Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata made everyone a gamer…
Most of the games industry is made up of pariahs, scapegoats and cowboys (joke!) but there are two exceptions unanimously beloved by gamers and critics alike. Understandably, one is Valve –the Pixar of gaming with a reputation earned by developing some of the best games in the business. The other is, well, was a top-level Japanese executive called Satoru Iwata who died of cancer at the young age of 55 last week. Why would anyone care about an Asian manager more used to boardroom strategies? He was Nintendo‘s top brass with a passion for gaming who turned all of us into gamers.
Unlike most Japanese executives, Iwata’s background wasn’t in business, it was in programming and gaming. And it’s something he noted in one of his inaugural keynotes over ten years ago atGDC:
“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.”
In the 1980s, Nintendo owned gaming with its NES and SNES consoles, designed for fun entertainment and played by kids. But those kids turned into snot-nosed teens and outgrew Nintendo, looking for something shinier, shootier and with better graphics to sate their gaming hits. So Sony and later Microsoft saw a demographic gap and marketed their respective consoles to young 18-35 men. That marketing shift defined gaming through the 1990s and early noughties while Nintendo failed to offer the same impact with the GameCube.
Then Nintendo hired Iwata, who wanted to keep gaming about fun and entertainment for everyone in the family. While Nintendo wasn’t interested in fighting Microsoft and Sony on a techs’n’specs basis, Iwata was designing improvements in the way users interact with games. Enter the Wii – something your Mum or Grandad could play. And boy did they. The rest is history and now we’re all gamers. R.I.P Satoru Iwata.