Remembering Iwata: The Gamer Who Steered a Hundred-Year-Old Toy Company

Remembering Iwata: The Gamer Who Steered a Hundred-Year-Old Toy Company

“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.”

Many would remember different things of Satoru Iwata. Some would remember him as a committed businessman, who saw the ups and lows of Nintendo. Some will remember him as a talented software developer, who managed to squeeze Kanto into Pokemon Gold/Silver when initially Game Freak could only do Johto. I see him as an inspired gamer who believed that games can be for everyone and anyone.

Sailing The Blue Ocean Before Anyone Did.

I remember when I was young, my sister and I used to squeeze together on this old Compaq PC playing a variety of games together. Fond childhood memories were made through both of use playing Lode Runner, Jurassic Park III Danger Zone and so on. Years passed and gone, both of us grew up and we did our separate things, I played with my games and she did whatever girls did when they’re growing up. It will take another 7-8 years before the both of us sat down again together to play video games again and that is all thanks to the Wii Sports on the Nintendo Wii, which Iwata had the privilege to lead its development.

Iwata saw games as something that everyone could enjoy. For several years back then, the industry was chasing what experts called a Red Ocean – a targeted demographic of people. Iwata saw past that and decided to sail the Blue Ocean – targeting demographics where traditional demand never existed. You do not have to be below 12, be a male or other stereotypical gamer demographic to enjoy games. It was a very simple concept that many did not understand back then.

Iwata championed the idea and launched, not one but two Blue Ocean defining pieces of hardware. The Nintendo DS was the first that he saw the launch of after taking helm and it was the very definition of a portable game console for everyone.

Under his leadership games that everyone and anyone can enjoy, like Animal Crossing Wild World, Nintendogs, and Brain Age, flourished on the DS. In fact, Iwata personally took interest and oversaw the development of the Brain Age series. In the end, the DS became the second best selling console of all time, selling more than 154 million units. All because he believed that gaming is for everyone.

Shaking up the Golden Years

Perhaps the console that is most synonymous with Iwata’s ideals is the Wii. He challenged then lead developer for the Wii, Genyo Takeda, to make a console that in his own word, “a Mom has to like it”.

“We thought about how everyone in the family uses the TV remote, but some people don’t want to even touch the game controller.”

The Wii launch to great appeal even amongst the unlikely crowd. It made its way not just into homes, but also into schools, old folks home, and even Buckingham Palace; Where Her Majesty Queen Elizebeth II was said to have enjoyed playing the Wii after seeing her grandson Prince William have a go at it.

The Wii ushered in a renewed mindset of games for everyone. His influence on the gaming industry went beyond the Wii itself. It did not take long before the industry caught on with what Iwata himself believed for a long time. Soon Microsoft announced the Kinect and Sony with their PlayStation Move, both of them appealing to the more casual audience.

Like I mentioned before, the Wii’s influence in my household was unprecedented. I got my Wii as a Christmas present in 2009 and during that time everyone in my family would join in the fun. Everyone from my technologically inept grandfather to my long lost gaming companion of a sister, all of us had fun.

Inspiring the Future

With the initial financial trouble of the 3DS, as well as, the huge disappointment of the Wii U. Iwata understood that the gaming market was no longer as he had wished it was.

“… I believe that the era has ended when people play all kinds of games only on dedicated gaming systems.”

Seeing as smartphones spread casual gaming to the everyday crowd, Iwata reluctantly admitted that Nintendo would have to change. For gamers to buy the Nintendo brand of fun, they would have to first experience the Nintendo brand of fun. Partnering with DeNA, Iwata led Nintendo into the territory of the mobile games, putting beloved IPs onto smartphones hoping that people will be enticed to experience the full fun on Nintendo’s dedicated console.

At the same time, he worked tirelessly as the lead developer of the Nintendo Switch until his passing. Not wanting to just built on the past, he conceived ideas of how a next generation home console can allow better networking and communication between players.

Though he never actually saw both of them to fruition, the new Nintendo renaissance’s foundations can largely be traced back to him.

Remembering the Man

Video games are meant to be just one thing: fun. Fun for everyone.

For every industry, there is a man that seeings things different. A man that firmly believes in his vision and takes leads the crowd towards places no one has ever imagined. For the gaming industry, that man is Satoru Iwata. His wholehearted conviction as a gamer brought us unimaginable fun. He will be remembered in the years to come, as Nintendo now sees a resurgence. And from his ideals, a new generation of game developers will carry on his life mission to build games not just for gamers but for everyone.