The video game world was shaken yesterday with the sudden announcement of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's untimely death. One of the faces of Nintendo for decades, Iwata passed away on Saturday, July 11 of a bile duct growth. Iwata previously had surgery in that area last year, causing him to miss E3 2014. While he eventually returned to work in October of that same year, the tumor has now claimed his life.
The impact of Iwata's death resonated throughout the world yesterday, with heartfelt reaction coming from the gaming public, developers, and even industry competitors. Iwata's decades of work was influential on countless people in games, inspiring generations of players and developers.
Satoru Iwata began his career working for HAL Laboratory in the early 1980s, following his studies at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. During this decade, he was prominently known for leading design efforts for Balloon Fight, Earthbound, and the Kirby series. Iwata would remain with HAL Laboratory throughout the 90s, becoming the studio's president in 1993. In 2002, Iwata was named Nintendo's fourth president, succeeding the retiring Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Iwata took control of Nintendo at an uncertain time for the company, as Sony had risen as a competitor, while Microsoft was looking to plant its footprint onto the console gaming market. Times were rapidly changing, with the Nintendo GameCube underperforming and the Game Boy generation long in the tooth. Iwata helped lead Nintendo into an entirely new frontier with two new generations of games. The Game Boy line was retired in favor of the new dual-screen Nintendo DS handheld, while Nintendo consoles were pushed into a new world of motion-based gaming with the Nintendo Wii.
Iwata was also a visionary in areas beyond software. He was also the main force behind Nintendo abandoning large, bombastic conferences in favor of intimate presentations aimed directly at the consumer. He was the mind behind the Nintendo Direct, a live stream of announcements that would eventually replace Nintendo's traditional E3 press conference. Some, including our own Steve Watts have argued that the Nintendo Direct is far more consumer-friendly than the average high-production press conference and an idea that could eventually become the norm for all publishers in the future.
Nintendo saw the best of times and worst of times under Iwata. While the Wii sold like gangbusters, the Wii U languished (and continues to languish) at retailers. Iwata responded to angry investors by cutting his own salary in half, taking full responsibility for the console's underwhelming sales and refusing to allow Nintendo staffers to be cut. It was a move unlike anything seen in this industry, but that's who Iwata was. He never gave in to pressure trends like free-to-play, he never allowed the common worker to suffer for the mistakes of higher-ups, and he was always out for the consumer. That's part of the reason that Iwata Asks was born -- out of a desire to be more open with Nintendo's fanbase. He was a man of the people.
Iwata by the Numbers
310 - Producer credits, as listed on MobyGames. (Including 290 Executive Producer credits.)
18 - Games credited as programmer, including Balloon Fight and Earthbound.
21 - Kirby games released under his tenure since first helping produce the original Kirby's Dream Land in 1992.
125 - Iwata Asks interviews, all archived on the Nintendo website.
Iwata in Quotes
"At that point in time, we weren't utilizing any Nintendo characters, and while you handled the planning, specs, design, modeling and movement, I worked on programming all by myself. In some respects, it was the ultimate handcrafted project."
-Iwata on creating the original Super Smash Bros. prototype alongside Masahiro Sakurai.
"In our minds, the Nintendo difference has always made up our foundations. The first is innovation. Our goal is always to do something different, something no one has thought of before. In truth, some of our inventions aren't better than others, but we never stop trying to innovate. Mr. Yamauchi always tells me we should achieve something that brings fresh, surprise, and joy...I like that."
-Iwata during his E3 2001 address, a year before he became Nintendo CEO.
"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's opening words from his GDC 2005 keynote speech.
"I do not like to use the term 'Free-to-play.' I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called 'Free-to-play' should be referred to more accurately as 'Free-to-start.'"
-Iwata on the free-to-play business model.
"Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone!"
-Iwata on video games, in general.
Iwata Remembered by his Peers
Iwata was honored by many of his industry brethren on Sunday through social media tributes. Shacknews has compiled some of the most memorable Tweets from developers, press, and fellow publishers.
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
Endless thanks and respect to Iwata-san. His talent and humor made the world a better place.— Capcom-Unity (@Capcom_Unity) 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
Rest in peace to Nintendo's Satoru Iwata. Gaming and the world will miss you and your contributions. Thank you!— MAD CATZ (@MadCatz) July 13, 2015
We're heartbroken over the passing of Satoru Iwata, an incredible leader in our industry & an inspiration to devs & indies everywhere. RIP.— IndieCade (@IndieCade) July 13, 2015
Rest in peace, Satoru Iwata. Thank you for everything you helped bring to life and for creating games which inspired us to create.— Yacht Club Games (@YachtClubGames) July 13, 2015
RIP Satoru Iwata, you will be missed. pic.twitter.com/AIgG3wARze— Devolver Digital (@devolverdigital) July 13, 2015
So sad to hear about the death of Satoru Iwata. A great leader of Nintendo, his programming leadership brought us Mother 2. He'll be missed.— John Romero (@romero) July 13, 2015
We lost a great voice and passionate guiding light for the games industry today. Iwata-san, your work will live on. Thank you.— 2K (@2K) July 13, 2015
Sad day. Satoru Iwata has passed. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by him. He knew way more about dev than me. https://t.co/E9YRqPjfXe— Warren Spector (@Warren_Spector) 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
It's been said by this writer before, but part of what makes Shacknews what it is today is its community of posters that come from all walks of life. One of our posters, Serpico74, has had the pleasure of working with Nintendo in the past. So to end this tribute, we leave you with his full Chatty post from Sunday remembering Satoru Iwata.
So Satoru Iwata was the s***. I've gotten to shoot for pretty much every major corporation out there, game companies included. I've had the opportunity to work directly with Nintendo several times and have a really hard time thinking of anyone with more integrity than he did.
More than anything, he respected the customer. He didn't engage in predatory DLC practices with games like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon, even though he could have easily nickled and dimed with map packs and season passes. Instead of laying off a bunch of people when Nintendo was losing money, he cut his pay in half. When talking about free-to-play earlier this year he called it out for what it actually is, "free to start."
Before he was CEO he was a badass programmer. He was known as the best programmer on the NES, squeezing games down to sizes that were thought to be impossible and debugging in record time. His last duty as a programmer was doing last minute code review and debug on Super Smash Bros Melee because otherwise it wouldn't have shipped on time. What a badass!
Here is his excellent GDC keynote, "Heart Of A Gamer":
His list of credits.
Finally, my favorite 8-bit music ever from the game that he made way back in 1984:
What a legend!
What a legend, indeed. Thank you, Serpico74. And thank you, Iwata-san, for everything. May you rest in peace.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Shacknews remembers Satoru Iwata
That was really well done, fantastic job.
Ozzie, this might be the best retrospective I've seen on Iwata, and I've pretty much spent all day reading everything I can find. I love the approach of collecting quotes and comments, and combining them with a look back at his life and career. Well done, sir.
Agreed, this is very well done
Bump for the feels.
Man. Nicely done. I had very little idea about his career and impact... what a loss.
Wow, that tweet with the pic of Mario sitting on the stairs crying in the rain... :-(
That made me tear up.
Good job on the article, Ozzie!