Earlier this week, I wrote a thing about the passing of Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata for USGamer. It’s a list of his achievements, primarily key points when he went far beyond the call of duty for a CEO of a major video game company.
Iwata wasn’t about buzzwords and casual-cool sports coats over slogan T-shirts. He was about building, debugging, dreaming, and talking “Directly” to Nintendo’s fans. That’s why he’s being mourned like crazy.
In fact, the opening for my USGamer piece is admittedly emotional despite the more mechanical-sounding prose making up the body. Iwata’s death is a waste, and it is a god damn shame, and it has me wanting to Hurricane Kick the Grim Reaper’s head clear off its stupid bony shoulders. But I suppose Death does its job down to the letter regardless of people’s posturing, bargaining, protests, or crying. What is, is what must be.
Satoru Iwata put up with a lot of crap from investors, the industry, and Nintendo fans. I’m not about to stand here, wag my finger at the Internet, and cry “Shame on all of you!” Of course Iwata had to deal with headaches. It was his job. And even though he deserves mountains of credit for the genius behind the Nintendo DS and the Wii (which, despite its long-term shortcomings, got entire families into video games), he still made occasional poor decisions. The Nintendo 3DS launched at a high price point, for instance, and the Wii U — well, we all know about the Wii U’s troubles, though I think many of them could have been circumvented with better marketing.
But one thing Iwata never got enough credit for is managing to keep Nintendo (mostly) profitable during the gaming industry’s most turbulent period in decades. I’m old enough to remember the Crash of ’83, and today’s market makes that event look like a stroll through World 1-1.
Whereas the Crash was centralized around one region and one market (North America and game consoles), mobile phones and tablets are literally everywhere, and Nintendo must devise inventive ways to keep kids interested in Mario in the presence of Minecraft and Angry Birds. Perhaps even more importantly, Nintendo also has to convince parents that their games and consoles are worth buying even though the App Store and Google Play is flush with free games.
Think about what Iwata’s been up against. Until 2009 or so, Nintendo never had to work hard at dominating the portable market. All the competitors that tried to stand up to the Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS plinged uselessly against Nintendo’s massive user base. But along comes the iPhone, which gave the Nintendo 3DS the fight of its life even though Steve Jobs wasn’t even trying to compete for gamers’ fingers and thumbs.
Nintendo’s been up and down during this tumultuous time, but there’s never been any question about the quality, love, and innovation behind its games and systems. In an era where the Japanese game mascots and franchises I grew up with are being shunted into poorly-built free-to-play mobile games, I know Mario and Link will always perform their very best on Nintendo’s consoles, same as they did when I was a kid.
People like to go all Chicken Little on Nintendo and claim the sky is falling, and the console / handheld market is moments away from being swallowed by mobile gaming. Yet when I rake the ‘net for game news, I see countless stories about layoffs and shutdowns — and Nintendo is never in those headlines. For them, it’s always business as usual.
While the company will be making some health-related programs and equipment in the coming years, any schmoe off the street knows that Nintendo means “Games.” That’s not true for Sony, Microsoft, Apple, or Google. And given how big this industry is, and how volatile, I think that’s amazing.
Iwata is at least partially to thank for keeping the ship steady in the churning waters. No matter what investors said, no matter what we said, he stuck to three philosophies: Games should be fun. They should be innovative. And they should be for everyone.