Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Game Boy Creator Said He Didn't Leave Nintendo Because Of The Virtual Boy

Gunpei Yokoi’s last major release at Nintendo was the Virtual Boy. It was a disaster, and there has long been speculation that it caused Yokoi to resign. In an article he wrote before his tragic death, Yokoi explained why he left the company. The Virtual Boy’s failure was not the reason.


The Virtual Boy was released in Japan on July 21, 1995, to dizzy players and poor sales. Nintendo forecasted 3 million units sold for its first holiday season, but a year after release, it was discontinued. Yokoi left Nintendo on August 15, 1996, less than a month before his 55th birthday. He then set up his own company called Koto and worked on the WonderSwan handheld for Bandai.


In the November 1996 issue of Japanese magazine Bungeishunju, which Livedoor recently republished, Yokoi addressed the issue and also discussed his career.

“After over thirty years, I left Nintendo,” Yokoi wrote. “After graduating from university, I was at Nintendo the entire time working on playthings, but at the 55-year-old juncture, I thought about working at a job that would allow me even more freedom with my ideas.”

Yokoi was ready for a new phase in his long career. However, with the recent Virtual Boy disaster, the optics were not good.

“The day before I retired [from Nintendo], The Nikkei did a big feature on me,” Yokoi wrote, adding that the paper said he was doing so to take responsibility for the Virtual Boy’s failure. “In reality,” Yokoi continued, “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.”

“To put it another way,” Yokoi wrote later in the article, “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.”


It sounds like Yokoi was referring to “lateral thinking” with mature, inexpensive technology to focus on fun gameplay, which is something his former company continues to do to this day.

Sadly, however, Yokoi’s post-Nintendo career was cut short when he was killed in a traffic accident on October 4, 1997, at the age of 56.


Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



I love my Virtual Boy. I did get it for $30 on clearance, but Teleroboxer marathons with my brother are a great memory. I still have it on display. It’s biggest flaw was there was no comfortable way to position yourself to use it (we laid on our stomachs on the floor, which was the best of the poor options).