Gamers, industry mourn the loss of Nintendo boss Iwata

  • Tributes for industry legend pour in from fans, gamers and rivals
  • A leader who's afraid to go against the trend and take risks
Gamers, industry mourn the loss of Nintendo boss Iwata

I WAS shocked this morning to learn of the death of Satoru Iwata, 55, the president of Japanese videogame giant Nintendo. In a statement, the company said Iwata had died from a bile duct tumour.
 
But I wasn’t the only one who was saddened by this news, going by the thousands of people who took to social media to express their condolences. Videogame fans and industry players (including rivals Sony and Microsoft) were out in full force to mourn the loss of an industry legend.
 
Sony’s PlayStation Twitter account read, “Thank you for everything, Mr Iwata.”
 
Microsoft’s head of Xbox Phil Spencer wrote, “Sad day for Iwata-san’s family, friends, and gamers everywhere. His passion, creativity & leadership elevated our industry.”
 
Game industry analyst Michael Pachter, attempted to sum up Iwata’s legacy, said, “Nintendo had an amazing run financially and creatively under Satoru Iwata’s leadership. He will be missed by the games industry.”
  
You can read many more tributes here, but it’s clear that his impact went far beyond the company’s performance.
 
To me, Iwata was the type of leader who was not afraid to go against the trend and take risks.
 
He joined Nintendo in 2000 from subsidiary and game development unit HAL Laboratory, and became the first person outside of the company’s founding Yamauchi family to lead Nintendo when he was appointed president in 2002.
 
Iwata had once told a crowd at a games developer’s conference in 2005 that, “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.”
 
That philosophy drove his approach in running Nintendo and taking the industry to new heights.
 
Iwata famously focused on providing unique entertainment experiences, rather than the performance and capabilities of the gaming hardware. The top priority was always about delivering games that were fun to play, and fun for the entire family.
 
This was never more evident than when Nintendo launched the Wii, a game console that seemed woefully underpowered compared to the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
 
And yet, the Wii’s unique selling proposition – motion-controlled gaming using a TV remote-like controller called the Wiimote – brought about a whole new way of enjoying games in the living room.
 
Nintendo eventually sold more than a hundred million of the Wii, surpassing the PS3 and Xbox 360.
 
During the early part of the Wii’s success, Iwata explained that Nintendo had decided to follow a ‘blue ocean strategy,’ referring to a seminal business book that argued how companies in highly competitive marketplaces needed to innovate and address new uncontested markets in order to succeed.
 
Iwata also applied the same strategy when it came to handheld game consoles. While the Nintendo DS (and follow-up product 3DS) didn’t match up to Sony’s PlayStation Portable in terms of performance or even screen resolution, the ability to use two screens to play, with one of them being a touch-screen, heralded a new form of mobile games.
 
You could even argue that many of the touch-based games on smartphones today found inspiration from the Nintendo DS games library.
 
Iwata also began engaging directly with consumers, through a series of online videos called ‘Nintendo Direct' and ‘Iwata Asks.’ These videos were hosted by Iwata himself and featured upcoming titles on Nintendo’s gaming platforms.
 
More importantly, they brought out Iwata’s personality as a humble, immensely likable, even child-like believer in his company’s products and the people who create them.
  
These video broadcasts were significant in reducing the company’s reliance on large-scale events like E3 to announce new titles, and increasing the engagement with Nintendo fans and gamers in today’s social media-led world.
 
In recent years however, Nintendo’s fortunes have been less favourable, with the Wii’s successor Wii U struggling in the marketplace, as well as the slowdown in sales across Wii, Wii U and 3DS titles.
 
Analysts and vocal gamers have criticised Iwata for not pushing Nintendo fast enough to embrace online gaming, leverage digital content sales or even when it came to offering games on mobile platforms.
 
In 2014, the company eventually began to move in all these directions, most notably via its tie-up with Japanese mobile games firm DeNA to develop and sell mobile games based on its famous franchises such as Super Mario and Zelda.
 
However, Iwata’s health had at the same time come into the spotlight. In a letter to shareholders, he explained that his doctors had discovered a growth in his bile duct and he had to take some time off to remove the tumour.
 
After a brief hiatus and successful operation, a visibly thinner Iwata was back in business, fronting the popular Nintendo Direct videos and attending analyst briefings. However, he announced that he wouldn’t be attending this year’s E3 held in May, citing the lack of a new hardware announcement as the reason.
 
His sudden departure then, becomes even harder to bear. It also brings into question Nintendo’s future as he had not announced a successor to lead the company.
 
In the interim, two senior executives, Genyo Takeda and legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, will manage Nintendo.
 
May you rest in peace, Iwata-san. You have left an amazing legacy in the world of modern entertainment, and your humility, your passion for family entertainment, and your games will continue to be remembered for years to come.
 

Keith has been a videogame nut and a Nintendo fan since the days of 'Game & Watch'.  You can follow him on Twitter @TechLiu.

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