3. His Nintendo took more risks than ever
Iwata took over Nintendo in 2002 with the Game Boy Advance doing well and the GameCube struggling to compete with the PS2 and Xbox. When Iwata revealed the first two consoles under his leadership, both were met with skepticism and even outright derision by the gaming industry. In the face of the PSP’s powerful hardware, a dual screened handheld looked like a silly experiment doomed to fail. With the 360’s hardcore cred and the PS3’s heavily touted abilities, Nintendo’s motion-controlled Wii seemed doomed for third place and was decried by many as ‘two GameCube’s ducttaped together’.
And it was Iwata’s unexpected moves that lead to Nintendo’s most profitable years ever. The Wii and DS outsold the competition by leaps and bounds, introducing millions of people to gaming who never played before. Those systems, (alongside games like Wii Sports, Nintendogs, Wii Fit, and Brain Training) all ventured outside gaming’s niches and found whole new worlds. Even when Iwata’s initiatives didn’t work, like the faltering Wii U, it always felt like the company was just another calculated risk away from conquering gaming again. It makes you wonder just what Iwata had planned for NX, and if that system will change the way people see the company all over again.
2. He changed Nintendo in so many ways
Satoru Iwata talked up Nintendo’s history so often, making most of his announcements and reveals seem to fit within the company’s long legacy. It was a smart move, but Iwata was changing the company in many ways that people never noticed. Not only did he remove the company from the escalating graphical arms race between PlayStation and Microsoft, as well as the pissing contest E3’s press conferences became, he worked from within to redefine Nintendo as a whole.
Even though some feel Nintendo makes too many sequels, he oversaw the creation of so many new franchises. When Nintendo got lambasted for falling behind the competition, it avoided the console wars by redefining them to the point that Sony and Xbox would copy all their success just four years later. He opened up the formerly secretive company so gradually that even reporters like myself didn’t even notice. Without ostentation or bluster, he transformed a gaming giant without many realizing it, and it makes you wonder just how many more changes he had in store for the company.
1. He’s been a bigger part of your life as a gamer than you’ll ever realize
Perhaps it has to do with his modesty, but in life we never really knew enough about Satoru Iwata’s life pre-Nintendo presidency. Within the Japanese development community he was known as an extraordinary programmer before he even arrived at HAL, the company he’d later run. He programmed all of Balloon Fight for the NES by himself, and would go on to have a hand in creating Kirby, And in the days that followed his passing, so many more stories came out that revealed he touched the lives of gamers in ways no one knew.
Iwata’s programming expertise saved the development of Earthbound, making him a lifelong friend of creator Shigesato Itoi. Iwata made it possible to include the Kanto region in Pokemon Gold and Silver. He made sure that Smash Bros. Melee shipped within time for holiday 2001. He greatly improved the NES release of Dragon Quest. He was an inspiration to so, so many developers, and I’m betting that in the weeks and months and years to come, we’ll find out dozens of other ways Iwata touched our favorite games without us ever realizing it.
In life, Satoru Iwata was a man dedicated to making great games. His commitment and respect for the medium shined through in everything he did, and only now, with him gone, do we realize just what we’re going to miss in his shocking exit. But, if there’s anything we can take from this tragic (and far too early) death, it’s that we can now truly see what a life he lived.
Image via verna-c