Trivia

Hard

Which Video Game Company Got Their Start Manufacturing Playing Cards?

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Nintendo
Atari
Sega
The company name plate at the ancient headquarters of Nintendo Card games in Kyoto, Japan.
Eckhard Pecher/Wikimedia

Answer: Nintendo

The majority of modern video game companies got their start in the latter part of the 20th century with the rise in popularity of arcade gaming followed by console gaming. Nintendo, however, can trace its roots all the way back to the late 19th century. Long before they dreamed up monkeys throwing barrels and plumbers saving princesses, Nintendo was the leading supplier of playing cards in Japan.

In the fall of 1889, Fusajiro Yamauchi opened the doors of Nintendo Koppai. The company’s entire product line was comprised of handmade Hanafuda cards—Hanafuda, literally “flower cards”, are the Japanese equivalent of poker cards and used for a variety of games of strategy and chance. Yamauchi’s cards became so popular that he quickly expanded the company to meet the demand. Over the next century, Nintendo would grow to become the most popular playing card company in Japan.

By the mid 1960s, however, the market was waning and Nintendo was searching for new markets to break into. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Fusajiro’s great grandson and eventual successor, was conducting a tour of one of his factories when he saw a mechanical arm that one of the maintenance engineers had designed solely to entertain himself and the other engineers.

Seeing the mechanical arm as a way to greatly expand into the fast-paced Japanese toy market, Yamauchi tasked the engineer, Gunpei Yokoi, with creating a mass market version in time for the Christmas rush. The toy, known as the “Ultra Hand”, was a huge success. With Yokoi transferred from maintenance and firmly ensconced in product development, Nintendo went on to develop all manner of mechanical and electronic toys.

In 1977, Nintendo hired Shigeru Miyamoto, unaware that this new and promising employee would go on to become one of the most iconic and influential game designers in the history of gaming. Together, Miyamoto and Yokoi were pivotal in leading the development of Nintendo’s burgeoning expansion into the video game market. After years of designing and testing, Nintendo released the Famicom (what Westerners would come to know as the Nintendo Entertainment System). Nintendo went on to sell nearly 62 million NES/Famicon units worldwide, laying the foundation for their future successes in the gaming industry.

Although Nintendo is now known as one of the leading console makers in the world, they’ve never abandoned their roots. For the last approximate 130 odd years, Nintendo has continually produced playing cards and, to this day, hosts a bridge tournament known as the “Nintendo Cup”.

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