Nintendo of Japan has released a statement that Satoru Iwata, fondly regarded CEO of Nintendo, passed away at age 55 on July 11th due to a bile duct growth. With a long time legacy at both Nintendo and Nintendo affiliate HAL laboratories, Iwata leaves behind a legacy of creativity and passion for video games stretching across generations.
Iwata’s career began in 1982 at HAL Laboratories, working on early titles like Balloon Fight and Kirby before rising to become its president when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. He moved to Nintendo in 2000 as a director helping ship the Nintendo Gamecube, then took over as President in 2002, leading the company through the launch of the Wii in 2008.
Satoru Iwata is mourned by the gaming community at large both for his leadership in Nintendo’s 2008 revival and for his creativity and labor in many beloved game titles. In an interview with Hoboichi, Iwata explained that during the production of fan-favorite game Earthbound, (known as Mother 2 in Japan), Iwata advised lead designer, Shigesato Itoi, that the game would not be completed on schedule unless its code was entirely rewritten from scratch, and famously led the effort himself even while president of HAL. While on the board of Creatures Inc, Iwata also contributed to several famous projects in the Pokémon series, advising Game Freak on the best way to localize Pokémon Red and Blue to America and Europe, porting over the battle code from Pokémon Red and Blue over to Pokémon Stadium, and writing new compression tools for Pokémon Gold and Silver to allow the Kanto region from Pokémon Red and Blue to exist in the same game.
During his time at Nintendo, Iwata steered the company through both the successful console lifespan of the Nintendo Wii and increasing financial hardship, slashing his own pay in half rather than laying off employees even as Nintendo suffered 30% losses in 2014. Iwata’s willingness to cut his own pay and save jobs was an incredibly rare sight for the games industry, which ordinarily sees huge layoffs and turnover when companies finish projects or suffer losses.
Iwata’s personality and charm became famous throughout the gaming world thanks to both his gregariousness in interviews and hosting in-depth conversations about life at Nintendo through the Iwata Asks column on Nintendo’s website, where Iwata would interview developers on upcoming Nintendo titles, providing design insight and celebrating the creativity and inspiration behind games like Splatoon, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and many more.
After Iwata became CEO of Nintendo of America in 2013, he was a regular appearance on the Nintendo Direct video streams, where new games would be announced in a simple, direct to the camera fashion, and Iwata himself would catch the attention of Nintendo fans heralding The Year of Luigi, helping introduce Super Smash Bros for the Wii U and 3DS, and most recently, lending his appearance to the E3 2015 Nintendo Direct as a Jim Henson-produced puppet. Iwata’s willingness to participate in smaller, more offbeat appearances in an industry becoming bigger, louder, and shrouded in reveals made him not just a leader at Nintendo, but a symbol for the passion and originality it pursued in its games.
One of Iwata’s most famous quotes came from his 2005 GDC appearance, where he stated “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.” Iwata’s frequent pride in how his games appealed to children while insistence that games were meant to be played by everyone was a beacon of energy in the games industry, inspiring game developers and players across the globe. Nintendo notes that Genyo Takeda and Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto remain with the company, and will retain leadership roles after Mr. Iwata’s passing.
Cover image source: Nintendo/REUTERS