What on earth do you say in this situation?
The statement was simple but no less unexpected; “Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.”
Mr. Satoru Iwata had been the fourth president of Nintendo, overseeing rapid growth with the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii after a period of declining sales and profitability for the company; but his history with the company dates all the way back to the eighties, where he began his career as a freelance programmer within HAL Laboratories working on Earthbound and the eponymous Kirby franchise, whose success is largely attributed to Satoru Iwata’s efforts on pushing the series.
Mr. Iwata was appointed as the head of HAL Laboratories in 1993, and was made a director of Nintendo in 2000, overseeing the launch of the Nintendo Gamecube. He was appointed as the companies President in May of 2002.
During his tenure, Mr. Iwata placed a great deal of emphasis on communication with his audience, often listening to the companies consumers and striving to appease them where possible. It was Iwata who came up with the concept of the Nintendo Direct, in which to disseminate information to people directly without them relying on the traditional press.
Iwata also made it clear that his focus throughout his working life was on making and producing accessible, fun video games. He was a games developer heading a large multinational video games company, something that at the time was laughed at but we would all now expect anyone leading a video game company, of whatever size, to have in-depth knowledge of video games in general.
But for all his successes, most of us will know Iwata for his humour and ability to poke fun at himself and his company. He became an iconic figure for the company and was never afraid to make a fool of himself for a cheap laugh, instigating countless memes over the years for us all to laugh at, and even his apologetic “Please Understand” has become for many gamers – both as fans and detractors of Nintendo – both a sincere form of apology and a tongue-in-cheek reference to knowing when an argument is lost.
Mr. Iwata’s health had been widely known to have been relatively poor in the last couple of years, as he missed two successive E3 events as well as a shareholder meeting. He had a medical procedure to remove a growth on his bile duct – sadly, it sounds as though this was cancerous and was ultimately responsible for his demise. The severity of his condition is only now evident.
Twitter has been flooded with an outpouring of grief in the last few hours as the news broke, with many shocked to learn of the news. None of this is helped that his last public statement was to apologise for what was considered a fairly disappointing E3 showing this year.
But it must be said that his love for video games was clear, and his passion for what he did was evident in everything he presented. Despite the sales woes of the Wii U, under his direction the company restructured and began turning out several interesting projects, one of which was Splatoon – a game that Mr. Iwata seemed to be very pleased with. He arranged a deal with mobile content creator DeNA to produce Nintendo-branded smartphone games in the coming years and was no doubt preparing to begin the arduous task of preparing his company to transition towards the Nintendo NX, a machine he seemed very enthusiastic about not weeks before this untimely news. And for the problems that he has overseen with the Wii U, there can be no escaping his tremendous successes with the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii, both of which made Nintendo a metric ton of money that has given the company the ability to ride out one rough generation of video games consoles.
Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto have been named ‘Representative Directors’ in the wake of this news, until the company can no doubt fill Mr. Iwata’s shoes. But there is clearly no doubt that whoever takes over Nintendo has enormous shoes to fill as the man was well-loved and well-respected within the industry and by legions of fans. And whoever takes over will also be thrust right into the middle of preparations for a next-gen console launch expected within the next year or two.
But for now, godspeed Mr. Iwata. Jump on that star and arrive at a place specially reserved for those who have far exceeded us mere mortals in life. My thoughts are with Mr. Iwata’s family, both personal and his extended family within Nintendo.
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.