Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Dies at 55; Remembering One of the Industry’s Best

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The gaming world stood still once this very short headline came out to the public. Eyes were widened, gasps were emitted, mouths were covered and breathing came to a half for a few seconds.

Nintendo confirmed his death yesterday afternoon in a brief statement.

“Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.”

Iwata donned the title “President” in 2002 when Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had led the company into its modern identity as a behemoth of video gaming, stepped down and named Iwata his successor. He was the company’s fourth president since its founding in 1889, and is the only president not descended from the founding Yamauchi family.

Iwata first entered the scene as an adroit programmer for HAL Laboratory, becoming the small company’s fifth full-time employee. At HAL, Iwata is a designer, engineer, programmer and marketer. “I also ordered food. And I helped clean up. And it was all great fun,” he said. In his time at HAL, he helped develop games like NES Pinball and those in the EarthBound, Kirby and Super Smah Bros. franchises for Nintendo systems.

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In 1999, while Iwata is still serving as HAL’s president, he analyzes the game logic from Pokémon Red and Blue, so that it can be brought over to the Nintendo 64 for Pokémon Stadium. Iwata ports the code in about a week, and this made heads turn. In an Iwata Asks segment, Pokémon developer Game Freak’s Shigeki Morimoto said, “Is that guy a programmer? Or is he the President?”

Fast forward to 2007 where the Xbox and Playstation are neck and neck with one another, Iwata says “‘We are not competing against Sony or Microsoft. We are battling the indifference of people who have no interest in video games.” At this point of time, Nintendo did not want to take part of this console war, and they just wanted to make new video games, take risky moves, and make everyone else happy. “Let Microsoft and Sony turn the ocean red fighting over there. We’ll do our own thing over here.”

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In 2013, when Nintendo’s profits start to fall, Iwata cuts his check in half for several months. The checks of other executives are cut as well, but Iwata’s pay takes the biggest hit, which is something that no other CEO would have ever done. Iwata made heads turn once more.

Iwata had to skip last year’s E3 conference due to the health issues. After some time, he underwent surgery to remove the bile duct growth that was really making things difficult for Iwata. A few months later, people had see photos where Iwata looked so much more scrawnier and paler, he said via Twitter “I’m progressing well”. Unfortunately, that same bile duct growth is what took his life away.

Once his passing became public, every gamer and developer and industry person have been paying tribute, and the first one is where it shows Nintendo HQ’s flag at half-mast.

The following tweet is from Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai. He states, “This isn’t a regular day, and my mental state isn’t regular, either, but I’m going to work as usual, and like always, I’m throwing myself into (game) development. This was also the situation for Iwata-san. Doing what you need to do.”

The following tweets are now from everyone else.

In this last tweet, the caption reads, “Today, the characters of Nintendo are dressed in black. Rest in peace, Satoru Iwata.”

Iwata may died, but he is still going to live on as a legend. He was Nintendo. His enthusiasm and eagerness to give new video games to everyone and the fact that he disciplined himself when Nintendo didn’t do as well as they should have, really set him apart from any other CEO that has ever lived. And as Matias Myllyrinne, former Remedy CEO, put it, “A leader of his caliber was not only a blessing to the company he led – but to the industry as a whole.”

You will be sorely missed, Mr. Iwata. You gave me so many memories and so many of my favorite interests and hobbies exist because of your work and your effort. You are absolutely irreplaceable and you will serve as an inspiration to everyone – inside and outside of the gaming industry. Rest in peace, Satoru Iwata.

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