Nintendo's original headquarters in the Kyoto Prefecture in 1889
Former headquarters plate, from when Nintendo was solely a playing card production company
1889–1956: As a card company
Nintendo was founded as a playing card company by Fusajiro Yamauchi on 23 September 1889. Based in Kyoto, the business produced and marketed hanafuda cards. The handmade cards soon became popular, and Yamauchi hired assistants to mass-produce cards to satisfy demand. The company was formally established as an
unlimited partnership titled Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. Ltd. in 1933. It changed its name to Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. in 1951. Nintendo continues to manufacture playing cards in Japan and organizes its own contract bridge tournament called the "Nintendo Cup". The word Nintendo can be translated as "leave luck to heaven", or alternatively as "the temple of free hanafuda".
1956–1974: New ventures
In 1956, Hiroshi Yamauchi, grandson of Fusajiro Yamauchi, visited the U.S. to talk with the United States Playing Card Company, the dominant playing card manufacturer there. He found that the biggest playing card company in the world was using only a small office. Yamauchi's realization that the playing card business had limited potential was a turning point. He then acquired the license to use Disney characters on playing cards to drive sales.
In 1963, Yamauchi renamed Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. to Nintendo Co., Ltd. The company then began to experiment in other areas of business using newly injected capital during the period of time between 1963 and 1968. Nintendo set up a taxi company called Daiya. This business was initially successful. However, Nintendo was forced to sell it because problems with the labor unions were making it too expensive to run the service. It also set up a love hotel chain, a TV network, a food company (selling instant rice) and several other ventures. All of these ventures eventually failed, and after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, playing card sales dropped, and Nintendo's stock price plummeted to its lowest recorded level of ¥60.
In 1966, Nintendo moved into the Japanese toy industry with the Ultra Hand, an extendable arm developed by its maintenance engineer Gunpei Yokoi in his free time. Yokoi was moved from maintenance to the new "Nintendo Games" department as a product developer. Nintendo continued to produce popular toys, including the Ultra Machine, Love Tester and the Kousenjuu series of light gun games. Despite some successful products, Nintendo struggled to meet the fast development and manufacturing turnaround required in the toy market, and fell behind the well-established companies such as Bandai and Tomy. In 1973, its focus shifted to family entertainment venues with the Laser Clay Shooting System, using the same light gun technology used in Nintendo's Kousenjuu series of toys, and set up in abandoned bowling alleys. Following some success, Nintendo developed several more light gun machines (such as the light gun shooter game Wild Gunman) for the emerging arcade scene. While the Laser Clay Shooting System ranges had to be shut down following excessive costs, Nintendo had found a new market.
1974–1978: Early electronic era
Nintendo's first original video game is Color TV-Game
, which would soon become its primary focus
Nintendo's first venture into the video gaming industry was securing rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey video game console in Japan in 1974. Nintendo began to produce its own hardware in 1977, with the Color TV-Game home video game consoles. Four versions of these consoles were produced, each including variations of a single game; for example, Color TV Game 6 features six versions of Light Tennis.
A student product developer named Shigeru Miyamoto was hired by Nintendo at this time. He worked for Yokoi, and one of his first tasks was to design the casing for several of the Color TV-Game consoles. Miyamoto went on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo's most famous video games and become one of the most recognizable figures in the video game industry.
In 1975, Nintendo moved into the video arcade game industry with EVR Race, designed by their first game designer, Genyo Takeda, and several more games followed. Nintendo had some small success with this venture, but the release of Donkey Kong in 1981, designed by Miyamoto, changed Nintendo's fortunes dramatically. The success of the game and many licensing opportunities (such as ports on the Atari 2600, Intellivision and ColecoVision) gave Nintendo a huge boost in profit and in addition, the game also introduced an early iteration of Mario, then known in Japan as Jumpman, the eventual company mascot.
