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Nintendo's Success Is an Open Book

August 19, 1993|Doug Esser | Associated Press

When Minoru Arakawa was trying to bring his father-in-law's successful video game business, Nintendo, to the United States in the early 1980s, he leased a warehouse in Seattle to build arcade consoles for the oddly named "Donkey Kong" game.

One particular challenge for Arakawa and his small staff was to name the little red-capped carpenter who battled the ape.

There was a knock on the door. It was the landlord, Mario, angry that the rent was late. Arakawa promised the money. He also borrowed the name, Mario, for the character that has become as well known to children as Mickey Mouse.

Naming Mario may have been the only thing left to chance in building the video game empire, according to David Sheff's "Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children" (Random House, $25).

This book is about building a big business. Last year Nintendo had 80% of the $5.3-billion video industry in the United States. The Nintendo Entertainment System is in a third of all U.S. households, altering family life and American culture.

The book details how Arakawa's father-in-law, Hiroshi Yamauchi, took the family's Japanese playing card business to a higher level, marketing electronic toys that swept the world.

In telling the story of Nintendo, Sheff also outlines the history of the video game business and shows where it may go in the future. The stories of Atari and other video companies are told, and the pioneers of game programming are profiled. The creator of Tetris, which made billions of dollars for license holders, was given one AT-style computer as his reward by the Soviets.

There is so much detail among this book's 445 pages that readers may tire of the blow-by-blow account of a court battle over licensing rights. The essential fact of Nintendo's success is that it controls both the hardware and the software.


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