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Former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi dies at 85

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(Credit: AP)

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who transformed Nintendo from a playing card company into a video game powerhouse, has died at the age of 85 from pneumonia.

Yamauchi not only transformed Nintendo, he transformed the entire games industry, rescuing it from the brink of obsolescence in the 1980s. He ran the company for 53 years, overseeing four generations of home consoles -- the NES, SNES, N64 and Gamecube -- before handing the reins to Satoru Iwata in 2002.

Yamauchi started with Nintendo in 1949 and spent more than half of that time focused on collectable cards. In the early 1980s, though, he spotted an opportunity in electronic entertainment. The company never looked back.

The Nintendo Entertainment System helped the gaming industry pull out of the nosedive following the disastrous collapse of Atari. By pioneering the concept of having publishers sign exclusive deals and establishing quality control checks of software, Nintendo was able to bring the good times back to games, leading the charge with titles like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

Yamauchi himself did not have a background in video game development, once admitting to preferring the ancient Japanese game of "Go" over any video game. However, he had a keen eye for what players would want and was integral to deciding which games were good enough for the NES.

Nintendo, in a statement, said it was mourning the "loss of the former Nintendo president Mr Hiroshi Yamauchi, who sadly passed away this morning."

Yamauchi not only transformed Nintendo, he played an important role in bringing Sony’s PlayStation into existence. Sony and Nintendo originally planned to work together to build CD-ROM drive for the Super Nintendo. At the last minute, though, Yamauchi balked and walked away from the deal. That eventually led Sony to launch its own competing system.

Yamauchi was a businessman who saw the potential in games, and not just electronic ones. As one of Japan's richest men, he bought the Seattle Mariners in 1992, calling it "a form of community service."

"Japan has the United States to thank for its miraculous postwar recovery and economic growth, and Nintendo has also been allowed to do business in America," he said at the time. "I owe a great debt to the United States and I want to do everything in my power to pay it back."

In 2004, Yamauchi transferred ownership of the team to Nintendo of America.
The following year, he left Nintendo entirely. When he died, Yamauchi was still the company's second-largest shareholder.

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