Nintendo President and CEO Rides the Rainbow Road to Heaven

“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.” Satoru Iwata at GDC 2005

My family owned one of the very old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment Systems released in Australia in 1987. We had six games that I would repetitively play over and over; the only recognisable one today is Tetris, which somehow I never mastered as the blocks fell too fast for my 6 year-old hands. The console has disappeared now – it was either thrown out by my parents or stolen by rabid gamer fans.

Nintendo released the NES after the “video game crash” of the 80s when many believed gaming was a passing fad. Instead, the first home console unit became a raging success and franchises soon appeared that still exist today, such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Nintendo has gone from strength to strength (excluding a dip in sales for the much-maligned Gamecube) and so it is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Satoru Iwata, the president and CEO of Nintendo, friend of Pokémon, who died from bile duct cancer on Saturday 11th July 2015 at the age of 55.

The Yamauchi family founded Nintendo as a playing-card company in 1889 and Iwata was the first president unrelated to the family. He was one of the gaming industry’s only corporate presidents with substantial hands-on experience and a history in software and game creation.

Iwata joined HAL Laboratory (a company that worked closely with Nintendo) after graduating from university and became its coordinator of software production in 1983. He helped develop games such as Kirby, Earthbound and Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 64. Even after he was promoted to president of HAL Laboratory in 1993, he continued to personally work on game titles including the popular Pokémon Gold and Silver and Pokémon Stadium. At that time HAL Laboratory was verging on bankruptcy and Iwata was instrumental in solidifying the company’s finances.

Iwata became head of Nintendo’s corporate planning division in 2000 and president in 2002 when Hiroshi Yamauchi, president since 1949, stepped down. At the time of his promotion, Nintendo was performing poorly with its latest release, the Gamecube, being called an “unmitigated disaster” by Time International. Under Iwata’s leadership, Nintendo after Yamauchi began to flourish and expand. He introduced the Nintendo DS, which would go on to compete against Sony PlayStation 2 for the title of “best-selling games console of all time” and the popular Wii, applauded for its universal appeal and easy to play format. After years of fiscal losses, Iwata’s changes to Nintendo and plans for smartphone and tablet game development began paying off financially.

Iwata’s commitment to making gaming universal for all players has seen Nintendo experiment with different games and consoles, from the loveable Nintendogs to the trendy Wii Fit. He is remembered not only for his gaming successes but for the warmth and friendliness he exuded at public events and with fans.

Social media users are currently sharing photos of Nintendo HQ in Kyoto, Japan that appeared after Iwata’s death showing a rainbow in cloudy skies. Fans are calling it Iwata’s Rainbow Road to Heaven, after the popular Rainbow Road in Mario Kart.