Gamer Louis is a weekly Blast column written by Louis Schuler. It cover all types of video game news and opinions.
On July 11, Nintendo announced that an iconic figure in the gaming industry died from a bile duct growth at the age of 55. His name was Satoru Iwata and he was a visionary, an exemplary leader and an extraordinarily creative mind.
Iwata, former president of Nintendo, left behind a company that continues to bring joy, laughter and sheer flamboyancy to an industry that is constantly shifting its identity.
Some can certainly make the argument that Nintendo is the forerunner of the video game industry. They were the first company to introduce gaming consoles, by the likes of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Nintendo 64, to the market. Honestly, to imagine a gaming industry without Nintendo or Satoru Iwata would be a sad and dreary way of thinking about how we encounter video games.
Nintendo brings a sort of casual way of interacting with video games, a feat that is arguably seldom accomplished with other first-party developers to this day.
Here, I’ll examine Iwata’s accomplishments. While his death was untimely and occurred awhile ago, I’ve decided to take a comprehensive look at the many achievements of his life and honor a visionary who aided his company during a tenure that saw many ups and downs, stiff competition and unrelenting pressure to change its image.
Like many gamers, Iwata’s childhood did not stem from a family who shared his love for video games at an early age. This didn’t stop him, however, from achieving a memorable legacy and providing continuity for a franchise that needed guidance during a tumultuous time in its history.
As someone who has played video games off and on for 15 years, I can relate to this trait of perhaps feeling somewhat alienated within a family that has little to no interest in video games. This is just one characteristic of many that made Iwata relatable to all gamers and Nintendo fans alike. He enjoyed video games and always considered himself a gamer despite his tie-ins with business and running Nintendo.
In 2005, Iwata gave a speech detailing his impressions upon entering the gaming industry at a Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. “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,” he said. Iwata’s personality truly developed over time and improved a rapport between him and Nintendo fans in his “Nintendo Directs”—a periodic online broadcast that detailed news and developments within Nintendo for their fans.
Flashback again to his early past, and you’ll find he had a desire for developing games as early as high school. Here was yet another relatable fact that not only clung to casual fans but to aspiring game developers everywhere.
After graduating from the Tokyo Institute of Technology with a degree in computer science, Iwata took part in an association created by him and friends that would eventually lend a long-lasting contribution to Nintendo’s success.
Life after college
Despite his father’s disapproval, Iwata elected to foster his passion for video games and eventually became an incremental part of a post-college club that later became known as “HAL Laboratory.” During a time period of about 20 years, Iwata assisted and took part in renowned games that fans, regardless of allegiance, have come to appreciate over the years. These included many of the “Kirby” games, “Pokémon Stadium”, “Pokémon Gold and Silver”, “Pokémon Red and Green” and “Super Smash Bros.”
These titles alone were instrumental to Nintendo’s success during the glory days of the ‘80s and ‘90s. While there is no argument that Miyamoto is the face of the Nintendo franchise, Iwata was surely its golden child.
Iwata was the epitome of inspiration to the gaming community, enabling many people to follow their dreams in an industry that can be extremely hard to get into on the development side, as seen in documentaries like “Indie Game: The Movie”, which delves into the complexity of the making of video games and turning it into a viable career.
Just when one would think his aspirations had plateaued, Iwata became Nintendo’s fourth president on May 24, 2002.
Unfortunately, his first year came during a fragile stage in Nintendo’s company history.
Iwata took over when the GameCube, their lowest-sold console of the 21st century, was in its infancy, and many questions were popping up all over the place about the direction of the “Mario” franchise. For the first time, Nintendo had its hands full in dealing with new competition: the inception into the industry by Microsoft and PlayStation. Before the early 2000s, Nintendo took the video game industry by storm with very little competition to speak of, aside from occasional PC titles and the SEGA franchise.
What Iwata was able to do next was truly commendable, innovative, revolutionary and ultimately helped carry Nintendo back into relevancy again and into the hearts of gamers across the world.
While there has been a lasting stigma of Nintendo refusing to pay attention to the trends of technology impacting the video game market, one can argue Iwata attempted to quell this assumption by resurrecting the franchise’s dominance in the handheld market dating back to the success it had in the late ‘80s.
After Nintendo sold much fewer units of the Game Boy Advance in comparison to its predecessor, the Game Boy, Iwata began a new trend in the handheld market that would eventually spark a consumer frenzy. The Nintendo DS featured two screens, with one having touch screen capability.
What happened next shocked the gaming world.
The DS eventually managed to sell over 150 million units, making it the most successful handheld device ever sold on the gaming market.
Subsequently, Iwata took part in the success of the Wii, which joined the 100 million units sold club, further cementing Iwata’s role in bringing Nintendo back to one of the top competitors in the industry.
Iwata had a long-lasting effect on the video game culture, its fans and competitors alike. He inspired game developers and casual gamers worldwide. We salute you, Mr. Iwata, and will miss all of the contributions you made to make the world a better place.
If anything, we can all appreciate your ultimate goal: to forget all of the controversy surrounding the world and have fun.