Satoru Iwata, the first president of Nintendo who was not a member the Yamauchi family since it was founded as a playing card company in Kyoto, Japan, in 1889, died of a bile duct tumor on Saturday. Only 55, he had undergone surgery for the condition last year but was active until very recently, presiding over the annual shareholder’s meeting in late June.
“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,” reads a 2005 quote from Iwata at the top of the BBC’s obituary by Tessa Wong. The piece concludes with an observation Iwata made at a conference:
“Like any other entertainment medium, we must create an emotional response in order to succeed,” he said. “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.”
Iwata’s tenure was marked both by accomplishments and by fallow periods; he had promised rejuvenation with forays into smart phones and with a new console that’s in development.
He “led the introduction of successful products such as the Wii console,” writes Takashi Mochizuki in the Wall Street Journal. “But in recent years, the company’s share price and market presence lagged behind with the rise of games on smartphones, a trend which Mr. Iwata was long reluctant to join.”
In March, however, he “ended his hold-out against making Nintendo’s iconic characters available on smartphones and tablet computers, agreeing to form a venture with DeNA Co. as it tried to recapture casual players,” reports Bloomberg’s Takashi Amano.
And he also has teased gamers with a “brand-new concept” console called the NX, which would replace the disastrous Wii U, probably sometime next year, as Dave Rudden examined for Tech Radar last month.
The AP’s Yuri Kageyama finds “a torrent of sorrow online for Iwata as a person dedicated to entertaining others. On Twitter, fans thanked him for childhood memories and for bringing families together. On some Internet sites, an image of the flag in the Super Mario game was flying at half-staff. Nintendo America announced it was suspending social media activity for the day ‘in remembrance’ of Iwata.
“He didn't just create technology. He created a whole culture,” consultant Nobuyuki Hayashi tells Kageyama.
“I pay my respects to the extraordinary leadership of President Iwata,” said Ken Kutaragi, the former head of rival Sony Computer Entertainment, “who truly loved games and powerfully showed the way for our industry.”
In an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times in 2006, Iwata “argued that the game industry was becoming too closed-off to new consumers,” the LAT’s Todd Martens remembers, writing that it “should worry less about graphical enhancements and high-tech wizardry and instead look for ways to enhance ‘the emotional ways people interact with our games.’”
“Like Hollywood, which in the past has focused too heavily on special effects, we need to find other ways to improve,” Iwata wrote.
An accomplished programmer, Iwata “offered a charming and human face to a company already beloved by legions of game fans,” writes Rich McCormack in an appreciation for The Verge.
“Where [predecessor Hiroshi] Yamauchi loomed in the background, Iwata was often front-and-center of Nintendo's public image, even hosting semi-regular 'Iwata Asks' panels in which he'd interview developers about upcoming games on Nintendo platforms,” McCormack writes. “The panels were designed to promote new titles, but often offered true insight into the thought processes of big name developers, with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and long-time Legend of Zelda producer and director Eiji Aonuma appearing multiple times.”
Iwata had undergone surgery for the bile duct condition in June 2014 and his subsequent weight loss “was very apparent during public events in the same way it was with Steve Jobs,” writes Christopher Hooten for TheIndependent.
“Along with being chief executive of the company, he was a Nintendo fanboy through and through, and quite charmingly revised his Mii avatar to reflect his change in appearance,” Hooten relates. “‘Because of the operation I underwent in June last year, I've become a little thin,’ he wrote.”
Nintendo did not announce a successor, saying two current managing directors — Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto — would lead the company in the interim.
“History has shown that you can't count Nintendo out,” CNN’s Ravi Hiranand writes. “And that is Satoru Iwata's legacy.”