Sa­toru Iwata

1959–2015

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A salute to the Nintendo vi­sion­ary and pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for play

Sa­toru Iwata, who died on July 11 aged 55 fol­low­ing a bat­tle with can­cer, leaves be­hind no sin­gle crown­ing achieve­ment, but an im­mense legacy. He joined Nintendo from HAL in 2000, and two years later, aged 42, suc­ceeded Hiroshi Ya­mauchi as com­pany pres­i­dent and CEO. A warm, hum­ble and funny man, he was in many ways the op­po­site of his pre­de­ces­sor. And he not only adored videogames, but un­der­stood them on a gran­u­lar level. A re­mark­able pro­gram­mer, his work ex­tended from high-school ex­per­i­ments on pocket cal­cu­la­tors to his hands-on work tweak­ing a Bal­loon Fight minigame in Wii U launch ti­tle Nintendo Land.

Not only did he un­der­stand how games were made, he be­lieved pas­sion­ately in their po­ten­tial, too, and his de­sire to broaden the medium’s reach led to the cre­ation of DS and Wii. Un­der his stew­ard­ship, Nintendo pi­o­neered touch and mo­tion con­trols, sold in ex­cess of 250 mil­lion sys­tems, vastly ex­panded the videogame in­dus­try’s de­mo­graphic, and saw its stock price soar.

His other ini­tia­tives may not have yielded such no­table suc­cess, but all bear his mark. The Iwata Asks devel­oper in­ter­views put cre­atives on cen­tre stage long be­fore it was fash­ion­able. Nintendo Di­rect broad­casts let the com­pany speak di­rectly to play­ers and es­cape the re­stric­tive hype cy­cle of trade shows. With the NX con­sole, a DeNA deal for smart­phone games and his mys­te­ri­ous Qual­ity Of Life ini­tia­tive all in progress, his in­flu­ence will live on at Nintendo for a while yet – and, we hope, long af­ter those projects have come and gone.

Nintendo an­nounced Iwata’s pass­ing on July 13. The out­pour­ing of grief on so­cial media was im­me­di­ate, wide­spread and truly heart­felt, both from the few who knew him and the many who felt like they did. Videogames, for all the pace of their change, rep­re­sent a young in­dus­try. We’re not yet ac­cus­tomed to los­ing our giants. And we don’t as­so­ciate such sad­ness with a medium that of­fers so much plea­sure. Few in­volved in its evo­lu­tion have given us as much as Sa­toru Iwata.

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