Japan’s world-famous video game giant Nintendo announced earlier today that its fourth global president and CEO, Satoru Iwata, has passed away at the age of 55 due to a bile duct growth two days ago. Satoru Iwata first joined HAL Laboratory, Inc., the video game developer who created the Kirby, EarthBound/Mother and Super Smash Brothers series, and became its president in 1993.
Seven years later, he joined Nintendo and became its most recent President in 2002. His proficiency in programming is well-documented; he once said in an interview with 4Gamer that he could write “better NES code than even Nintendo’s (EAD) engineers” or “the fastest, most compact code”. His exceptional ability both as a coder and as a problem-solver paid off when his efforts in debugging helped the ever-popular Super Smash Brothers Melee achieve completion on time for its launch on the GameCube console.
Iwata‘s interest and passion in video game programming can be traced back to his youth, where he experimented with creating small games and eventually even made his own calculator which he shared with his peers. He continued to work with computer technology in the 1970s and even went as far as to inspect the interior components of the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor), an early computer model, and this would come in extremely handy in his work in HAL Laboratory, Inc later since the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console’s central processing unit (CPU) resembled that of the PET. Fans would be intrigued to know that Iwata managed to complete the entire combat code in Pokemon Stadium on his own within no more than a week.
Satoru Iwata was a familiar face for many in the Nintendo gaming community and in the company itself. He frequently delivers the Nintendo Direct presentations in which updates on various games, consoles and other interesting trivia are revealed to fans and observers alike. Iwata also established the Iwata Asks interview series where he would give a rare insight into the behind-the-scenes development of our favourite Nintendo game titles. Iwata also provided the direction and leadership behind the development of the Nintendo DS and Wii consoles in more recent years. In the wake of Nintendo‘s falling annual profits last year, Iwata announced that he would halve his pay to help the company tide through its difficult times; this would go a long way in helping Nintendo recover by the end of 2014 and start of this year. The recent rise to prominence of mobile gaming, especially on smartphones, has posed a challenge to traditional console-gaming developers like Nintendo and Iwata had acknowledged that his company had little choice but to adapt and move into the smartphone gaming industry or risk irrelevance. This included plans to buy a stake in the mobile-gaming company DeNA based in Tokyo in exchange for Nintendo developing its own line of mobile games featuring its ever-popular franchises and characters.
Of note, perhaps Satoru Iwata‘s legacy within the Nintendo company would be his ushering in of a new leadership style and direction; Iwata was the only President not from the founding Yamauchi family line, and more significantly, unlike his immediate predecessor Hiroshi Yamauchi, Iwata‘s former background in game development rather than business struck a breath of fresh air with many as he adopted a more friendly and welcoming style which contrasted with that of his predecessor. His player-centric focus in the company has helped Nintendo retain its strong and dedicated base of players and supporters even as the company makes its first steps into the mobile-gaming industry. Above all, Iwata‘s brilliance was threefold: in game development and programming, in leadership, and in becoming the public face of Nintendo.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the general manager of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD) branch, the 62-year old Shigeru Miyamoto, responded in a company-issued statement: “I am surprised at this sudden news and overcome with sadness.” He seeks to continue the game-development stance which he and Iwata had worked to create and, in this manner, work with developers so as to create future successful developments which the late Iwata would have wanted. In the wake of Iwata‘s untimely passing, Miyamoto is now the acting Representative Director of Nintendo alongside Genyo Takeda, the 66-year old hardware engineer who helped develop consoles such as the Nintendo 64, and is seen as a possible successor to the late Iwata.
Prior to his death, Iwata had been actively working to introduce the company’s breakthrough into the smartphone gaming sector and the release of its upcoming Nintendo NX game console, slated for the end of this year and the start of next year respectively. His efforts would not be in vain; there would be no changes in the schedule planned for these new initiatives despite Iwata‘s passing, and the Nintendo NX console is likely to be released in tribute to his legacy.
Official notification of Iwata’s death from Nintendo
A message on Satoru Iwata’s Miiverse account
All images courtesy of Nintendo