Igo© Nintendo Life

The world of video games, like any other, is full of seemingly inconsequential moments which cause ripples that become shockwaves that can determine not just the course of a single company, but the entire industry.

With Nintendo, there are numerous moments like this; Gunpei Yokoi’s prototype grabbing toy becoming the company’s first million-selling gadget in the form of the ‘Ultra Hand’ and turning Nintendo from humble playing-card maker to wildly successful toy firm virtually overnight is one example. Another is the last-gasp success of Donkey Kong, a game created by the then-unknown Shigeru Miyamoto with the intention of clearing stock of unsold Radar Scope arcade cabinets in North America. Had neither of these events transpired, then Nintendo’s future would have been very, very different.

Nintendo’s number two guy, Hiroshi Imanishi, came out and told everybody, ‘No, you guys do not know anything about how to make Nintendo games, and you will not make Nintendo games.’ I mean Square and Enix, are you kidding me?

However, for every significant historical event, there are perhaps just as many which go largely unnoticed, as do the people who were instrumental in making them happen. Allan Scarff isn’t a name you’ll see mentioned in the same breath as Miyamoto, Toru Iwatani or Satoru Iwata, but this unassuming Englishman nonetheless had a significant role to play in the world of video games – and in the history of Nintendo in particular.

Scarff may not be a household name, but he was unwittingly instrumental in opening up the third-party licencing business for Nintendo’s Famicom in Japan at a time when the company had locked down access to just a handful of external developers and publishers. The burgeoning Japanese personal computer game market was home to some significant companies, but they weren’t making games for consoles like the Famicom, which represented a huge potential audience thanks to its incredible success in Japan following its launch in 1983.

“The five biggest publishers of [personal] computer games went to Nintendo,” Bullet-Proof Software founder Henk Rogers explained to John Szczepaniak for his seminal Untold History of Japanese Game Developers series. “That would be [us], Square, Falcom, Enix, and I think… T&E Software. So five of us, the presidents of these companies, all went to Nintendo to ask to become Nintendo publishers. And Nintendo’s number two guy, Hiroshi Imanishi, came out and told everybody, ‘No, you guys do not know anything about how to make Nintendo games, and you will not make Nintendo games.’ I mean Square and Enix, are you kidding me? These end up becoming the biggest publishers in the Nintendo business!”



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