The games industry is today mourning the loss of one of its greatest.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata on Saturday died of cancer of the bile duct at the age of 55. His struggle with ill health first came to light when it was confirmed it was going to miss E3 last year. He underwent surgery in June 2014 but returned to work in the autumn.
Iwata was a developer at heart and always remained hands-on with Nintendo’s software projects, helping to lend them that unique Nintendo quality that makes the company’s so output so uniquely recognisable.
Having become close to previous Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, Iwata was the first person outside of the famous Yamauchi family to be handed the reigns at Nintendo when he became the company’s fourth president in 2002.
His crowning achievements were undoubtedly the global success of the Wii and DS. The Wii, in particular, was a watershed moment for gaming, expanding its appeal beyond the traditional boundaries and elevating it to a staple of the modern living room.
He also, of course, oversaw the Wii U and its failure.
Arguably none of these are the things that really defined Iwata, however. In an age where publishers will close studios and sack hundreds at the drop of a hat to remove a couple of red numbers from a spreadsheet, Iwata was a rare exec who recognised the importance of both talent and happiness.
If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results employee morale will decrease and I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world,” the charismatic exec famously told investors in 2013.
We should of course cut unnecessary costs and pursue efficient business operations. I also know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to improve their financial performance by letting a number of their employees go, but at Nintendo, employees make valuable contributions in their respective fields, so I believe that laying off a group of employees will not help to strengthen Nintendo’s business in the long run.”
In 2011 he cut his own salary in half to help preserve the jobs of those ‘below’ him.
Remember, too, that in an age where many gaming executives barely feel permitted to pass wind without the prior approval of their press departments, Iwata was the man who pioneered direct contact with his company’s fans via the always wacky Nintendo Directs. Seriously, check out this year’s E3 Digital Event.
The industry will be far, far poorer for this man’s loss.
There is still more to play out before his legacy can be truly understood, however. Iwata has spearheaded Nintendo’s approaching move onto mobile phones after enduring increasing pressure from investors and analysts to do so. He has also overseen the development of the still mysterious NX console.
In my head, I am a game developer,” he said in 2005, But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
The flag at Nintendo’s Kyoto HQ is flying half-mast today to mark the sad news. Two directors currently remain at Nintendo – Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda
Here’s a selection of industry tributes from across social media:
In remembrance of Mr. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo will not be posting on our social media channels today. pic.twitter.com/N2kR0OKEXh
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) July 13, 2015
Sad day for Iwata-san’s family, friends, and gamers everywhere. His passion, creativity & leadership elevated our industry.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) July 13, 2015
Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata.
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) July 13, 2015
In my heart forever.http://t.co/w4cYNscXFy
— 神谷英樹 Hideki Kamiya (@PG_kamiya) July 13, 2015
— E3 (@E3) July 13, 2015
I had the chance to meet Iwata-san at E3 one year, and he was such a gentleman as I fan boyed out. Today the industry lost a huge force. 😞
— Larry Hryb (@majornelson) July 13, 2015
"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." – Iwata-san
— Bungie (@Bungie) July 13, 2015
RIP Iwata-san, we owe you much – you will be missed.
— Treyarch Studios (@Treyarch) July 13, 2015
I am beyond heartbroken to hear about the passing of my friend Satoru Iwata. He was a gamer, a developer and a champion for our medium. RIP
— Geoff Keighley (@geoffkeighley) July 13, 2015
— Robert Bowling (@fourzerotwo) July 13, 2015