1979–1982: First video game success
In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi conceived the idea of a handheld video game, while observing a fellow bullet train commuter who passed the time by interacting idly with a portable LCD calculator. The idea became Game & Watch. In 1980, Nintendo launched Game & Watch—a handheld video game series developed by Yokoi. These systems do not contain interchangeable cartridges and thus the hardware was tied to the game. The first Game & Watch game, Ball, was distributed worldwide. The modern "cross" D-pad design was developed in 1982, by Yokoi for a Donkey Kong version. Proven to be popular, the design was patented by Nintendo. It later earned a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award.
1983–1989: Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy
In 1983, Nintendo launched the Family Computer (colloquialized as "Famicom") home video game console in Japan, alongside ports of its most popular arcade games. In 1985, a cosmetically reworked version of the system known outside Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES, launched in North America. The practice of bundling the system along with select games helped to make Super Mario Bros. one of the best-selling video games in history.
In 1988, Gunpei Yokoi and his team at Nintendo R&D1 conceived the new Game Boy handheld system, with the purpose of merging the two very successful ideas of the Game & Watch's portability along with the NES's cartridge interchangeability. Nintendo released the Game Boy in Japan on 21 April 1989, and in North America on 31 July 1989. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa managed a deal to bundle the popular third-party game Tetris along with the Game Boy, and the pair launched as an instant success.
1989–1995: Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Virtual Boy
In 1989, Nintendo announced plans to release the successor to the Famicom, the Super Famicom. Based on a 16-bit processor, Nintendo boasted significantly superior hardware specifications of graphics, sound, and game speed over the original 8-bit Famicom. The Super Famicom was finally released relatively late to the market in Japan on 21 November 1990, and released as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (officially abbreviated the Super NES or SNES and commonly shortened to Super Nintendo) in North America on 23 August 1991 and in Europe in 1992. Its main rival was the 16-bit Mega Drive, known in North America as Genesis, which had been advertised aggressively against the nascent 8-bit NES. A console war between Sega and Nintendo ensued during the early 1990s. From 1990 to 1992, Nintendo opened World of Nintendo shops in the United States where consumers could test and buy Nintendo products.
In August 1993, Nintendo announced the SNES's successor, codenamed Project Reality. Featuring 64-bit graphics, the new system was developed as a joint venture between Nintendo and North-American-based technology company Silicon Graphics. The system was announced to be released by the end of 1995, but was subsequently delayed. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued the Nintendo Entertainment System family with the release of the NES-101, a smaller redesign of the original NES. Nintendo also announced a CD drive peripheral called the Super NES CD-ROM Adapter, which was co-developed first by Sony with the name "Play Station" and then by Philips. Bearing prototypes and joint announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show, it was on track for a 1994 release, but was controversially canceled.
In 1995, Nintendo announced that it had sold one billion game cartridges worldwide, ten percent of those being from the Mario franchise. Nintendo deemed 1994 the "Year of the Cartridge". To further their support for cartridges, Nintendo announced that Project Reality, which had now been renamed the Ultra 64, would not use a CD format as expected, but would rather use cartridges as its primary media format. Nintendo IRD general manager Genyo Takeda was impressed by video game development company Rare's progress with real-time 3D graphics technology, using state of the art Silicon Graphics workstations. As a result, Nintendo bought a 25% stake in the company, eventually expanding to 49%, and offered their catalog of characters to create a CGI game around, making Rare Nintendo's first western-based second-party developer. Their first game as partners with Nintendo was Donkey Kong Country. The game was a critical success and sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library. In September 1994, Nintendo, along with six other video game giants including Sega, Electronic Arts, Atari, Acclaim, Philips, and 3DO approached the United States Senate and demanded a ratings system for video games to be enforced, which prompted the decision to create the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Aiming to produce an affordable virtual reality console, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in 1995, designed by Gunpei Yokoi. The console consists of a head-mounted semi-portable system with one red-colored screen for each of the user's eyes, featuring stereoscopic graphics. Games are viewed through a binocular eyepiece and controlled using an affixed gamepad. Critics were generally disappointed with the quality of the games and the red-colored graphics, and complained of gameplay-induced headaches. The system sold poorly and was quietly discontinued. Amid the system's failure, Yokoi retired from Nintendo. During the same year, Nintendo launched the Satellaview in Japan, a peripheral for the Super Famicom. The accessory allowed users to play video games via broadcast for a set period of time. Various games were made exclusively for the platform, as well as various remakes.
