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Nintendo: The Complete Insider‘s Guide – History, Products, Founding and More

Hey there! If you enjoy video games, then you must know Nintendo – the legendary Japanese company behind Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and so many other beloved franchises. But do you know the full inside story of Nintendo‘s 130+ year journey to becoming a global icon?

In this complete guide, we‘ll dive deep into Nintendo‘s origins, breakthrough innovations, best-selling consoles, key figures, historic games and the factors that fueled its rise to the top.

From Playing Cards to Pioneering Game Consoles

Nintendo started in 1889 as a small business in Kyoto founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi producing and selling handmade playing cards called hanafuda. According to records, Yamauchi devised the company‘s name to mean “leave luck to heaven”.

Over the next 40 years under Yamauchi and his successors, Nintendo grew to become the largest playing card producer in Japan. It even struck a valuable deal with Disney to print playing cards featuring Disney characters in 1959.

But after several failed attempts at diversification in the 1960s, Hiroshi Yamauchi took over his grandfather’s company and led Nintendo in a bold new direction – toys and games.

Launching into Toys, Arcades and Electronics

In the 1970s, Nintendo found success as a toy company. Its early hits included the Ultra Hand grabber which sold over 1 million units in Japan alone.

According to former Nintendo developer Gunpei Yokoi, the Ultra Hand was originally conceived by maintenance engineer Yokoi as an extendable grabber for scarce holiday season stock on high shelves. Yamauchi then ordered Yokoi to develop it into a proper toy product – one that turned into a huge hit and convinced Yamauchi of Yokoi‘s talent.

Yokoi went on to spearhead the creation of iconic electronic toys like the Love Tester and a series of simple handheld games under the Game & Watch brand. Game & Watch laid the foundations for Nintendo‘s future in portable gaming with simple graphics, controls and portable form factor. According to Sales numbers, Game & Watch sold over 43 million units worldwide during its 11 year lifespan.

At the same time in 1975, Nintendo secured distribution rights for the Magnavox Odyssey – the first home video game console. This gave the company vital experience in the business of home gaming devices.

Then in 1981, a young Nintendo developer named Shigeru Miyamoto designed a new arcade game called Donkey Kong. Its huge success with over 60,000 units sold according to internal data proved there was global demand for arcade games. Nintendo decided to leap into the market headfirst.

The Launch of Famicom Spurs a Gaming Revolution

In 1983, Nintendo launched its first home video game console in Japan – the Family Computer or Famicom, featuring the games Donkey Kong and Mario Bros.

According to sales data, the Famicom/NES sold over 60 million units worldwide after its international release as the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. It became the console that defined gaming of the 1980s and put Nintendo on top.

The Famicom‘s introduction came just as the "video game crash" of 1983 hit America. But Nintendo prevailed with a serialization of game development, restricting titles on its console to only the highest quality and partnering with toy stores.

Soon the NES relaunched gaming into a booming mainstream industry thanks to iconic 8-bit games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Nintendo‘s star mascots Mario and Link became household names.

Nintendo‘s Domination of the Gaming Industry (1980s-1990s)

Throughout the late 1980s and 90s, Nintendo rose to dominate the home and portable video game markets. It fought off fierce console wars against Sega and continued expanding the reach and popularity of gaming worldwide.

Some standout events and products from this era:

Game Boy (1989) – This compact monochrome handheld created a phenomenon in portable gaming with 118 million systems sold. Tetris was the pack-in game and became a smash hit.

Super Nintendo (1990) – The 16-bit Super NES improved on NES graphics and sound capabilities. It sold over 49 million units and birthed acclaimed games like Super Mario World.

The Pokémon Franchise (1996 in Japan, 1998 Globally) – Pokémon Red and Blue on the Game Boy spearheaded a cross-media empire of video games, cards, anime, toys and films worth over $100 billion.

Nintendo 64 (1996) – Nintendo entered 3D gaming with hits like Super Mario 64 (over 11 million copies sold) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. N64 sold nearly 33 million units.

Game Boy Color (1998) – An upgraded Game Boy with color graphics ability. According to Nintendo, it achieved over 118 million units sold.

By strategically expanding its franchises across handheld and home consoles, Nintendo locked in players across both markets. But new formidable challenges emerged in the 2000s.

