The journey of Nintendo’s gamer CEO Satoru Iwata

Though Satoru Iwata was a corporate president but at heart he was always a gamer. R.I.P.

Satoru Iwata, beloved CEO of Nintendo died on July 11, 2015 at the age of 55 after battling cancer. His death has not only started an outburst of grief online but it is also celebrating his contributions to the world of video gaming as well.

Satoru Iwata stood out due to his friendly and outward behavior and unabashed love for games amidst a sea of “professional CEOs”,

In the 2000s, he won laurels for restoring Nintendo’s flagging fortunes, guiding it towards more user-friendly consoles such as the Nintendo DS and Wii. Here are some of the crucial moments in his life story.

The self-taught video game programmer was also loved for his modest approach and his imagination of making gaming more inclusive.

Born and brought up in Sapporo, Mr Iwata’s everlasting passion for games began in high school, where he found out how to programme a baseball game on a calculator.

When he shared the anecdote in a 2005 speech, he jokingly said that “I don’t think anyone can say it had bad graphics because it had no graphics.”

“But when I saw my friends playing that game and having fun, it made me feel proud. To me, this was a source of energy and passion… I think my life course was set.”

He moved to the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1978, where he studied computer science and engineering.

Mr Iwata along with a group of friends started fiddling with video game programming and they in the end formed a company called HAL – named after the villainous and sentient computer in the film 2001 Space Odyssey.

Soon, game machine pioneer Nintendo hired HAL, and designed popular games like Super Smash Bros and Kirby for the company.

Mr Iwata joined Nintendo full-time as a director in 2000, and just two years later with the blessing of his respected predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi became its president. He became the first person outside of the Yamauchi family to head Nintendo.

Nintendo was reeling from the dull reaction to its GameCube console when he took charge. The sales of GameCube console was overtaken by that of competitors’ machines such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2.

However, the Wii consoles and Nintendo DS gained ground when they were rolled out, which rapidly became successful throughout the world.

What made them different was their appeal to a broader market beyond hardcore gamers and their accessibility. The DS featured educational and puzzle games, most famously Brain Age, while the Wii was created as a family-friendly console.

In 2008, he told the BBC that he believed the key was to “increase the number of people gaming” and draw attention of those outside the usual gaming demographic of young men.

He frequently advocated this inclusive approach, persuading developers to design games for different audiences and of varying skills.

At a 2005 game developer conference, he asked: “As we spend more time and money chasing exactly the same players, who are we leaving behind? Are we creating games just for each other? Do you have friends and family members who do not play videogames? Well, why don’t they?”

Mr Iwata’s humble hands-on approach to his company also endeared himself to gamers. He also did behind-the-scenes interviews with game developers called Iwata Asks, produced game titles, and assisted in programming when coders found it difficult to meet their game release deadlines.

He once said that immediately after he became Nintendo’s president, he appointed himself to a team developing a game as “my heart told me I was still a developer… Once again, I was living on the developer’s diet of chips, pizza and rice balls, and working through the night.”

Mr Iwata’s time at Nintendo was not all that smooth sailing. The company saw fall in profit in recent years, as popularity for its games and consoles decreased.

Some analysts contributed the decline due to the company’s resistance to enter the market of mobile gaming.

As a reply, Mr Iwata took a cut in his salary and ordered his executives to do the same as well, continued to work even as he fought cancer of the bile duct. Nintendo finally announced in March that it was entering into mobile gaming.

Nintendo’s unsteady journey did not go wrong among gamers. “Nintendo might not be the most profitable company, but it’s always made games with a heart,” tweeted one game designer.

It is likely Mr Iwata’s key legacy. “Like any other entertainment medium, we must create an emotional response in order to succeed,” he said at a conference.

“Laughter, fear, joy, affection, surprise, and – most of all – accomplishment. In the end, triggering these feelings from our players is the true judgment of our work.”

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Kavita Iyer
Kavita Iyer
An individual, optimist, homemaker, foodie, a die hard cricket fan and most importantly one who believes in Being Human!!!


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