This week also marked 7 years since the passing of former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. Iwata was a hugely influential figure both for Nintendo and gaming as a whole, and was seemingly unanimously loved and respected throughout the industry and beyond. One of the world’s genuine nice guys.
Iwata learned to code on a pocket calculator and made his first game in his teens. His first step into the industry was a job at HAL Laboratories, who would go on to become one of Nintendo’s most trusted studios and collaborators. Back then, HAL was small, and staff were required to take on multiple roles, a factor which perhaps shaped his outlook as his career progressed. “I was a programmer and an engineer, and a designer, and I marketed our games; I also ordered food, and I helped clean up, and it was all great fun.”
The relationship between HAL and Nintendo grew closer and closer as the years went by, and reached its peak in 1999 when HAL released Super Smash Bros. for the N64 - a game for which Nintendo rather incredibly allowed the use of characters from pretty much all of its major franchises. In 2000 Iwata officially joined Nintendo as Head of Corporate Planning, and in 2002 became company President.
Iwata’s background as a gamer and developer saw him introduce an innovation-first philosophy, a philosophy which would result in the Nintendo DS and the Wii - two of the company’s most daring and successful consoles.
Reports of Iwata all suggest a man who earned his respect rather than demanded it. A boss, a developer, a colleague, and a friend who led by example and who was never above helping others, regardless of his job title.
One particularly nice story involves Iwata stepping in to develop a bespoke compression tool for Game Freak. They were struggling with their Game Boy Pokémon title and he was “willing to do whatever I could” to help out. His compression tool “amazed fellow developers” and allowed Game Freak to double the size of their game and include the Kanto region alongside the new land of Johto as a result.
Iwata was a company President with the mindset of a fan, and ensured the sense of fun and passion that ran throughout his company started at the very top. He was a gamer at heart, and the embodiment of Nintendo’s long-standing ethos that fun should always come first. The ethos that if the customers are enjoying themselves, then success is sure to follow.