An old quote reveals Gunpei Yokoi didn't leave Nintendo because of the Virtual Boy's failure


‘I wanted to become independent’

Gunpei Yokoi is famously known as the man behind the creation of Nintendo’s massively successful Game Boy. He also ended up working on the Virtual Boy, which is considered Nintendo’s biggest flop to date. Shortly after the release of the “VR” headset, Yokoi had left Nintendo to pursuit other interests. The prevailing theory was that Yokoi was asked to retire due to how colossally awful the Virtual Boy performed, but that turns out to have been just an assumption.

According to an interview from a 1996 November issue of Japanese magazine Bungeishunju (which was recently published online by Livedoor and translated by Kotaku), Yokoi left the company to seek other creative avenues. “After graduating from university, I was at Nintendo the entire time working on playthings,” Yokoi stated, “but at the 55-year-old juncture, I thought about working at a job that would allow me even more freedom with my ideas.”

Japanese financial newspaper, The Nikkei, had done a feature on Yokoi the day before his retirement from Nintendo. In its report, they had falsely assumed that Yokoi was stepping down to take responsibility for the Virtual Boy’s failure. “In reality,” Yokoi clarified, “I did not resign to ‘take responsibility for the Virtual Boy’s failure.’ Since before that, I was thinking that when I turned 55, I wanted to become independent.”

Yokoi then elaborated on what he meant. “I came up with a lifetime of ideas and continued making playthings. To continue tweaking Nintendo’s corporate philosophy of ‘niche-type playthings’ – that’s the only reason I resigned.”

While Yokoi’s life was cut short in 1997 due to a traffic accident, the man did found his own company, called Koto Laboratory, and worked on Bandai’s WonderSwan handheld before passing. That didn’t see an official release until 1999, but his legacy for creative and engaging portable software could be seen in every facet of the device.

55歳で独立したかった?ゲームボーイ開発者が任天堂を退職した訳 [Livedoor via Kotaku]