Before They Were Game-ous: The Non-Gaming Beginnings of Well-Known Game Companies

By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief

The vast majority of video game developers and publishers have been in the gaming business in some form since they day they first opened their doors. However, some were formed for very different reasons, only to venture into video games down the road. Here are a few noteworthy examples of the latter.
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Nintendo

Founded: 1889
Game-ous for:
Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda
nin

Original type of business: Nintendo was one of the first companies to capitalize on Japan lifting its longtime ban on playing cards, becoming the country’s premier (legal) manufacturer of hanafuda cards. In the 1960’s, Nintendo experimented with a variety of different business ventures, including instance rice, taxi services and love hotels (which are exactly what you think they are). Most notable, however, was their venture into toys in 1966, which eventually evolved into mechanical and then electronic games.
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Taito

Founded: 1953
Game-ous for:
Space Invaders, Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble
vend

Original type of business: Despite being a Japanese company, Taito was actually founded by a Russian businessman as a vending machine importer and distributor. The company then began to lease jukeboxes, and eventually began manufacturing their own. In the 1960’s they expanded even further, now producing electro-mechanical arcade machines, before finally creating arcade games beginning in the early 70’s.
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Namco

Founded: 1955
Game-ous for:
Pac-Man, Ridge Racer, Soulcalibur
IMG_5181

Original type of business: Nakamaru Manufacturing, as it was originally called, began as the manufacturer and operator of children’s rides that were located on the rooftop of a Japanese department store. As the business expanded, they eventually changed their name to Nakamaru Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, or “Namco” for short. They first entered the video game world when they used purchased the struggling Atari Japan in 1974.
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Konami

Founded: 1969
Game-ous for:
Contra, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid
Jukebox
Original type of business: Initially a jukebox rental and repair company, they shifted gears to developing arcade machines in 1973…although they wouldn’t release their first game for nearly five years. That’s a lot of R&D time–good thing it ended up paying off.
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Hudson Soft

Founded: 1973
Game-ous for:
Bomberman, Adventure Island, Bonk’s Adventure
hudson
Original type of business: CQ Hudson was a Japanese shop that sold radio telecommunication devices, as well as art photography because why not? The store began carrying computer-related products–including games–in 1975, and three years later, “Hudson Soft” began making and selling their own software.
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Enix

Founded: 1975
Game-ous for:
Dragon Quest/Warrior, ActRaiser, Star Ocean

realestate
Original type of business: Enix wasn’t even in the ballpark of video games, arcade machines, computers, or consumer electronics of any kind for its first seven years in existence – it was a publisher of newspapers of local real estate listings. When their attempts to became a nationwide paper in 1982 fell apart, they decided to venture into the booming video game business by holding a game design contest. One of the winners was a young freelance journalist named Yuji Hori who decided to give programming a shot. He would go on to be the creator of one of Japan’s most successful game franchises of all time–Dragon Quest–just four years later.
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Vic Tokai

Founded: 1977
Game-ous for:
Clash at Demonhead, Golgo 13, Decap Attack

cable
Original type of business: Vic Tokai was a division of the Japanese gas utility provider Tokai that handled the company’s cable TV business–the “Vic” stood for “Visual Information and Communication.” The company moved into computer hardware sales and business software in 1982, which also lead to its decade-long dalliance in video games that ended in 1998. Tokai Communications, however, has remained an active company post-video games and is still in operation to this day, providing cable TV and high-speed internet.
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