We are unlikely to see another company VP like Satoru Iwata.
You’ve probably read the stories and legends about the man that led Nintendo for the past 13 years. From how he squeeze two Pokmon games into one for the acclaimed Gold and Silver, how he reportedly rolled up his sleeve and meddled in the development of Nintendo Land despite almost certainly having more important things to do, or how he coded the entire battle system of Pokmon Stadium in a week.
A gifted programmer and business leader, the affable Earthbound and Kirby coder is the man credited for turning around Nintendo’s ailing business with the launch of Wii and DS.
Those two consoles have defined the tributes paid to Mr Iwata, while solicitous words are shared about the comparative failures of the 3DS and Wii U.
But the reality is that hardware sales numbers – and even some of the wonderful games he programmed – were not Iwata’s biggest career achievements. Wii and DS, with their bizarre control inputs, silly names and underpowered architecture, could easily have been big failures, just as Wii U and 3DS – sequels to hugely successful consoles that utilised popular technology trends (tablets and 3D respectively) – could quite easily have been massive sellers. The success or failure of a console can be a difficult thing to predict.
Iwata’s legacy is far more than commercial performance. This is a man who told a shareholder how he would not restructure his creative teams just to boost share price, believing that the threat of redundancy would damage creativity and not encourage it. He would rather slash his own wages and those of his senior management team – which he did – rather than let anyone go. This is a CEO that believed the most important thing in the world was making a great game, not adding an extra wing to his mansion. As a result, Iwata’s legacy is building an environment that saw all-time classics like Metroid Prime, Mario Galaxy, Zelda: Wind Waker, Pikmin, Wii Sports, Super Mario 3D World, A Link Between Worlds, Wii Fit and Luigi’s Mansion introduced to the world.
I never met Iwata. But like many of his admirers, I felt like I knew him. That’s perhaps a lot to do with the clumsy and endearing Nintendo Direct videos he hosted, which showed a business leader unlike any you’ll ever meet. Could you imagine Bobby Kotick doing an unboxing video? Or Andrew House donning a silly hat while Shuhei Yoshida rushes around behind him with a vacuum cleaner?
He seemed far removed from his corporate peers, he seemed like one of us, and that’s perhaps why his death has touched so many – fans and critics alike.
So what of the people that did know him? Those people that were on the receiving end of late-night emails ahead of a major console launch? As Nintendo mourns the loss of its leader, MCV spoke to some of the company’s former staff to pay tribute to Satoru Iwata.
Former Nintendo UK General Manager and Marketing Director
Joined November 2001, left February 2012
I am very, very sad to hear of Iwata-san’s passing. He was the most astonishing, deeply spiritual and creative person I have ever had the good fortune to work for. He taught everyone at Nintendo how to think differently and how to surprise and delight people. But always with the sincerest humility and with a twinkle in his eyes. I was spoilt working for Iwata.
Nintendo Australia (Director of sales and marketing)
March 1995 – September 2003
Nintendo UK (General Manager)
September 2003 – July 2012
Satoru Iwata was one of the most challenging and inspiring individuals that I had the pleasure to work for and with, he will be greatly missed.
As much as a company and industry can miss someone, we cannot forget that his family is suffering the biggest loss, he was so young and had given so much but still had much more to give. So many people will have many positivememories of Iwata-san that it would be hard to say much more than what will be said by others closer to him than myself, but with the opportunities he gave me it would be re-miss not to offer my humble respects.
He was one of the smartest people I have ever met, his knowledge in so many areas, his attention to detail, his challenge to himself and others for continual review and improvement brought the best out in people and certainly helped inmy own development. Iwata-san was dedicated and never expected anything from anyone that he himself wouldn’t do, this made it very tough as he was an absolute dynamo of energy always looking to question the facts behind theresults whether they be good or bad. For him we could never stop learning.
I remember visiting his office when he was the new President of Nintendo in 2003 to be interviewed by him and hopefully gain his approval to head Nintendo in the UK. What really stuck in my mind was that his office was not what onewould expect from the President. The corridors outside were very corporate, low key almost sterile but when you entered his domain it was like an Aladdin’s Cave of inspiration. There were handheld and home consoles, screens and books stacked up(he was an avid reader always prepared to explore new lines of thought) a couple of guitars, figurines and many other interesting pieces.
You could see from the room his creative passion, his various interests and knowledge in so manythings, which in hindsight to me was perfectly summed up in 2005 when at the Game Developers Conference he said.
"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.”
Former Nintendo PR and marketing director (Europe and UK)
March 1998 – June 2015
I had the honour of working with Mr. Iwata for many years and have so many fond memories. He was a truly inspirational leader, he was incredibly wise, challenging but fair and had the most infectious laugh! I learnt so much from him over the years and for that I will always be grateful. It’s so incredibly sad that he is no longer with us and my thoughts go out to his family at this very difficult time.