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Developer, President, Gamer: the World Says Goodbye to Nintendo President Satoru Iwata

Nintendo Iwata

Satoru Iwata at Nintendo's 2006 E3 press conference. Image courtesy Wikipedia, uploaded by user DSCUBED~commonswiki

Passionate gamers in Japan and all over the world are reeling from the sudden loss of former game developer and current Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. The company issued a press release announcing his passing on July 11, 2015, due to a bile duct growth.

Thank you very much for all your hard work.

In addition to being the first president who had no relation to the Yamauchi family, the Kyoto clan that founded Nintendo more than one hundred years ago, Iwata presided over several of the company’s major console releases, starting with the Gamecube in 2000, and continuing on with the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the 3DS, and most recently the Wii U.

Never shy of keeping a high profile, Iwata became a beloved figure within the gaming community as the face of “Nintendo Direct”, a live Internet stream devoted to the company’s upcoming releases.

Video Game Origins

Born in Sapporo, Japan, Iwata had an early interest in electronics. In addition to pursuing computer programming while still in high school, he studied computer science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Iwata got his start in video games at HAL Laboratories, a gaming company that at the time developed games on Nintendo’s Famicom system, first as freelance programmer and then a full-fledged employee.

When HAL Laboratories went bust in 1992, Iwata accepted a role as president of the company. A lover of video games, Iwata strived to promote ease and accessibility in games that would appeal to the masses. For example, Kirby’s Dreamland, created by fellow developer Masahiro Sakurai, featured Iwata-approved gameplay that could be picked up and played by any type of gamer, no matter their gaming level.

The concept of “accessible” gaming would be his hallmark, and would follow him to Nintendo, where he took a position in 2000. Two years later, Iwata became the company’s fourth president, succeeding Hiroshi Yamauchi.

Through his savvy, as well as his experience with game and tech development, Iwata presided over the runaway successes of the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii System. Furthermore, Iwata went out of his way to court third-party developers to create games for Nintendo, such as Capcom, Platinum Games, and even former rival company SEGA.

The Face of Nintendo

Throughout his tenure as president of Nintendo, Iwata maintained a visible presence within the gaming world. At “Nintendo Direct” events, Iwata displayed his friendliness and good-natured humorous side. His catchphrase, “Direct to You”, complete with a complimentary gesture, was an instant hit with fans.

At this year’s E3 event, the company collaborated with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to create puppet versions of Iwata, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime, and prolific Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto.

Iwata also provided a platform to highlight the work of game-developing teams.

In the feature “Iwata Asks”, Iwata interviewed various developers about the creative process of soon-to-be released games. The former developer was once interviewed himself, too.

Iwata’s Struggles

Iwata’s tenure at Nintendo was not without its struggles. In 2011, Iwata willingly took a fifty percent pay cut after taking responsibility for the sluggish sales of the Nintendo 3DS. While that system's popularity would eventually bounce back with stronger sales, Iwata would take another pay cut in 2014, due to the poor sales of the WiiU console.

Iwata also assured gamers that the company would address the issue of Amiibo toy stock shortages.

The Amiibo toys, created in the likeness of the company’s signature characters, add new dimension to games, such as the ability to save game progress, access new powers, and unlock hidden content. Fans were displeased with the rarity of certain Amiibo figurines, which often sold out quickly.

After initial resistance, Nintendo joined forces with Mobile game developer DeNa to develop new mobile games in March 2015, to counter sluggish console sales. Iwata boldly stated that mobile gaming would provide another stream of revenue to the company. He also said he wanted these games to appeal to a wide range of gamers, rather than to a devoted and lucrative mobile fanbase.

Iwata raised eyebrows last year in 2014, when he sent a press release stating that he would be unable to attend E3.

He later admitted to undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his bile duct. At a Nintendo shareholders meeting in October 2014, Iwata shocked Japanese fans with his sickly appearance. However, a few days later, Iwata went on to reassure fans of his improved health.

There have been several comments regarding my rapid weight loss. The truth of the matter is, while I've lost weight due to a surgical procedure, my weight has stabilized within the last two-and-a-half months and my progress has been favourable. To my doctor, as well as the hospital staff, you have my utmost gratitude.

Iwata’s Legacy

Iwata's basic love of video games continued long after taking the helm at Nintendo. He will be remembered for his devotion to Nintendo and his friendly demeanor and accessibility. As a result, tributes to Iwata have crossed rival lines and language barriers, as people all over the world have come together to say goodbye to a beloved figure.

The memories of game music and the fun of playing the game will always live on in my heart. I will always cherish (your approach to video games and to life), Iwata-san. Rest in Peace.

Iwata was 55 years old.

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