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.