The death of former Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata

The world of gaming was stunned earlier this month when the death of former Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata was announced. Iwata gained a legendary reputation amongst gamers for his innovative approach to gaming, as well as his loyalty to his company and customers.

The tragic passing of Iwata was marked in the streets of Kyoto, Japan by thousands of people attending his two-day funeral that signaled just how strong an impression the games-maker had made on people’s hearts.

Early years

Iwata tragically passed away on 11 July following complications that developed during treatment of a bile duct tumour. He was aged just 55 years old. The Sapporo native expressed interest in computer game programming at an early age. Following a few years of experimentation creating simple games with an electronic calculator, Iwata entered the Tokyo Institute of Technology where he became an intern at Commodore, and worked as a freelance programmer at the HAL Laboratory Inc.

It was here at that Iwata started developing games for the Nintendo corporation. By strengthening ties between the two companies, Iwata oversaw the development of hit games such as Pokemon Gold and Kirby.

Handheld innovation

In 2000, Iwata made the move to become the head of Nintendo’s corporate planning division. This occurred at a time when the company was struggling financially due to sales of their Game Cube system struggling against rivals Microsoft and Sony.

However, Iwata was quick to turn this around when he made efforts to make gaming more appealing to a broader audience. This saw the development of handheld devices such as the Nintendo DS that were focused less on hardcore gamers, and more towards casual and younger games enthusiasts. The device built on Nintendo’s legacy for quality handheld gaming with the Gameboy Advance, but ramped up the graphics and playability.

Second golden age

The Nintendo DS proved to be a massive success that revived the flagging company who immediately went into production of the iconic Wii device. This ushered in what is felt of as Nintendo’s second golden age where the company took full advantage of Iwata’s ‘blue-sky-thinking’.

And nowhere was this better seen than in the Wii device that used groundbreaking handheld controllers to completely alter the way that players interacted with the games. Iwata’s clear desire never to repeat himself brought acclaim as he significantly broadened the audience of gaming with the revolutionary Wii Sports Tennis. This made sure that Nintendo’s emphasis was always firmly placed on fun for the whole family.

Gaming rivals

During Iwata’s time as the head of Nintendo, the rival companies of Sony and Microsoft were frequently gathering plaudits in the world of gaming thanks to the advanced graphical capabilities of their respective PlayStation and Xbox devices.

This was closely tied to the rise of software publishing powerhouses such as EA Sports and Rockstar Games. The ultra-real and violent games delivered by Rockstar such as Grand Theft Auto swiftly became iconic amongst gamers for their anarchic spirit and open-world formats. Whereas the hyper-real sporting games offered by EA Sports became essential for any gamer serious about realistic sporting simulations.

Simple graphics

Interestingly, Iwata took Nintendo in a different direction that was best seen in its ultra-simplistic cartoon-styled graphics that reflected the firm’s Japanese origins. Such aesthetic trends proved to be groundbreaking with games such as Super Smash Bros setting a template for fun, easily understandable and accessible gaming. This in turn can be seen in many modern games such as the mobile slots games offered by that uses an attractive graphical format to easily communicate the sometimes-complex rules of the game.


But one of Iwata’s attributes that warmed him most to his fans was his generosity and ethics. When Nintendo suffered one of its periodic sales slumps in 2009, Iwata voluntarily cut his salary in half to aid the company’s finances and compete better against their rivals.

And the highly popular Iwata Asks section of the Nintendo website allowed fans to interact with the games designer and revealed a character who was warm, funny, and keen to hear from the company’s fan base.

The future

In June 2014 it was noted that Iwata would not be making an appearance at the E3 electronics convention due to ill health.

At that time he was hard at work engineering a relationship between Nintendo and a mobile gaming company, and was well underway in designing new games for mobile platforms.

His passing brought the gaming world to shock, and with the flags at the Nintendo headquarters lowered, it signaled just how important this iconic figure was to gamers the world over.


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