News of Nintendo’s demise has been swirling recently. And by “recently,” I mean since 1981, when warehouses were filled with unsold cabinets of space-shooter Radar Scope, a popular Japanese game that failed to ignite the interest of American arcade owners. (The units were retroactively programmed with a new game, about a mustachioed man’s attempts at saving his girlfriend from a barrel-tossing ape. It did okay.) But really, Nintendo was done for when their earlier forays into instant rice, taxi service, and “love hotels” failed to resonate with customers in the 1960s. In fact, the company was likely on its last legs in 1949 when Sekiryo Yamauchi, the company’s second-ever president and the founder’s son-in-law, died, leaving the 60-year-old business in the charge of his 21-year-old grandson named Hiroshi. (He did okay, too.)
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The newest head on the chopping block belongs to Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Company Limited since 2002, and the first and only leader given the reins from outside of the Yamauchi family since its founding in 1889. Under Iwata’s watchful eye the company has performed several miracles. First it introduced a strange, two-screened handheld device called the Nintendo DS that played games but also gave you a virtual puppy to pet or challenged you to daily math equations. The device was underpowered and built, it seemed, for an audience that didn’t even exist, providing answers to questions nobody thought to ask. It has sold more than 150 million units worldwide.
Then came the Wii. Strange, check. Underpowered, check. Answers to unasked questions, check. It did okay, too, with lifetime sales to date just passing the 100 million mark.
All this success brought a huge amount of money into Nintendo’s coffers. But more than that, these products and their unlikely widespread appeal expanded the notion of what a videogame could be, and with that new definition came millions of people never exposed to Nintendo before. Surely new and improved systems from The House of Mario would sell to all these millions of new fans! Iwata’s position as sage and miracle-worker was all but guaranteed.
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