Iwata became the 4th President of Nintendo in May of 2002, after the retirement of Hiroshi Yamauchi. Just before Iwata’s reign at Nintendo, the company was faltering due to the apparent flop of the Nintendo Gamecube (despite the low profit margins, highly successful games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, Resident Evil 4, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker/Twilight Princess were all released on the GCN). Sales of their newest home console were struggling to keep up with the vastly popular Playstation 2, and Xbox. Iwata rose to power at a time of great struggle, and if events were to keep playing out, it would lead to decline and possible bankruptcy. With his bold, forward thinking, Iwata revived Nintendo and birthed a new insight into the company’s business outlook. Iwata pressed the development and oversaw the creation of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii - two systems that redefined the way games were inherently played and experienced. The Nintendo DS managed to not only remain on par with Sony’s Playstation Portable - it soared above and beyond expectations and evolved (literally with the different DS iterations released) as one of the most popular handheld gaming devices in the world. The DS was the physical personification of Iwata’s personal belief of the way he viewed game creation:
Innovation: “Something different from what has come before?” Intuitive: “Does control of the game...seem natural?” Inviting: “Do you want to spend time in this world?” Interface: “Can the player connect in new ways?” (Quotes from Iwata’s 2005 Keynote speech at the GDC).
The DS was the perfect forefront to introduce to the gaming industry his wild ideas and way of thinking. Nintendo’s success wasn’t just credited to the Nintendo DS; another radical console saved the company from further decline and pushed it— and the industry as a whole—onto another adventure filled with prosperity.
People loved and appreciated Iwata for saving Nintendo from potential failure, but more importantly, people also loved his approachable demeanour and kind-hearted soul. The biggest example of this is at the end of the fiscal year of December of 2013, when Nintendo saw a 30 percent loss in profits. This was attributed to the Wii U being overshadowed by the more technologically powerful Playstation 4 and Xbox One. In most cases, when a large corporation such as Nintendo took a heavy hit like that, layoffs would come shortly thereafter to compensate for the losses. Iwata didn’t do such a thing; for once in a very long time, the fans and gaming industry could see how he understood a move like that would not only be terrible for business, but be a terrible thing to do to another person. He never viewed his employees and colleges as numbers in the grand scheme of profit charts. He took a 50 percent pay cut to ensure that not a single one of his workers would be laid-off during this time of struggle. Not only did he take the pay cut, but he made all the other executives take 20-30 percent pay cuts to ensure the job security of all the other Nintendo employees. How many executives would do that? How many have acted in such a selfless way to ensure company morale in such arduous times? Iwata cared about every person’s livelihood enough to go beyond the presumed expectations of company executives, to ensure the survival of his deep-seated belief that, "Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing: Fun for everyone."
I never had the honor of meeting Iwata in person, but I always felt I knew him when I watched his candid appearances in Nintendo Directs and the personal interviews he conducted in Iwata Asks. His humor and inner child would always shine, through his candid appearance and the occasional banana bunch in hand. Despite him appearing on prerecorded messages, I always felt like I was a VIP having a private showing. He had a special, quirky personality that made it easy for so many people to connect and relate with him. We could always revel in his eagerness when he showed viewers new projects, behind-the-scene interviews, or updates on future releases. His direct engagement with the fans during every appearance of his made me respect his boldness to put his face as the name of Nintendo, and it spoke volumes about his outstanding character. He never shied away from cracking a joke, dressing up as Nintendo characters, or even having a staged fight with Reggie Fils-Aimé (Nintendo of America’s President) to fuel the fans hype for Super Smash Bros 4. Iwata was just as enthusiastic as the fans watching his silly shenanigans on-screen. I think that’s one of the reasons why so many people around the world appreciated him: he acted like a nerd and wanted to reach out to as many like-minded people as he could.
Satoru Iwata sums himself up the best, “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.”
Rest in peace you banana loving nerd. We all love you, and we will honor your legacy by remembering, and celebrating the life and passion you left for us to discover and experience in this world.
If there’s anyone wanting to share their stories and tribute to Satoru Iwata, there is an official Miiverse post where you can share with Nintendo your way of loving and appreciating everything Iwata left behind.