Nintendo hasn’t always been a video game company. Before joining the industry, Nintendo took a stab and many other business ventures.
There’s no doubt that Nintendo is the biggest name in gaming. The company revolutionized the video game world with its groundbreaking NES system while introducing the world to some of the industry’s biggest characters. The video game giant became a household name during the late ’80s and early ’90s as Nintendo fever swept across the nation like a raging wildfire. Although Nintendo is best known for its legendary video games and innovative home consoles, it hasn’t always been a driving force in the video game industry. Nintendo has had its hands in various business ventures, ranging from traditional playing cards to ramen noodles. Some of their past endeavors even involved sleazy “love hotels” and the infamous crime organizations!
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Gamers can trace Nintendo’s origins way back to the late 19th century. The company began after Fusajiro Yamauchi started hand-painting traditional Hanafuda (Japanese card game) cards in 1889. Then known as Nintendo Koppai, the budding company quickly became the largest card company in Japan. Nintendo enjoyed major success as a card manufacturer and even met with Disney to make a deal allowing them to use popular characters on their playing cards in 1959.
After visiting America, Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president at the time, decided to expand the company outside of card manufacturing. Nintendo entered the food industry after making its own brand of instant rice. It was a complete disaster, causing Nintendo to abandon the market shortly after.
Yamauchi shifted Nintendo’s focus to love hotels. While relatively unknown in the west, love hotels were extremely popular in Japan during the ’60s and ’70s. People could rent a hotel room for a couple of hours instead of paying full price for an overnight stay. It’s rumored that Yamauchi frequented love hotels due to the many mistresses he had over the years and wanted Nintendo to capitalize on the 1960s love hotel boom by opening a string of hotels under its name. Unfortunately, the love hotel industry was ripe with unsavory characters. The Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) took an interest in Nintendo’s hotels and wanted a cut of the profits. They tried striking a deal with Nintendo allowing them to run prostitution rings inside their love hotels. Nintendo turned a blind eye to the illicit activities until leaving the industry in the mid-1960s.
While Nintendo tried its luck with love hotels, it also dived into the taxicab business. Nintendo owned the Daiya taxi service for a short time during the 1960s. It proved to be successful until labor unions drove up drivers’ salaries. Like most of its previous endeavors, Nintendo left the taxi service behind to find more lucrative opportunities.
After leaving the taxi business and a failed attempt at manufacturing vacuum cleaners, Nintendo made its way into the toy industry. By the 1970s, Nintendo started making a name for itself by releasing many popular children’s toys. Gunpei Yokoi joined the company in the mid-60s and invented a handful of successful toys that established Nintendo as one of the biggest names in Japanese toy manufacturing. As technology progressed, Nintendo started branching out into the electronics market, creating various beam gun games that would influence the NES Zapper in the upcoming years. A slew of arcade games followed that proved to be very successful in Japan.
By the late 1970s, Nintendo realized that video games might be its ticket to success. Atari consoles started becoming all the rage, and Nintendo wanted a piece of the profits. The company launched the Color TV-Game series in 1977. The simple pong various would sell over a million copies, paving Nintendo’s way into the video game industry. The rest is history.
Nintendo has an extensive and often bizarre business history, going from making traditional playing cards and owning a string of love hotels to being the most iconic name in the video game industry. The legendary company isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon as they continue to prove why they are one of the best in the business. It’s hard to imagine video games without Nintendo. Who knows? Maybe video games wouldn’t have made a resurgence if Nintendo didn’t enter the market more than 50 years ago.
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