Pressures and Resurgence in the 2000s

The sixth generation of consoles (early 2000s) brought intensifying competition from Sony‘s massively successful PlayStation 2 and Microsoft‘s Xbox entering the fray. Nintendo still pushed boundaries with its hardware.

Game Boy Advance (2001) – The successor to Game Boy Color boasted better graphics and screen, selling over 81 million units. Connectivity with GameCube was a feature.

Nintendo GameCube (2001) – Powerful specs with innovative cubical design, but only sold 22 million units compared to over 155 million of PS2. However, it pioneered classic games like Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Nintendo DS (2004) – The dual screen handheld with touch controls proved a turning point. According to Nintendo, its 154 million units sold made DS the best-selling handheld ever.

Wii (2006) – Nintendo‘s hit seventh gen console focused on accessible motion controlled gameplay for wider appeal. As of 2022, Wii has sold over 101 million systems.

Wii Fit (2007) – The exercise game kickstarted fitness gaming, synergizing motion controls with balance boards. It remains one of the best selling games on Wii with over 22 million copies sold.

While GameCube struggled, the DS and Wii restored Nintendo as a leading console maker. By pursuing blue ocean strategies, Nintendo expanded the gaming population.

Nintendo Switch and Mobile Gaming (2010s-Today)

Nintendo has continued reinventing video game experiences, especially with its hybrid Switch console and embrace of mobile gaming.

Nintendo 3DS (2011) – This glasses-free stereoscopic 3D handheld sold over 75 million systems. Augmented reality features brought real-world play.

Nintendo Switch (2017) – Nintendo‘s current hybrid system can be played portably or docked to a TV. According to 2022 sales figures, Switch has sold over 122 million units and continues breaking records.

Pokémon GO (2016) – This globally popular augmented reality mobile game was developed by Niantic in partnership with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. It created a Pokémon gaming sensation.

Super Mario Run (2016) – Nintendo‘s first internally developed smartphone game. It marked the company‘s major strategic shift towards mobile gaming and over 300 million downloads.

Switch Lite (2019) and Switch OLED (2021) – Updated variations of the Switch providing dedicated handheld and enhanced display capabilities respectively.

Nintendo‘s experimental ethos and platform-agnostic approach with Switch and mobile has expanded its modern gaming ecosystem.

The Secret Ingredients Behind Nintendo‘s Success

Behind Nintendo‘s 130+ years of sustained industry leadership across playing cards, toys and video games are some key strategic factors:

Innovation – Nintendo consistently creates groundbreaking hardware featuring bold new ideas from R.O.B. to motion controls. Its drive to innovate gives products like Wii and Switch their magic.

Quality Games – Focusing on masterful gameplay and design above all else has allowed Nintendo to birth acclaimed, best-selling franchises across decades. Mario and Zelda games define multiple generations.

Powerful IP – Characters like Mario, Link and Pikachu are pop culture icons recognized globally. Nintendo builds tremendous lifetime value from its IP.

Portability – Dedication to handheld gaming since Game & Watch allowed Nintendo to take gaming on the go mainstream with Game Boy and now Switch.

Mass Appeal – From aged fans to kids, Nintendo consoles and games offer universal fun. Accessible content and multiplayer allow wide enjoyment.

This winning formula of creativity, craftsmanship and strategic consistency is why Nintendo remains loved worldwide even after 130 years.

The Past, Present and Future of Nintendo

From humble playing card business in 1889 to a future metaverse gaming giant, Nintendo has ceaselessly captivated fans across generations.

Some key stats on Nintendo‘s incredible gaming legacy:

  • Franchise Sales – Mario has sold over 660 million games, Zelda over 350 million and Pokémon franchises over 440 million
  • Software Units – Nintendo has moved over 4.9 billion software units total
  • Hardware Units – Over 800 million Nintendo hardware consoles have been sold to date

Looking back, Nintendo evolved from a playing card company to almost single-handedly resurrecting video games with NES after the 1983 crash. It then expanded gaming globally through revolutionary consoles like SNES, Game Boy and Wii.

Zooming forward, Nintendo continues driving innovation and expanding gaming experiences into VR, mobile and web3frontiers with its universally appealing interactive worlds and lovable characters.

So whether you get lost in Mario‘s mushrooms or catch Pokémon on the go, Nintendo‘s magic will endure for many golden eras to come!


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