One of the most influential forces in shaping the course of modern video games is gone. Hiroshi Yamauchi, who led Nintendo from 1949 to 2002, passed away on September 19, 2013 at the age of 85. Yamauchi, the great-grandson of Nintendo founder Fusajiro Yamauchi, oversaw the company’s transformation from provider of trading cards to video game pioneer and tastemaker. It’s Yamauchi who hired Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto in 1977 and it’s Yamauchi who helped to trigger an entertainment revolution with the launch of the Famicom (NES in the US) in 1983.
The longtime Nintendo boss stepped down in May 2002, appointing still-reigning president and CEO Satoru Iwata as his successor. He didn’t fully leave the company until three years later, however. Yamauchi served as chairman of Nintendo’s board of directors from 2002 to 2005. He was around for the release of every Nintendo console from the Famicom to the GameCube, and in his time as board chair he no doubt participated in the run-up to the Wii’s wildly successful 2006 launch.
Interestingly, Yamauchi is at least partially responsible for the influx of Japanese baseball players into the United States’ major league. Nintendo owns the Seattle Mariners, a purchase that came about in the early months of 1992 after the company was approached by a Washington state Congressman and asked to find Japanese investors. Major League Baseball officials initially sought to block the foreign investment, but public backlash ultimately led to a reversal. The league’s change of heart cleared the way for Japanese ball players to sign with teams, a possibility that had previously been denied. It’s a fascinating story, and well worth a deeper look via this great 1992 piece from Sports Illustrated.
For gamers, Yamauchi’s contributions to the industry and overall role in shaping the course of its continuing evolution cannot be underestimated. The Nintendo that gave birth to the NES, the SNES, and a veritable flood of classic franchises continues to be one of the most important forces – if not the most important force – in gaming’s past, and Yamauchi played a big role in that success. We at Digital Trends mourn this loss and offer our deepest condolences to Yamauchi’s friends and family, at Nintendo and beyond.