“In my Heart I am a Gamer”: Remembering Nintendo President Satoru Iwata
The internet has been a sad place for the past few days, as game players and developers all over the world took to social media to pay respects and mourn the loss of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. Following the announcement that the 55 year old had lost his fight against bile duct cancer, an outpouring of fond memories and eulogies flooded Twitter under the hashtag #ThankYouIwata. Nintendo’s own in-house social media platform Miiverse became a place of deep sadness as community members shared messages and fan art to mark Iwata’s passing. In the spirit of paying tribute to a truly remarkable figure in gaming, I have taken it upon myself to highlight just some of the many ways in which Satoru Iwata stood out as a charming rarity in the video game industry.
He worked from Programmer to CEO
There aren’t many CEOs amongst the giants of videogame publishing who can say they began their career in the industry as a programmer. But Iwata was one of those people. His appointment was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was the first Nintendo President to have not been a member of the Yamauchi family who had founded the company in 1889. Satoru Iwata’s digital labour is seen in many iconic games, from the original Super Smash Bros. to Earthbound to Pokemon Gold and Silver. Because of his career trajectory, Iwata would always maintain a very hand-on approach to steering Nintendo as the company developed new game titles and hardware. As Iwata once said in an exclusive interview with TIME Magazine, “…my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means that the engineers can’t trick me.”
His attitudes towards his staff
From his time serving as Nintendo’s President beginning in 2002, Satoru Iwata guided the company through some of their most prosperous and innovative times. Iwata oversaw the development of the Nintendo DS and Wii – two of the most commercially successful games consoles of all time. But following that, Iwata did his best to guide the company through some of its least profitable times. Rather than laying off staff – something many other large game publishers have done in tough times – Iwata helped make the company more financially competitive by cutting his own salary in half.
He launched Nintendo Direct presentations…and had fun with them
Iwata also played a key role in public relations at Nintendo. If there were fans voicing concerns on Twitter, Iwata would often be there to respond with warmth and sincerity. He also pioneered and became personally involved with a series called “Iwata Asks”, where Iwata would interview members of development teams working on games for Nintendo. Often anecdotal and insightful, this was yet another way in which Iwata’s programming roots served his role as President well.
But perhaps his greatest PR innovation of all, the one by which much of the gaming public would come to know him by, were the Nintendo Direct events. Held several times a year, Nintendo Directs were live streamed events where Iwata and a select few other Nintendo execs would unveil and showcase upcoming Nintendo games, hardware, and customer service initiatives. Unlike the big-budget, flashy press events held by other large games companies, Nintendo Directs were simple and charming showcases of their upcoming projects. They would often be funny and joyful – brimming with the personality and enthusiasm of both Nintendo and Iwata himself. It was here that many Nintendo fans grew to know Iwata as a personality, as a host who had welcomed you into his home and humbly showed you around. Just last month during E3 Nintendo teamed up with the Jim Henson company to create Muppets of Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Reggie Fils-Aime who would host the event. It was a delightfully fun event to see, and a presentation choice that nobody who was live Tweeting the event considered unusual – even though we all now know that this use of Muppets was done so that a sick Satoru Iwata could still participate in the event.
“Rainbow Road to Heaven”
Just a few hours after Satoru Iwata’s passing was announced, several fans began Tweeting photos of a rainbow that had appeared over the Nintendo headquarters in Tokyo. In reference to the recurring Mario Kart stage, fans began to refer to this as the “Rainbow Road to Heaven.” To me this perfectly encapsulates the kind of man Satoru Iwata was to Nintendo fans, games journalists, and industry personalities alike. He was masterful at reminding us how to have fun. He was the kind of person who could make you look at a rainbow in the sky above the place where he worked and think, ‘he probably did that’. No, of course he did that.
— The ESA (@theESA) July 14, 2015