The CEO With The Heart Of A Gamer: Remembering Satoru Iwata

August 4, 2015

Perhaps by the time you’re reading this it has finally started to sink in that Satoru Iwata, one of the most beloved figures in the gaming industry, has passed. It is also possible that you’ve already seen the following quote a thousand times recently:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. In my heart I am a gamer.”

This was said by Mr. Iwata in front of thousands in 2005 at the Game Developers Conference held annually in San Francisco, California.

A loud applause echoed throughout the room upon hearing these powerful words that might have sounded empty if said by any other CEO in the industry. To everyone who knew of Mr. Iwata, whether you worked with him closely or simply enjoyed his presence in Nintendo Direct streams, it was obvious that although he led a multi-billion dollar company, he still genuinely cared about only one thing: making great games.

This passion already showed at a young age when Mr. Iwata was still a student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Here, he worked on several Commodore Japan titles as an unpaid intern before being hired by HAL as a programmer. There he played a large role in the creation of titles still considered classics today, including Kirby’s Adventure and Earthbound, before becoming president of HAL Laboratories. In this role he saw many more great titles released, including the first entry in the very successful Super Smash Bros. series.

When Nintendo’s long-time president, Yamauchi, retired in 2002, Mr. Iwata was handpicked by him to lead the company his family had worked hard to build up since 1889. Although a great honor to be the first CEO that wasn’t directly related to the Yamauchi family, the new president knew the difficulties that were ahead. The most recent console release, the GameCube, was being pummeled in terms of sales by its competition.

However, if there was one man that had enough vision to see Nintendo pull itself out of its poor situation and rise back to the top, it was Mr. Iwata. In the next few years he succeeded by guiding the release of two of the most successful video game devices ever created: the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii. And like most innovative ideas, Iwata and Nintendo would receive plenty of criticism upon the unveiling of both these products.

For the Nintendo DS, having two screens working in tandem while playing a game sounded confusing and tedious. Who wants to look up and down between two screens to enjoy their game?

The Wii was also predicted to be a failure simply because it lacked the specs of its competitors and did away with classic controls in favor of motion. But as both devices continued leaving others in the dust, the industry began to respect the visionary mind of Nintendo’s young new president.

Even when Nintendo began falling behind in 2011 and onward, Iwata continued showing us that he wasn’t in it for the money or position. He voluntarily cut his salary on more than one occasion to avoid having to fire other employees. His frequent presence in the Nintendo Direct series and Iwata Asks interviews gave people the ability to see a very busy president take the time to show his personality, sense of humor, and genuine adoration for the things he and his company develop for us to enjoy.

It was also in these hard times that Iwata gave an inspiring speech at the 2011 Game Developers Conference:

“Trust your passion, believe in your dream… For 25 years, game developers have made the impossible possible. So I ask you, why would we stop now?”

Although Iwata would live to see Nintendo finally turn a profit in 2015, no one can deny that Iwata still had much more to give. Satoru Iwata will always be remembered as the perfect example of just how far patience, dedication, and the courage to innovate can take you in our industry.