Today is a sad day for all gamers and fans of Nintendo in particular. Last night Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away of a bile duct growth. He was 55 years old.
Normally I don’t comment on these sorts of issues. This website was always supposed to be a forum for my writing first and foremost and not a place for real world news but in many ways Mr. Iwata was such a huge source of inspiration to me over the years it would be callous of me to ignore it. The games he brought into my life were sources of inspiration to me at times when I had all but lost hope. They reminded me of the importance of fun and for that I will always be grateful.
Since becoming Nintendo’s president in 2002, Mr. Iwata helped to spearhead the Japanese company’s return to dominance within a video game industry which had all but forgotten the name Nintendo. His work and his games were a huge inspiration to me and his absence will sorely be missed.
During his life, Mr. Iwata spent most of his career working at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory. As a coder he had a huge role to play in classic titles such as EarthBound, Kirby, Balloon Trip and Smash Bros. As president of Nintendo, he oversaw the launch of the DS, a portable console which went on to sell over 150 million units worldwide and open up the gaming field to a wider audience for the first time.
The Nintendo Wii followed in 2006. At first the gaming industry was skeptical of the idea of motion control game-play, especially coming from a home console which seemed to eschew graphical fidelity in exchange for an innovative control method, but Iwata-san was quick to defend the idea.
“Making games look more photorealistic is not the only means of improving the game experience,” he said in 2005 at a game developers conference. “I know on this point I risk being misunderstood, so remember, I am a man who once programmed a baseball game with no baseball players. If anyone appreciates graphics, it’s me! But my point is that this is just one path to improved game. We need to find others. Improvement has more than one definition.”
He was right. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units during its lifetime, dominating the global market for almost half a decade and putting Nintendo back on the map.
Mr. Iwata was notable as a president for his unconventional way of thinking. Not only was he never afraid to clown around and have fun (as the pictures on his page should nicely demonstrate) but he was also extremely honorable in the way he handled his business. When, in 2013, Nintendo shareholders demanded that Iwata cut staff in order to make up for disappointing year-end results, Iwata bravely refused to do so.
“If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” Iwata told the shareholders that year. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” Nintendo cut no staff and instead Iwata-san personally took a 50% pay cut to apologize for the less-than-satisfactory sales results.
It was this approach that characterized Iwata’s time in charge of Nintendo. Was he a perfect CEO? No. As any gaming critic will tell you, a lot of Nintendo’s decisions over the years often appeared out of touch and misguided. But he was a good man and a good manager above all. He led by example and was never afraid to put his own neck on the line in order to help his beloved Nintendo. I can’t help but respect a man who worked so tireless all the way to the end of his life. I’m sure that Iwata-san knew for some time that he was suffering from this condition and that it would likely lead to his death, yet never once did he allow any weakness to show. He worked right up until the end, securing in the last few months of his life deals with mobile giant DeNA and Universal Studios theme parks which I am sure will have a huge impact on Nintendo’s fortunes for years to come.
He was a likeable man. He clearly loved video games and he adored the fact that he was working in a job where he could make them every day.
“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
RIP Mr. Iwata. You left an indelible mark on all of gaming. You will be missed.
Special thanks to The Guardian for the quotes used in this article.