamauchi had told them that they needed to come up with something that will be sold for the coming Christmas. Yamauchi only told them that it needed to be “something good” (Game Over).
The first few toys that came from Nintendo were simply novelty toys; such toys were the Ultra Hand (used for snatching far away objects), and the Ultra Scope (used for seeing around corners and spying). Later on, the toys became more electronic. In 1973, Nintendo developed Laser Clay Shooting. This new game that was much like Clay Pigeon Shooting, only instead of using real bullets, beams of light were used to hit light sensors on clay pigeons. These clay pigeons, when hit by these light beams, would then trigger a device that exploded the clay pigeon. In Japan, this latest Nintendo game surpassed the major pastime of bowling (Company History).
In 1975, Pong (a.k.a. Laser Tennis), came into the attention of Hiroshi Yamauchi. He had to jump in on a new form of entertainment such as this. Introducing the microprocessor to video gaming in 1976, Nintendo started making various versions of Pong that represented other sports like tennis and soccer. Nintendo started using microprocessors in a line of coin-operated arcade games (Game Over). Later in 1976, Nintendo set the standard for using microprocessors in arcade games (Company History).
Business was going good, and technology was advancing. Soon there were credit card sized calculators. This inspired Hiroshi Yamauchi. Yamauchi had an idea to create a new way of playing video games (Game Over). In 1980, Nintendo released their Game & Watch systems. These were hand-held systems that played one game, they were about two-thirds the size of VHS video-cassette (Company History). These Game & Watch systems were very popular. In fact, they were so popular that eventually fifty percent of the Game & Watch systems in the world were counterfeit (Game Over). Nonetheless, this move into video games proved to be very lucrative. From this point on, Nintendo focused on video game systems.
While people were buying tons of Game & Watch systems, Yamauchi decided that Nintendo should work on a home video game system. Like Atari, the game system would have interchangeable games. Nintendo’s first steps into the home video gaming industry were the Color TV Game 6 and the Color TV Game 15. These first systems were not all that popular, but Nintendo did not give up. To see where they were going wrong, Nintendo looked to their competitors: Atari, Commodore, and Epoch. Nintendo cracked open their competitors game systems and figured out how they worked. Nintendo found many places for improvement in these systems; thus they made their own home video game system based on other systems, but used advanced technology to improve their own system: the Famicom (Game Over).
Because the company was based in Japan, the release of products in the U.S.A. always occurred a few years later than the release in Japan. This happened because the products needed to be translated to an English programming language. A system was usually given a different name for each country, for the appeal of each cultures taste. Though it took longer for systems and games to be released in America, it proved to be very worth the wait. As time went by for the Japanese versions, flaws were discovered and fixed, language translations were made expertly (occasionally translations accidentally ended up being offensive fascist remarks and/or terms), and even the systems themselves were fixed up with better technologies (Game Over).
In 1982, Nintendo released a home video game system, the Family Computer or Famicom, in Japan. Three years later, a more improved system was released in the U.S.A. under the name Nintendo Entertainment System, or the NES (Company History). The original designs of these systems were sleeker in appearance and the hand-controllers for the system used infrared technology. Nintendo wanted to separate themselves from their main competitor: Atari, which by 1985, had virtually ran themselves bankrupt by having too many bad games. Nintendo did not want their customers to be turned off by Nintendo’s game system just because Atari couldn’t manage well. So Nintendo identified various parts of their system in order to make it appear that the Nintendo Entertainment System was totally new. Nintendo called their NES an Entertainment System instead of a game console, which used game paks instead of Game cartridges (Game Over). Another reason for these modifications was to give the user a sense of freedom, without the use of a cord connecting the controller to the system. But due to the users movement during game play, the infrared sensors did not work properly. Cords were ultimately used in the final design (Out of the Shadows 22).
To further compete with hand held game systems, Nintendo released an all-new kind of system in 1989: the Nintendo Game Boy. The Nintendo Game Boy was the first portable game system that was designed to use interchangeable games for play (Company History). Like other hand-held systems, the screen was black and white; but the Game Boy was much more adaptable. The owners manual shows that the system had an AC adapter port, as well as a place for batteries, there was a port to plug in your own headphones, and their was even a port to connect to other Game Boy Game systems for two-player games. After the Nintendo Game Boy was released, other companies tried to create or improve their own hand-held game systems.
