Thank You, Mr. Iwata.
Since the news broke on Sunday, the deeply saddening loss of Mr. Iwata has had a huge effect on a great many gamers, as seen from the many posts from those wishing to pay their respects to his legacy (many from authors far more eloquent than I). While there’s little I can add to the great words that have already been spoken in his honor, I feel I still owe my peace. I don’t really consider myself a Nintendo fanboy, but if you were to go through all my blog posts, you might think differently. After all, I’ve written a lot about Nintendo games. But that’s because after I play a game, I only write about it if I feel like I have something interesting to say, and I almost always have something to say about Nintendo’s work. One thing you can never criticize them for is not knowing how to make greatly inspired and uniquely imaginative games. Despite their game design being incredibly influential, they are an utterly unique company amongst big game publishers. Much of that is directly attributable to the deeply-held principles that Mr. Iwata’s leadership and guidance maintained at the company.
Under his leadership, Nintendo was a shrewd business, but it was never a cynical one. It was fiercely guided by a fundamental philosophy and faith that gaming was meant to bring joy and wonderment into people’s lives. In accordance with these principles, they took risks to bring us new gaming experiences, some of which paid off big for them as a business and some of which didn’t. But that’s how risks work, and Mr. Iwata realized that merely following the status quo of their competitors would certainly lead to the company’s stagnation and decline. Perhaps most importantly, during his tenure as president, Nintendo always had respect for its fans, customers, and its own legacy and eschewed the classless practices that have become popular amongst its peers, because they see gaming as a unique source of fun in our lives and not a shallow means to manipulate human consumer psychology.
And while he’s most well-known as a business leader, I’m grateful that his past as a talented programmer is being given more attention. Gamers are often familiar with directors, artists, and composers, but the contributions of programmers are usually more “under-the-hood” and go less appreciated. Even after becoming the president of HAL Laboratories in 1993, it seems like he was still in the trenches as a programmer and used his expertise to bring many beleaguered projects to fruition. My favorite story is how he cleaned up the code for Pokemon Gold+Silver so that Game Freak could fit its full plans for Johto onto the cartridge. But not only that, he made room for the Kanto region as well! Such a wonderful surprise that was, and it was all made possible because of his hard work and talent.
But the biggest loss that he will leave in our lives, I think, comes from his theatricality. The man put himself out there with Iwata Asks and Nintendo Direct to become the face of the company. He brought us many precious unheard developer stories from within Nintendo itself. Despite what you might expect from such a reserved business man, he put on a show like none other in gaming, to get us enthusiastic for Nintendo. Look at all the grandiose stage conferences at E3 2015 and compare it to the wonderful puppet show they put on this year. It shows that he wanted the company to build a closer relationship with its customers that went beyond merely shovelling out over-produced trailers that do little to represent new games. He wanted gamers to be excited for Nintendo as fans, not as consumers. This motivation went beyond his appearances and can also be seen in Nintendo’s other fan-focused content such as Treehouse Live and the Nintendo World Championship. It is a great way to do business, and I hope they continue Nintendo Direct and these other events, even though it won’t be the same without his presence.
Thank you, Mr. Iwata, for brightening our hobby and for helping to bring so many great and fun gaming memories with family and friends into our lives.