Satoru Iwata: CEO, Game Developer, Gamer - Did You Know Gaming? Feat. Furst

Satoru Iwata: CEO, Game Developer, Gamer – Did You Know Gaming? Feat. Furst



In his 2005 Game Developers Conference keynote, Satoru Iwata opened with the words, These few sentences would be echoed
in everything he did, from leading the most successful
game console launch Nintendo ever had, to innovating the way gamers interacted
with developers. Iwata's creativity and dedication
would cement him as an icon in both Nintendo and the video game industry
as a whole. This is the story of how a young student playing
with a calculator would go on to become one of the most widely known and warmest faces
in the industry. This is Satoru Iwata. Satoru Iwata was born on December 6, 1959, in Sapporo, Japan, as the son of a politician. However, despite his father's background in politics, Iwata was drawn to technology,
even at a young age. He said that his first encounter
with computers was during his years in middle school, in Hokkaido. Every Sunday, he would travel to the nearby
Sapporo subway station, where there were several
pay-per-hour public computers. And on them, he would play
a simple numeric game titled Game 31. This was so early in the concept of computing that the words "micro processor" and
"personal computer" did not exist. His interest in games and computers
would follow Iwata into high school, where he worked a part-time job
just to save enough money to buy an early Hewlett-Packard calculator for ¥160,000. It should be noted that this was during the mid-70s, when the yen was at an all-time high. The price of that calculator today
would be in the range of ___________. The price of that calculator today
would be in the range of $4800 USD. This particular calculator came with
a magnetic card reader, which allowed the device to read and
write simple programs. And using this feature,
Iwata began creating basic number games
that he shared with his classmates. Watching his friends enjoy the games he created
brought Iwata great joy, and from that point forward,
he felt that his path in life was set. In 1978, Iwata began attending the
Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he studied engineering and computer sciences, the closest equivalent to a
game programming course at the time. However, the classes offered by the university
didn't challenge Iwata, who dedicated much of his time in high school
to learning all that he could about computers. So instead of spending time studying in school, Iwata would often travel to a local department store, the first in Tokyo to have an entire section
dedicated solely to personal computers. Here, Iwata met like-minded students, with whom he would discuss the growing industries
of technology and video games. This group would eventually become a close-knit
circle of friends, and before long, formed a club that evolve into a company
called _______________. formed a club that evolve into a company
called HAL Laboratory. Though Iwata did not co-found the company,
he was amongst its first employees. He recalled that there were just five people
working there when he joined. The name HAL was chosen as a nod to
the antagonistic supercomputer from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and because the letters "H," "A," and "L" put them
one step ahead of computer company IBM. However, despite this lofty name,
the company had much more humble beginnings. Iwata and his coworkers rented a
small, single-room apartment, which acted as their first headquarters. Though he was both determined and enthusiastic
about games and programming, Iwata argued with his family over the decision to join
such a small and unproven company. His father, who was elected
the mayor of the port city Muroran,
was especially distasteful of Iwata's path. The conversation ultimately ended with the elder Iwata
refusing to speak to his son for six months. Iwata once reasoned,
"They must've thought I was joining a religious cult!" Regardless, Iwata stayed firm in his decision, and helped the burgeoning company create some of their earliest games. His first credit was for the MSX title Super Billiards. He also ended up filling as many roles
as the company needed him to, often acting as a game designer, programmer,
and even overseeing marketing. His passion often led him to work on weekends and
holidays, simply because he wanted to. Iwata's proficiency in programming and design
garnered him the respect of his peers, and he quickly rose to the title of
"Coordinator of Software Production" in 1983. After the announcement and release of the
Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicom, the team at HAL was immediately drawn to the device. Iwata had expert knowledge of the
Famicom's inner workings, as the console shared components
with the Commodore PET, a console he worked on while in college. HAL reached out to Nintendo seeking a partnership, and Iwata personally traveled to their Kyoto
headquarters and met with the company. While this might have intimidated others,
Iwata was confident in his abilities. He once claimed that he believed
that he could write better NES code than
even Nintendo's EAD engineers, or that he could write the
fastest, most compact code! Nintendo's management saw potential
in Iwata and HAL, and eventually hired the company
to assist in the development of Pinball, a title that was falling behind schedule. Work was quickly completed on the title, and it released in Japan on February 2, 1984. Pinball marked the beginning
of many early collaborations between Nintendo
and HAL during the era, and Iwata worked on many of them,
including Balloon Fight, NES Open Tournament, and the 1987 Famicom port of Joust, just to name a few. Before too long, HAL Laboratory was given the
opportunity to create an original IP to call their own. Iwata decided that the company should focus on
making a game for beginners, a title so uncomplicated that anyone could
pick it up and play, but challenging enough to be fun
for more hardcore gamers. He took pitches from anyone in the company
and chose an idea titled "Twinkle Popo," from a fresh-faced designer named
Masahiro Sakurai. Iwata's directive of simplicity ended up rippling
through the entirety of this new game, from its level design to its art direction, eventually taking up the final form
of Kirby's Dream Land. The title was released on April 27, 1992, in Japan, and on August 2, 1992, in North America, and it has sold over five million copies to date. Dream Land was a hit for Nintendo and HAL, inspiring numerous sequels and spin-offs
throughout the years. Kirby has since become
the de facto mascot for HAL. However, despite the success of their new game and
their growing relationship with Nintendo, HAL had fallen to the brink of bankruptcy in 1993. The company was only rescued through
the intervention of Hiroshi Yamauchi— then President of Nintendo—
who offered aid in exchange for two things: that HAL would become an exclusive second-party
developer for Nintendo, and that Satoru Iwata would become
the company's president. HAL and Iwata accepted the offer, which would prove to be the great turning point for
both the developer and the man, and Yamauchi's trust in Iwata was NOT misplaced. Sakurai later remembered about Iwata, And, that paid off. During his tenure as the president of HAL, Iwata successfully led the company
away from bankruptcy, all without losing his knack for
programming and design. Oftentimes, he would personally step in
to save games from disaster. One such instance was MOTHER 2, or Earthbound, as it came
to be known in North America. The title was being worked on by a different team
than the original MOTHER game, and four years into development, it was still
riddled with bugs and nowhere near completion. When Iwata, who was acting as
a producer on the title, visited developer APE Inc., he famously said, He then told the team that he could help, but
they had two paths forward. He explained, Project lead Shigesato Itoi and APE Inc.