1996–2000: Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color
In 1996, Nintendo renamed the Ultra 64 to Nintendo 64, releasing it in Japan and North America, and in 1997 in Europe and Australia. The Nintendo 64 continued what had become a Nintendo tradition of hardware design which is focused less on high performance specifications than on design innovations intended to inspire game development. With its market shares slipping to the Sega Saturn and partner-turned-rival Sony PlayStation, Nintendo revitalized its brand by launching a $185 million marketing campaign centered around the "Play it Loud" slogan. During the same year, Nintendo also released the Game Boy Pocket in Japan, a smaller version of the Game Boy that generated more sales for the platform. On 4 October 1997, famed Nintendo developer Gunpei Yokoi died in a car crash. In 1997, Nintendo released the SNS-101 (called Super Famicom Jr. in Japan), a smaller redesigned version of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
In 1998, the successor to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color, was released. The system had improved technical specifications allowing it to run games made specifically for the system as well as games released for the Game Boy, albeit with added color. The Game Boy Camera and Printer were also released as accessories. In October 1998, Retro Studios was founded as an alliance between Nintendo and former Iguana Entertainment founder Jeff Spangenberg. Nintendo saw an opportunity for the new studio to create games for the upcoming GameCube targeting an older demographic, in the same vein as Iguana Entertainment's successful Turok series for the Nintendo 64.
2001–2003 Game Boy Advance and GameCube
In 2001, Nintendo introduced the redesigned Game Boy Advance. The same year, Nintendo also released the GameCube to lukewarm sales, and it ultimately failed to regain the market share lost by the Nintendo 64. When Yamauchi, company president since 1949, retired on 24 May 2002, Satoru Iwata became first Nintendo president who was unrelated to the Yamauchi family through blood or marriage since its founding in 1889.
In 2003, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, a redesign of the Game Boy Advance that featured a clamshell design that would later be used in Nintendo's DS and 3DS handheld video game systems.
2004–2011: Nintendo DS and Wii
In 2004, Nintendo released the Nintendo DS, its fourth major handheld system. The DS is a dual screened handheld featuring touch screen capabilities, which respond to either a stylus or the touch of a finger. Former Nintendo president and chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi was translated by GameScience as explaining, "If we can increase the scope of the industry, we can re-energise the global market and lift Japan out of depression – that is Nintendo's mission." Regarding lukewarm GameCube sales which had yielded the company's first reported operating loss in over 100 years, Yamauchi continued: "The DS represents a critical moment for Nintendo's success over the next two years. If it succeeds, we rise to the heavens, if it fails, we sink into hell." Due to games such as Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS, the DS became a success. In 2005, Nintendo released the Game Boy Micro in North America, a redesign of the Game Boy Advance. The last system in the Game Boy line, it is also the smallest Game Boy, and the least successful. In the middle of 2005, Nintendo opened the Nintendo World Store in New York City, which would sell Nintendo games, present a museum of Nintendo history, and host public parties such as for product launches. The store was renovated and renamed as Nintendo New York in 2016.
The Wii Remote
, along with the Wii
, was said to be "revolutionary" because of its motion detection capabilities
In the first half of 2006, Nintendo released the Nintendo DS Lite, a version of the original Nintendo DS with lighter weight, brighter screen, and better battery life. In addition to this streamlined design, its prolific subset of casual games appealed to the masses, such as the Brain Age series. Meanwhile, New Super Mario Bros. provided a substantial addition to the Mario series when it was launched to the top of sales charts. The successful direction of the Nintendo DS had a big influence on Nintendo's next home console (including the common Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection), which had been codenamed "Revolution" and was now renamed to "Wii". In August 2006, Nintendo published ES, a now-dormant, open source research operating system project designed around web application integration but for no specific purpose.
