Remembering Satoru Iwata

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Satoru Iwata had passed away on July 11, 2015, due to what Nintendo’s press release called “a bile duct growth”. Nintendo announced it today.

Most know Satoru Iwata from his Nintendo Direct broadcasts in recent years where he personally spoke to Nintendo’s audience to discuss upcoming titles and events. But Iwata-san was also the President and CEO of Nintendo having taken the reins in 2002 from Hiroshi Yamauchi, the man whose Famicom would launched a second console revolution in the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System and, at one point, made Mario more popular than Mickey Mouse.

Iwata wasn’t only a corporate leader. He had also been a programmer and game designer who had worked on a number of games that included the Kirby franchise, fan-favorite EarthBound, and even The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing titles. Working his way up from the trenches, he was eventually named to succeed Yamauchi-san as Nintendo’s fourth president.

Under his tenure, Nintendo surged following 2001’s Gamecube with the industry disrupting motion controls of the Nintendo Wii which came out in 2006. Underpowered compared to the competition, but cheaper as well as providing a control scheme none of the others offered, it quickly became a commercial freight train that barreled on through naysayers faster than Link’s Master Sword through Ganondorf.

Nintendo would also cement its lead in handhelds with the DS series and bring 3D tech home with the 3DS…all the while fending off stockholders who wanted to see company dive headlong into mobile gaming. Iwata would always politely restate Nintendo’s position in reviewing such suggestions while maintaining their position as a company that bound their identity to both the hardware they created and the software that ran on them. In 2011, he was quoted as saying:

“This is absolutely not under consideration. If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths.”

But Nintendo wasn’t entirely ignoring the mobile phenomenon as its partnership with mobile developer, DeNA, demonstrated earlier this year. It wasn’t a full jump into the pool, but it was something. And Iwata continued to be mindful of what made Nintendo unique. As he said in reply to a question asked in the 75th  Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on why they don’t have other companies merchandise their characters:

“Nintendo’s IP strategy is based on a long-term perspective where we continue to enhance our characters, worlds and settings for years. We have already announced that we would more actively utilize our IP, but not in the way that we increase the number of licensing partners as much as possible; instead we will proactively try anything that will enhance the value of our IP. We believe that it is not worth attempting initiatives that produce short-term profits at the expense of long-term detrimental effects on our IP. You might be unsatisfied with our pace of IP utilization, but we ask for your understanding.”

The upcoming NX was mentioned early in order to offset the news of their partnership with DeNA, as their way in telling the world that they were not abandoning their hardware focus which has given Nintendo a powerful identity. No one can question how lucrative the mobile market can potentially be and one can only imagine how tough it has been for Iwata to hold course against his critics on a much larger picture for the century plus old Nintendo.

Up to the end, he answered questions, talked to fans, and worked hard to keep Nintendo…well…”Nintendo”. Thank you, Iwata-san.

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