accepted Iwata's offer and threw out what they had already completed. And with Iwata's help,
many of the problems the team were running into were solved in just a month. True to his word, Iwata helped complete
Earthbound's development in just six months. Another title that faced problems in its development
was Game Freak's Pokémon Stadium. Pokémon Red & Green had a
very rocky development, and the code for the games was
complicated and fragile. To make things worse, there were no specification documents
left by the original programmers, so porting the battle system
from Red & Green to Stadium was proving to be incredibly difficult
for Game Freak and Nintendo. Though he didn't officially work
at either company, Iwata ended up acting as an intermediary
between the two. He'd also aided in the overseas localization
for Red & Green, and studied their source code so that he
could better suggest changes. So, when he heard of these difficulties, Iwata stepped in and ported the battle mechanics
to Stadium himself, in just one week! When Shigeki Morimoto, an original programmer
for Pokémon Red & Green, heard of Iwata's accomplishments,
he remembered exclaiming, When he later thought back on this experience, Iwata explained that he stepped in
simply because… His concern for the development of Gold & Silver
eventually led Iwata to aid in development for those games as well. Game Freak was concerned that
their vision for the titles wouldn't fit on the limited memory space
available for Game Boy cartridges. Upon hearing these concerns,
Iwata once again used his talents to create compression tools so efficient
that they allowed the developers to effectively double the size
of the game's overworld. When later asked about these tools,
all Iwata had to say was, A final project that Iwata personally saved was a four-player fighting game from
Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai, codenamed "Kakuto-Gemu Ryou,"
or "Dragon King: The Fighting Game." The young developer approached Iwata
with this idea and was immediately given the
green light to work on it. However, at the time, HAL had no
spare programmers to work on the prototype, so Iwata took on the role himself, spending his weekends coding early builds
of the game. After Sakurai had difficulty coming up with
original characters for the title, it was instead decided to use
Nintendo's pre-existing characters. Iwata and Sakurai weren't even sure if they'd be able
to get approval to use the characters, so…they didn't seek permission,
moving forward with the demo featuring Mario, Donkey Kong, Fox McCloud,
and Samus Aran. This title eventually became Super Smash Bros., which went on to become to become one of
Nintendo's most successful franchises— and all because Iwata saw potential in an idea and
programmed the prototype himself! As the president of HAL, Iwata had frequently proven himself as both a developer and a manager, and Hiroshi Yamauchi had taken notice. In 2000, he offered Iwata the position of
head of Nintendo's Corporate Planning division and a seat on the company's board of directors,
a proposal that Iwata accepted. Over the next two years, he sought to reduce the company's costs
and streamline the production of their games, even stepping in once again to help save
Masahiro Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Melee. It appeared as if Melee wasn't going
to make its release date, so Iwata reviewed the code and fixed several bugs
himself, all in the span of just three weeks. Iwata later recalled his time working on the game: "I was right there,
sitting by programmers in the trenches, reading code together, finding the bugs,
and fixing them together." And because of that,
the game made it out on time. Iwata's efforts over these two years again
proved his ability as a leader and made him a natural choice for
promotion within the company. In May of 2002, Nintendo announced that Hiroshi Yamauchi was retiring
as the President of Nintendo and that Satoru Iwata had been chosen
as his successor, the first outside of the Yamauchi bloodline. Iwata's tenure was a breath of fresh air for Nintendo. One of his first decisions as President
was to personally meet with all 40 of the company's department heads
and roughly 150 employees, a stark contrast to Yamauchi electing
to rarely ever meet with employees one-on-one. Additionally, where Yamauchi tended to make
decisions based on intuition and past experience, Iwata was driven by data and evidence, and he wanted others to work alongside him
to keep the company in check. To do this, he promoted Shigeru Miyamoto,
Genyo Takeda, Yoshihiro Mori, and Shinji Hatano as representatives on Nintendo's Board of Directors,
equaling his own position. However, despite remaining a profitable company
when Iwata was promoted as President, Nintendo was starting to lose momentum. In comparison to their competitors,
the GameCube was struggling to perform, even after Iwata fostered a productive partnership
with Japanese publisher Capcom. He'd also noticed a declining interest in video gaming
by the general public. It was becoming increasingly obvious to Iwata
that Nintendo needed a new direction. Iwata commissioned a year-long analysis
of the industry, which concluded that pushing for the most advanced hardware was not
the most effective path forward. This was, perhaps, some vindication for Iwata, who, as early as 2002, felt that
