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Satoru Iwata: A Rarity Among CEOs

The video game industry is mourning the death of Nintendo’s President and CEO, Satoru Iwata, and countless fans across the world are paying tribute to a man that truly dedicated his life to what he loved. He started out as a programmer at HAL Laboratory, contributing heavily to the Kirby franchise and the cult classic, Earthbound. Even early in his career, Iwata demonstrated his willingness to go above and beyond his job title when he created compression tools for the release of Pokemon Gold and Silver in 1999 for Nintendo, and at that time, he was not even an employee of the company, but the President of HAL Laboratory.

Hiroshi Yamauchi allowed Iwata to become the first president of the landmark video game company that was not a part of the Yamauchi family in 2002. From there, the newly appointed CEO continued to consult for HAL Laboratory. He was critical to two of Nintendo’s most successful platforms, the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii, as his programming experience and background as an avid gamer made him more of a hands on CEO than other major tech company helms.

His list of contributions to Nintendo’s flagship franchises was astounding including Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Animal Crossing, but it was his passion that made him a rare breed of CEO.

Rarely, do heads of large companies truly make a difference on the lives of their employees, and the consumers that they are catering to, but Satoru Iwata was no ordinary man. He famously stated, “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.” It was this philosophy that transcended him from just a president of game company to one of the most respected and influential members in the tech industry of all time.

Satoru Iwata’s firm belief that the only real aspect of a video game that mattered is whether or not it was fun showed. For him, it was about his peers and the fans, and in 2014, after disappointing sales, Iwata personally cut his salary in half, and influenced other Nintendo executives to cut their salaries as well. When sales figures were not as expected, instead of laying off employees to make a gap in the deficit, Iwata took the blame, and for this he showed that he was a CEO that fundamentally disagreed with the common perception of what CEO’s should do in times of crisis.

Iwata was so in touch with the products that his company was creating and publishing that he even had a video series called “Iwata Asks” where he would talk with developers of upcoming games. Normally this kind of activity is saved for media outlets, but the personal touch of the CEO taking an interest in each project was truly commendable. Along with that series, he was the main spokesperson for the Nintendo Direct videos which aired online with announcements of all of Nintendo’s upcoming games.

He fervently believed that Nintendo was in the market of making video games, while other game companies were broadly swimming in the entertainment industry, and for that reasoning, Nintendo has gone through great stretches, and intermittent slumps, but their message has never faltered.

The late president’s greatest effort was to get society to view video games in a positive light. He wanted to make games that were fun, family friendly, and taught life lessons along the way. His interests were in getting people who were not gamers to branch out and see what video games had to offer. With the Nintendo Wii and DS, Iwata helped propel this goal even further. Anyone that has played a Nintendo game knows that to this day, they have been marching to their own beat in terms of the types of gameplay experiences that are featured in their beloved franchises.

He influenced countless game developers, and the outpouring from rival studios has been tremendous. Everyone in the video game industry owes some of their success to the likes of Nintendo and Satoru Iwata. Nintendo is recognized globally and loved by gamers of all ages, and with leadership that they had during the 21st century, the company has proven that they are really in the industry to provide entertainment. Mr. Iwata was in the business of making games, but along the way, he became known as one of the most compassionate and involved CEO’s in the world. Without Iwata, gaming would be a far lesser industry.

The man had a brilliant mind for programming and for business, but his heart is what made him such an integral and unique contributor to the world of video games. He will be truly missed by millions, but his legacy will never be forgotten. His impact will be felt for many years, and the principles that he guided his company with show that, sometimes, a CEO that follows his heart is capable of making a bigger difference on the world than one that just looks at the numbers. Satoru Iwata’s global influence was profound as he provided entertainment for millions of people spanning across past, present and future generations to come. May one of the most important figures in the gaming industry, and more importantly, a genuinely remarkable human being, rest peacefully.

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