Some say that it sucks when people give a person more respect in death than they do in life. I, unfortunately, am one of those people, especially after hearing the sad news of the sudden passing of one of gaming’s greats: Satoru Iwata. He died on July 11th at the age of 55 of a bile duct tumor that was supposedly eviscerated last year.
Iwata was CEO and President of Nintendo Co. Ltd. since 2002, succeeding Hiroshi Yamauchi, the company’s president since 1949. He was the first Nintendo president not related to Nintendo’s founding Yamauchi family by blood or marriage. He became a consultant to HAL Laboratory, the game developer he worked as a programmer after graduating from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and that worked closely with Nintendo on Kirby, EarthBound, and the Super Smash Bros. series. At the time Iwata was promoted as president and CEO, Nintendo wasn’t performing as financially well as other console producers, with their GameCube selling poorly in comparison with Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox. In 2005, Iwata helped Nintendo revitalize their handheld system, transitioning from the Game Boy to the Nintendo DS, which introduced the touchscreen (before Apple did with their iPod Touch!) and allowed for more novel games to be played on it. A year later, he introduced motion control-based gaming via the Wii, the console that nearly doubled Nintendo’s stock price. When Nintendo’s finances plummeted in 2009–we were still going through the Great Recession at this point–Iwata curtailed his salary in half to help the company’s poor finances and to better compete with Microsoft and Sony. In 2011, in order to help Nintendo improve public relations with its fans, Iwata instituted Nintendo Direct, a series of press conferences open to everybody that revealed upcoming Nintendo games and products outside of typical industry channels, which are often done in a quirky, humorous manner, like the mock fight between him and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé. I never watched any Nintendo Direct conferences on YouTube, but I am pretty aware of them. Earlier this year, as the sales of traditional home consoles were falling, Iwata placed part of Nintendo’s focus on the fast-growing mobile game market, creating a partnership with mobile provider DeNA to publish titles.
As news of Iwata’s passing quickly spread throughout the gaming community, art tributes were posted on Twitter, Tumblr, etc. with the hashtag #ThankYouIwata as symbols of their appreciation for his creativity and his passion for gaming, and his accomplishments because of it. Here are my two favorite pieces:
Forget about what I said in the beginning of this entry. It turns out I have been appreciating Iwata’s work the entire time by playing on the consoles he helped to create–the Nintendo GameCube, the Game Boy Advanced SP, the Wii, and the Nintendo 3DS. I even appreciated his suggestion of bringing Mario and Sonic together in Nintendo’s Olympic games series. Here’s the link to the EU Nintendo Direct footage of Satoru Iwata explaining Mario & Sonic at the Sochi Winter Games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI73qViGuTU
I hope that either Shigeru Miyamoto or Genyo Takeda (mostly Miyamoto) will do a great job filling Iwata’s position as President and CEO of Nintendo. Still, there will never be another man with the same brilliant mind and spark of creativity and passion as Satoru Iwata. May he rest in peace.