How Iwata Represented Nintendo

nintendo-half-mast As of this writing I only got the news of Satoru Iwata’s passing about an hour ago, but there’s really only one general thought I want to get out there which underscores nearly everything I’ve said about Nintendo on this blog. Other people will undoubtedly go over aspects of Iwata’s life like his lesser-known programming feats before becoming Nintendo’s CEO. A lot of people will probably also cover the points I’m about to here. I just want to get it out there that I think, as the head of a company, Iwata did a really good job of defining what Nintendo is and has always been about compared to the rest of the video game industry.

I don’t have the time to look up quotes supporting everything I’m going to say (nor am I being paid to do this), but if you look back at various interviews, news, and investor’s meeting notes I think you get a real sense of how Iwata steered Nintendo’s course against the grain.

Let’s start with Iwata’s most obvious successes: the Wii and original DS. Everything about the Wii was pretty much unthinkable in 2005, which is probably why it did so well, directly inflating the perceived size of the console game market back then. It went completely against the conventional thinking of “more power, bigger and more epic games” to simply offer a new way of playing games that continued to be fun. The main reason the system didn’t get much third party support is because most of the rest of the industry is hard-coded to a certain way of business, a way of business Nintendo has directly opposed for probably 20 years now. Iwata kept that up through his whole career as CEO.

Overall, everything I read about Iwata made him seem like more of a long-term sustainability guy than a short-term profit kind of guy. That’s likely the mentality that’s kept Nintendo in the video game business this long. You’ve obviously got the investor meeting notes detailing how Iwata for years resisted turning Nintendo into a mobile game maker against the cries of shareholders chasing the next big thing. What really impressed me however is how, when Nintendo started losing money like everyone else in this industry a few years ago, Iwata decided to cut his own salary instead of lay people off. Layoffs were happening all over the place (and kind of still are) in order to keep profits up, but Iwata and Nintendo seemed to put more priority on keeping up employee morale.

I think things like this have kept Nintendo from becoming an EA, and Activision, or even worse — a SEGA.

I’ve definitely had disagreements with how Iwata and Nintendo execute their ideas. I’m not gonna pretend the Wii U and 3DS weren’t grossly miscalculated. But, I’ve always respected Iwata’s insistence on sustainability and pursuit of a vision of video games that are simply fun, regardless of whether they employ better shaders or physics. Nintendo is behind the times most of the time in regards to technology and services, but that’s partly because it’s trying to maintain a way of making and playing games all the big guys seem to have forgotten about in their ceaseless pursuit of technology and trends. Iwata tried to maintain the company’s desire to be a trend-setter, not a follower.


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