Mario (the Jumping Man) and Donkey Kong are synonymous with childhood for a number of people worldwide.
These two widely loved arcade games developed by Nintendo, helped Nintendo establish its position as the foremost player in the video game market and have a breakthrough debut in North America.
Card Company to a Company in Chaos
Founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto- Japan, in late 1889, the company whose name roughly translates to “Leave Luck to the Heavens”, initially manufactured playing cards known as Hanafuda which were in great demand in Japan. Nintendo’s Hanafuda cards gained popularity and over the years Nintendo started to manufacture different styles of cards.
Partnering with Japan Tobacco & Salt Corporation (now Japan Tobacco), Nintendo sold their cards in cigarette shops all across Japan. In 1953, Nintendo became the first company in Japan to produce plastic playing cards and in 1959, Nintendo tied up with Disney to use Disney’s characters on Nintendo’s playing cards.
Unfortunately, playing cards had limited potential and they soon realized the need to venture into new areas. From trying their hand at running a taxi service, to love hotel chains, Nintendo faced several failures with their stock price plummeting to its lowest recorded level of ¥60 before moving on to the Japanese toy market and later focusing on the video gaming industry.
The 8 Bit Revolution
Gunpei Yokoi, an electrical engineer working as a game designer with Nintendo, developed a hand held console after watching a fellow commuter in the bullet train fumble about with his LCD calculator to pass the time. The console was to be the beginning of Game & Watch (G&W), the line of handheld electronic games produced by Nintendo in 1980.
The uber successful Game Boy was launched eight years later, along with the accompanying game Tetris. People loved the portable device with changeable cartridges that allowed them to play a variety of games without having to change the console.
By bundling the hardware with a game like Super Mario Bros, Nintendo ensured that both get due recognition and fame. This clever marketing strategy paid off; Mario became one of the best-selling video games in history and the Game Boy still has users devoted to it.
In 1990, Nintendo released The Super Famicom, which sold out across Japan within three days. With equal quality gaming and popularity, and helped by the absence of competitors, by 1995, Nintendo had sold a billion cartridges worldwide.
Challenges and Champions
In 1995, competitors like Sega and Sony had entered the market and were cutting into Nintendo’s market share, while Nintendo reeled from the disastrous performance of its Virtual Boy console.
Sony had introduced its 32 bit Play station which was well received by all gamers and the target age group. The Nintendo64 released in ’96 disappointed many of its loyal followers who were agitated due to the lack of available software to run on it.
As Nintendo was losing a grip on the market, they decided to tie up with the Pokémon Company which was extremely famous across Japan, USA and Europe. Thus they launched the Pocket Monster, which for a while re-established Nintendo as the champions of the cut throat gaming industry.
The Failure, the Future, and the Fortune
As time progressed, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation and PSPs invaded the business and quickly dethroned Nintendo despite its best efforts. The GameCube lost the pace set by Game Boy, and Nintendo DS despite having more than three million pre- orders failed to impress.
2006 brought some relief to this seemingly failing company as the then newly launched Wii performed exceptionally well in the market, with its Graphic User Interface being greatly appreciated by gamers and masses alike.
It was designed for a broader general market at a time when most of the others were concentrating on targeting adults. Only by 2010, could their competition come out with products having a similar image.
Nintendo’s chief executive Satoru Iwata, a revered figure in the Japanese gaming scene, and the leading figure behind some of Nintendo’s most popular devices passed away last Saturday.
Nintendo has always tried to surprise the audience with either its marketing strategy, imaging or the sheer brilliance of its devices. Having admitted to planning for its next generation of Wii U consoles, it is yet to be seen if they can manage to reach the heights of their glory days again.
“Niiiiiintendo! Wahoo!”- Mario
– Guest Post by Shreyashi Chakrabarti
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