With new competitors, such as Sega, entering the home video gaming market with their newer systems, Nintendo released a 16-bit upgraded system of the Famicom in 1990 in Japan: the Super Famicom. In 1991, under the name of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or Super NES), the same 16-bit system was released in the U.S.A. (Company History). Nintendo could have made the Super NES able to play the old NES games, but it would have added another $75 onto the $200 sticker price of the Super NES. These new systems, along with a bigger memory for longer games and better graphics, had proven to be faster and better than their predecessors were (Game Over). All too soon, other companies were coming out with 32-bit game systems, but Nintendo refused to give up on their new system. Nintendo fought back through their games.
To break the rules of the regular two-dimensional looks of previous games, Nintendo developed a computer chip that was used to create three-dimensional games (Company History). The chip (the Super FX Chip) was only used in a few games, but it paved the way for setting a new standard in developing future video games.
In 1994, Nintendo once again came up with a new concept for home video game systems. Nintendo released a small adapter that allowed Nintendo Game Boy game paks to be played on the Super NES (Company History). The intent was to expand the Super NES’s current video game library; the advantage was to play the Game Boy games in 8-bit color! In the same year, Nintendo also set a new standard in video game graphics by using Advanced Computer Modeling in Super NES games. The next year, Advanced Computer Modeling was used in the Game Boy games (Company History). The standard for hand-held games had also risen.
Trying to set a new wave of game play, and to compete further, Nintendo launched a 32-bit Virtual Immersion game system in 1995: the Virtual Boy (Company History). The system was bulky and needed to be played at a table. To keep the sale’s cost low, the games were colored in hues of red in a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), though many gamers — people who played video games immensely — argued that a full color LCD would be much better. Nintendo argued that the system would then cost three times as much (Virtual Boy Arrives 10). The Virtual Boy died in the market in less than one year. Even though Nintendo, once again, was concerned about a too high of price for their customers, their customers would have rather paid more, for more.
To try and rectify themselves in 1996, Nintendo co-released their next game system in both Japan and the U.S.A. Their next system was a 64-bit home video game system: the Nintendo 64 (Company History). The original title was the Nintendo Ultra 64, but the “ultra” part sounded too corny (Out of the Shadows 25). As inspired by the Super FX Chip’s capability, the Nintendo 64 helped set a new standard for video games all around (Out of the Shadows 26). That standard was a three-dimensional playing field in games. This time around there was foresight; Nintendo decided to have the Nintendo 64 to be able to expand for when competitors came out with a new system. Nintendo made the Nintendo 64Os RAM port expandable with an Expansion Pak that could be purchased when bigger, faster, and more detailed games came out for the Nintendo 64 (Nintendo 64 Hardware).
In 1996, Nintendo once again improved their hand-held game system by making it smaller. The new Game Boy Pocket was specifically designed for easy portability in one’s pocket (Company History). With all of the same ports of the original system and the requirement of fewer batteries, Game Boy Pocket was an immediate favorite of gamers. The idea was to get people hooked on the Game Boy again, but it still wasn’t good enough. So the Game Boy system was once again improved in 1998. Giving it color, the Game Boy Color was born. The Game Boy Color was an immediate success. Even when the original Game Boy was more popular than Sega’s bulkier, colored hand held game system, The color screen for the Color Game Boy made it even better. With this new game system, new, full color games could be created (Company History). Later on, many other companies tried to make smaller, color hand held game systems, but still the Nintendo Game Boy systems are king. Nintendo also added a little more excitement to its new system. Nintendo started to release Game Boy Color Games that featured four to five Game & Watch games.
Nintendo has come a long way. From selling trading cards in Japan in 1889 to planning a state-of-the-art video game systems for the millennium. Nintendo changes to meet the demands of their customers, so that they will continue to buy Nintendo products. In the end, Nintendo always seems to come out on top with setting a new standard in the video game systems industry. Nintendo is a survivor and a revolutionist.
To the best of my knowledge, the information above and below is correct. The information above contain some editorial wording. The information below may be slightly incomplete, there were other Nintendo Power references I could not track; The book Game Over contains many other references.
“Company History of Nintendo of America Inc.” 9 Nov. 1999. http://www.nintendo.com/corp/history.html.
“Game Boy Advance.” Incite: Video Gaming Dec. 1999: 154.
“Nintendo 64 Hardware.” 13 Dec. 1999. http://www.nintendo.com/n64/expansionpak.html.
“Out of the Shadows: Nintendo 64 Debuts in Japan.” Nintendo