In the latter half of 2006, Nintendo released the Wii as the backward-compatible successor to the GameCube. Based upon intricate Wii Remote motion controls and a balance board, the Wii inspired several new game franchises, some targeted at entirely new market segments of casual and fitness gaming. With more than 100 million units sold worldwide, the Wii is the best selling console of the seventh generation, regaining market share lost during the tenures of the Nintendo 64 and GameCube.
On 1 May 2007, Nintendo acquired an 80% stake in video game development company Monolith Soft, previously owned by Bandai Namco. Monolith Soft is best known for developing role-playing games such as the Xenosaga and
Baten Kaitos series.
During the holiday season of 2008, Nintendo followed up the success of the DS with the release of the Nintendo DSi in Japan. The system features a more powerful CPU and more RAM, two cameras, one facing towards the player and one facing outwards, and had an online distribution store called DSiWare. The DSi was later released worldwide during 2009. In the latter half of 2009, Nintendo released the Nintendo DSi XL in Japan, a larger version of the DSi. This updated system was later released worldwide in 2010.
2011–2015: Nintendo 3DS and Wii U
An original model Nintendo 3DS
In 2011, Nintendo released the Nintendo 3DS, based upon a glasses-free stereoscopic 3D display. In February 2012, Nintendo acquired Mobiclip, a France-based research and development company specialized in highly optimized software technologies such as video compression. The company's name was later changed to Nintendo European Research & Development. During the fourth quarter of 2012, Nintendo released the Wii U. It sold slower than expected, despite being the first eighth generation console. By September 2013, however, sales had rebounded. Intending to broaden the 3DS market, Nintendo released 2013's cost-reduced Nintendo 2DS. The 2DS is compatible with but lacks the 3DS's more expensive but cosmetic autostereoscopic 3D feature. Nintendo also released the Wii Mini, a cheaper and non-networked redesign of the Wii.
On 25 September 2013, Nintendo announced it had purchased a 28% stake in a Panasonic spin-off company called PUX Corporation. The company specializes in face and voice recognition technology, with which Nintendo intends to improve the usability of future game systems. Nintendo has also worked with this company in the past to create character recognition software for a Nintendo DS touchscreen. After announcing a 30% dive in profits for the April to December 2013 period, president Satoru Iwata announced he would take a 50% pay-cut, with other executives seeing reductions by 20%–30%.
In January 2015, Nintendo announced its exit from the Brazilian market after four years of distributing products in the country. Nintendo cited high import duties and lack of local manufacturing operation as reasons for leaving. Nintendo continues its partnership with Juegos de Video Latinoamérica to distribute products to the rest of Latin America.
On 11 July 2015, Iwata died from a bile duct tumor at the age of 55. Following his death, representative directors Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto jointly led the company on an interim basis until the appointment of Tatsumi Kimishima as Iwata's successor on 16 September 2015. In addition to Kimishima's appointment, the company's management organization was also restructured—Miyamoto was named "Creative Fellow" and Takeda was named "Technology Fellow".
2015–present: Mobile and Nintendo Switch
On 17 March 2015, Nintendo announced a partnership with Japanese mobile developer DeNA to produce games for smart devices. The first of these, Miitomo, was released in March 2016.
On the same day, Nintendo announced a new "dedicated games platform with a brand new concept" with the codename "NX" that would be further revealed in 2016. Reggie Fils-Aimé, president of Nintendo of America, referred to NX as "our next home console" in a June 2015 interview with The Wall Street Journal. In a later article from October 2015, The Wall Street Journal relayed speculation from unnamed inside sources that the NX was intended to feature "industry leading" hardware specifications and be usable as both a home and portable console. It was also reported that Nintendo had begun distributing software development kits (SDKs) for it to third-party developers, with the unnamed source further speculating that these moves suggested that the company was on track to introduce it as early as 2016. At an investor's meeting on 27 April 2016, Nintendo announced that the NX would be released worldwide in March 2017. In an interview with Asahi Shimbun in May 2016, Kimishima stated that the NX was a new concept that would not succeed the 3DS or Wii U product lines. At a shareholders' meeting following E3 2016, Shigeru Miyamoto stated that the company chose not to present the NX during the conference due to concerns that competitors could copy from it if they revealed it too soon. The same day, Kimishima also revealed during a Q&A session with investors that they were also researching virtual reality.
