Nintendo: How the Gaming Giant Finally Embraced Success

It’s one of the best known video game companies in the world, but Nintendo didn’t get its start with the birth of Super Mario. Nintendo’s corporate history actually dates back to 1889, and the creative juices haven’t stopped flowing since.

Nintendo has always had a foothold in gaming, but in the 1800s that meant playing cards, not electronics. Cards were its sole business all the way up to 1963, when it branched out into a huge collection of new industries. Some of these, like board games and books, made natural sense. Others, like selling a brand of instant rice, marketing a robot vacuum cleaner, and operating a taxi service, didn’t exactly fit the mold. Nintendo’s fortunes sagged in the 1960s after a string of these ill-advised business ventures failed.

Still, Nintendo management knew that playing cards would not keep the company alive forever and it kept feverishly iterating at diversification. Success finally arrived when Nintendo found a more natural companion: children’s toys. While it started with cheap plastic doodads, Nintendo segued into electronic pursuits by the mid-1970s with the rise of personal computers. By 1977, it had released its first home gaming system, a primitive Pong competitor that was the first step toward turning Nintendo into a worldwide sensation.

This year, video-gamedom’s most famous plumber, Mario, celebrates his 44th birthday, while his creators look back on more than 200 million video game units sold featuring his smiling, mustachioed face.


In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, we look at Eight Global Brands That Stand for Spectacular Reinvention. Check all eight stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.