What can I say it’s been a really sad day, a day that has seen the games industry lose one of its most passionate and gifted voices, in Satoru Iwata’s passing at the age of 55. He was a personal hero of mine for a variety of reasons, but none more so than his passion and desire to make gaming as inclusive as it could possibly be. Something he truly achieved, and something that is clearly one of his most important lasting legacies. Though its clearly not his only legacy.
Through his approachable and understanding personality, Satoru Iwata spoke directly to the gaming industry, and always personally spoke directly to me. The one thing that always came to the forefront was his passion for gaming and the industry, and ultimately this passion became the driving force for all of his achievements. This passion was always clearly seen at the forefront when listening to him talk, or through the direction he guided both Hal Laboratory, and Nintendo as a whole. That passion was most clearly seen through a quote from the now famous speech he gave at the 2005 Game Developer’s Conference Keynote:
“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.”
Satoru Iwata grew up in Sapporo, Hokkaido in Northern Japan, and always had a flair and passion for gaming and programming. A flair he used to create simple games on his programmable computer, before studying Computer Science at the prestigious Tokyo Institute of Technology. Following his studies he joined the small fledgling company Hal Laboratory full time as only their fifth member, a company he helped found with likeminded friends he met in Tokyo’s famous electronics district Akihabara. This decision to join a startup company focusing in video games, worried his father who was the mayor of Sapporo. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop him, as he always believed in his passion for video games the future of the industry. At Hal laboratory, in his own words, he and the other members did everything from programming, to marketing, to grabbing the take away dinners.
After seeing Nintendo’s reveal of the Famicom, Hal and Iwata focused all their attention on creating games for Nintendo’s flagship console. Iwata quickly became a key component of Hal’s early success, and one of the prime reasons for their close ties with Nintendo, programming games such as Balloon Fight for Nintendo during this time. Despite this success, Hal laboratory came into troubles in the early 90s, and had to be saved by Nintendo, and its President Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was impressed with their work. Hal were saved on the the agreement that they would create games for Nintendo exclusively. There was also one other condition with regard to the aid. Yamauchi personally requested Iwata became President, due to the faith Yamauchi had in his abilities.
This proved to be an excellent decision and under Iwata Hal flourished, turning the companies financial situation around, whilst making Hal Laboratory one of Nintendo’s closest lasting affiliates. Under Iwata’s leadership, Hal would go on to forge even closer ties with Nintendo, and through these ties and Iwata’s leadership, Hal went on to develop some of Nintendo’s key franchises, such as Kirby, Super Smash Bros., and Earthbound/Mother. In addition despite being President, he carried on his programming work, famously programming Pokemon Gold /Silver to allow both Johto and Kanto to fit onto the same cartridge, and was heavily involved in the Pokémon brand and its development from the start.
Due to this success and Yamauchi’s belief in Iwata’s ability, Satoru Iwata was offered a full time position with Nintendo as their Head of Corporate Planning in 2000, and only 2 years later was personally chosen to succeed Yamauchi as Nintendo President. This also made him the first President to not be from the Yamauchi family. Nevertheless, Yamauchi believed Iwata’s sound business acumen, development background, and most important, his passion for making gaming as inclusive as possible, would make him the best man to lead Nintendo forward. This proved to also be an impeccable decision for Nintendo, Iwata, and the gaming industry as a whole, and under Iwata Nintendo went on to regain the glory it held during the 80s.
The DS and the Wii were two consoles that were spearheaded by Iwata’s vision for inclusive gaming, and were part of a Blue Ocean business strategy, that looked to widen the gaming population by focusing on markets yet to be discovered. This proved to be a massive success, with both the DS and Wii taking the market by storm, something Microsoft and Sony had not foreseen. These consoles returned Nintendo to the top of the games industry, and opened up gaming to many people who had never even considered playing a game before.
During his time at Nintendo, Iwata also continued his personal, approachable, and believable manner, not only to the people he worked with but also to every single Nintendo fan, connecting them even more with the company they love. This was clearly seen through his decision not only to introduce the regular Nintendo Direct events, in order for Nintendo to talk directly to their fans, but also through his decision to personally host them. This is also further seen through the insightful and engaging Iwata Asks interviews, that he again personally hosted so that fans could get a greater insight into the making of Nintendo’s titles.
But this is just a snapshot of the achievements of one of the greatest people to ever be a part of the gaming industry. He opened up gaming to entirely new populations, and passed on his passion for gaming to every single Nintendo fan, and even to some who weren’t. He saw Nintendo through its highest times, and some of its lowest, but never gave up his passion still working right up to his death, and he leaves Nintendo back on the rise again. Acting director’s Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto have said they are determined to continuing Iwata’s vision and direction, and this can only see Nintendo continue on its upward trent.
Fun and personable, but also serious and hard-working. Satoru Iwata passionately believed in the industry and everything he contributed to it, and his decisions proved not only to be the best decisions for the fans, but also for the industry as a whole. He also always looked like he was enjoying himself, something we can all aspire to. I suppose the best way to leave this, is to end as I began, with another of Satoru Iwata’s many famous quotes, and one that sums up everything that is right with gaming, and everything this industry should aspire to:
“Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: Fun for everyone.”
Gone but not forgotten. Thank you for everything President Iwata.