In May 2015, Universal Parks & Resorts announced that it was partnering with Nintendo to create attractions at Universal theme parks based upon Nintendo properties. In May 2016, Nintendo also expressed a desire to enter the animated film market. In November 2016, it was stated that the area to be created at Universal theme parks is known as Super Nintendo World, which will be completed by 2020 at Universal Studios Japan in time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, whereas Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood will get the themed area in an unspecified date after the Japanese version.
In July 2016, the company announced it was bringing back the NES in the form of the NES Classic Edition (called Nintendo Classic Mini in Europe). The plug-and-play console supports HDMI, two-player mode, and has a controller similar to the original NES controller. The controller is able to connect to a Wii Remote for use with Wii and Wii U Virtual Console games. The NES Classic Edition came with 30 games pre-installed, including Final Fantasy, Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Dr. Mario, among others. It was released in November 2016. Additional controllers were also available.
The July 2016 release of the Pokémon Go mobile app by Niantic caused shares in Nintendo to double, due to investor misunderstanding that the software was the property of Nintendo. Later that month, Nintendo released a statement clarifying its relation with Niantic, Nintendo stated it owned 32% of Pokémon intellectual property owner The Pokémon Company, and though it would receive some licensing and other revenues from the game it expected the impact on Nintendo's total income to be limited. As a result of the statement Nintendo's share price fell substantially, losing 17% in one day of trading. After a reduction in shareprice from the Pokémon Go peak, the company was still valued at over 100 times its net income, a price–earnings ratio greatly exceeding the average on the Nikkei 225. Analysts speaking to Bloomberg L.P. and the Financial Times both commented on the potential future value of Nintendo's IP if transferred to the mobile phone game business.
In August 2016, Nintendo of America sold 90% of its controlling stake (55%) in the Seattle Mariners to a group of investors led by mobile phone businessman John Stanton for $640 million.
After the announcement of the mobile game Super Mario Run in September 2016, Nintendo's stock soared to just under its recent high point after the release and success of Pokémon Go earlier in the year, something noted by journalists as even more significant than Pokémon Go, as Super Mario Run was developed in-house by Nintendo, which was not the case with Pokémon Go. In a December 2016 interview prior to the release of Super Mario Run, Miyamoto explained that the company believed that with some of their game franchises, "the longer you continue to make a series, the more complex the gameplay becomes, and the harder it becomes for new players to be able to get into the series", and that the company sees mobile games with simplified controls, such as Super Mario Run, not only allows them to "make a game that the broadest audience of people could play", but to also reintroduce these properties to newer audiences and draw them to their consoles.
On 20 October 2016, Nintendo released a preview trailer about the NX, revealing the official name to be the Nintendo Switch. According to Fils-Aimé, the console gave game developers new abilities to bring their creative concepts to life by opening up the concept of gaming without limits. In December 2016, Nintendo released Super Mario Run for iOS devices, with the game surpassing over 50 million downloads within a week of its release. Kimishima stated that Nintendo would release a couple of mobile games each year from then on.
In September 2017, Nintendo announced a partnership with the Chinese gaming company Tencent to publish a global version of their commercially successful mobile game, Honor of Kings, for the Nintendo Switch. The announcement lead some to believe that Nintendo could soon have a bigger footprint in China, a region where the Switch is not sold and is largely dominated by Tencent. In November 2017, it was reported that Nintendo would be teaming up with Illumination, an animation division of Universal Pictures, to make an animated Mario film. In April 2018, Nintendo announced that Kimishima would be stepping down as company president that June, with Shuntaro Furukawa, former managing executive officer and outside director of The Pokémon Company, succeeding him.
In January 2019, Nintendo announced it had made $958 million in profit and $5.59 billion in revenue during 2018. In February 2019, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé announced that he would be retiring, with Doug Bowser succeeding him on 15 April 2019.