Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has died. According to a statement from Nintendo, Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth. He was only 55. Iwata had apparently been battling cancer for some time now. Last year, he did not travel to E3 2014 and missed Nintendo's shareholders' meeting for health issues, the cause of which was later revealed to be surgery on his bile duct.
"In general, it is said that a bile duct growth can be difficult-to-treat, partly because of the difficulty of detecting it early. In my case, luckily, it was detected very early and I had no symptoms," he said in June of last year. "I was counseled that removal at an early stage would be the desirable medical option. Therefore I had surgery last week, and I came through it well, as predicted. I have already resumed my business by email and by other means, but it is anticipated that a little more time is needed for me to return to my regular work schedule."
We all assumed that was that: the surgery was successful and Iwata was safe. Sadly, that was not the case.
Human life is precious. Every loss of life is keenly felt, whether the death involves a family member, friend, or acquaintance. The point is that the person has touched your life in some way. Nintendo as a company has touched many lives. For much of our modern era, Iwata was in charge of Nintendo, steering the company forward in its own unique way and acting as the friendly face of the entire endeavor. That means he's touched our lives as well.
Iwata was a unique figure in our industry. Unlike those in charge at other major publishers, Iwata was not a simply an executive. He joined HAL Laboratory right out of university, working as a programmer on titles like Balloon Fight and the Kirby series. During his time as president of HAL, Iwata stepped in and helped Shigesato Itoi's team with the development of Mother 2 (Earthbound), to the point that Itoi said the team "relied on Iwata-san." He helped with the localization of Pokemon Red/Green, got the Pokemon Stadium battle system up-and-running on Nintendo 64, and coded tools to compress Pokemon Gold/Silver enough that the team at GameFreak was able to fit in the entire Kanto region.
That background gave Iwata a perspective that moved beyond the balance sheet and placating shareholders. He felt genuine - a person who wanted everyone in the world to have fun. He was the uncle we all wanted to have. In interviews, he spoke frankly, but always remained warm and kind to whoever he was speaking to. He created Iwata Asks to give Nintendo fans further insight into the company's games. In many of the Nintendo Direct videos, Iwata was there front and center, talking directly to each and every one of us. One of his last statements to the public underlined how much he cared about Nintendo's fanbase.
"Thank you for your feedback. We hear you and we are committed to continuing to meet your expectations," he said, with a translation provided by Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime to Polygon.
Satoru Iwata was Nintendo personified. He and the company were tightly intertwined. You can't say that about many executives. Hell, when Nintendo was going through rough times, Iwata put his salary on the line instead of downsizing employees like many executives would.
"If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, however, employee morale will decrease, and I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world," he said when asked about the lack of corporate restructuring by a shareholder. "I also know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to improve their financial performance by letting a number of their employees go, but at Nintendo, employees make valuable contributions in their respective fields, so I believe that laying off a group of employees will not help to strengthen Nintendo's business in the long run."
Nintendo wasn't always correct in the path it chose, but it pursued that path with a sense of fun you don't always find in the industry. There isn't another major company quite like it and that's because of the culture Iwata created.
You can see that in other statements he made over the course of his career.
"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."
"Today there are people who play and who don't. We'll help destroy that wall between them."
"I've never once been embarrassed that children have supported Nintendo. I'm proud of it. That's because children judge products based on instinct. Everyone wants to appeal to people's instincts, but it's not easy. That doesn't mean we're making products just for children. We believe that there's interactive entertainment that people in their 60s, 70s and 80s can enjoy."
"My name is Iwata. I'm about making games and I'm about playing games. Last night, I played Super Smash Bros. That's my game. I kicked some... you know what and I took his name. His name was Reggie. As Nintendo president, I'm also all about asking questions. So Reggie, I have a question for you. Who's your daddy?"
"Above all, video games are meant to be just one thing: fun. Fun for everyone."
That was Satoru Iwata. That is Nintendo. He will be missed. Rest in peace, sir.