gaming had become far too exclusive, that the industry was too concerned with the technology behind the games
instead of the games themselves. Iwata oversaw the development of new hardware that focused more on inventing
new and innovative ways to play games instead of trying to compete
with cutting-edge graphical technology, a direction that Nintendo still follows to this day. The first piece of new hardware
influenced by this decision was the Nintendo DS,
a handheld console that featured two screens, one of which was a touch screen. This proved to be a turning point
for the struggling Nintendo. The DS would go on to become the
2nd highest-selling console of all time, moving more than 154 million units
during its lifespan. As Iwata desired, the DS appealed to
gamers and non-gamers alike, with titles like Nintendogs and
Brain Age becoming hits. It was only natural that Nintendo would seek to emulate this success
with their next home console. Discussions of a new console began in 2003, after Yamauchi encouraged Iwata to pursue
development of a revolutionary product. Iwata, __________, and _______ had
several meetings to brainstorm new ideas, Iwata, Miyamoto, and _______ had
several meetings to brainstorm new ideas, Iwata, Miyamoto, and Takeda had
several meetings to brainstorm new ideas, and Takeda was eventually assigned
to design new hardware with Iwata giving him the directive that
"A mom has to like it." The company took a risk by investing in new,
accelerometer-based, motion-sensing control inputs instead of more powerful graphical displays. The device, then codenamed the
"Nintendo Revolution," was publicly revealed by Iwata at E3 2005, who pulled it from his jacket pocket
and held it above his head to highlight its small size and light weight. The company elected to wait to reveal the console's
remote and Nunchuk controller until the Tokyo Game Show later that same year, in the Wii,
as its true name in April of 2006. Despite a mixed initial reaction to
the name and design, Nintendo was steadfast in their decision. In 2006, Iwata said that
video games are meant to be one thing: "Fun—fun for everyone"— and insisted that the remote control design
would make the device immediately accessible. Regardless of initial doubts, the Wii launched in late 2006
to incredible success, shipping over 100 million units during its lifetime. Even more than that, however, Nintendo and their console created a new trend
within the industry, forging the way forward for companies
to experiment with motion control and other unique inputs to their video games. Iwata and his vision for a revolution changed
what it meant to be a gamer, opening the label for anyone and everyone
who wanted to play. During this period, Iwata became well-known
to the gaming public through his series of "Iwata Asks" interviews, where he would personally sit down with
game developers and other staff to ask questions about their games. In these, he'd often share anecdotes about
his time as a programmer, insights into Nintendo's history,
and his own philosophies on game design. Additionally, he became even more recognizable
for his appearance in Nintendo Directs, a series of online presentations
that the company began broadcasting in 2011. Though the Directs were used as a medium
to announce new games and showcase gameplay, Iwata approached them with the same creativity
that he did with the rest of his projects, acting out occasional skits with other Nintendo
executives and employees. These presentations have proved to be a massive hit and have since replaced
traditional press conferences as Nintendo's primary method
of previewing their games to the public. Nintendo prospered under Iwata during
most of his leadership, with new variations of the Wii and DS selling
spectacularly during their run. However, poor marketing and
low third-party support meant that their newest console, the Wii U,
struggled from its release. This slow start meant that the company
began taking losses in 2013, but Iwata refused to let this
negatively affect his employees. To protect them from layoffs,
he personally slashed his own salary in half and flat-out refused to fire anyone, as he felt
it would hurt employee morale. And yet, despite this, things only got worse. In 2014, a cancerous tumor was discovered
in his bile duct, which caused him to undergo surgery immediately. This forced Iwata to miss a planned
appearance at E3 2014, which caused great concern
amongst the gaming community. Fans and colleagues sent their well wishes, and even the online image board 4chan sent Iwata
a crowdsourced "Get well soon!" card. His road to recovery was slow and difficult,
but even through this, he never lost his smile or his stride. He even decided to publicly update his Mii to reflect the weight he'd lost during his illness. In June of 2015, Iwata was once again unable
to attend E3 because of his health. He was later hospitalized once again because
of complications from his illness, though this did not stop him from
continuing his work. Even in the hospital,
Iwata was exchanging ideas with The Pokémon Company's Tsunekazu Ishihara about the game that would eventually
become Pokémon Go. However, the public did not understand how
truly serious his condition was… …and sadly, on July 11, 2015… Satoru Iwata passed away… The next day, news of his passing spread
throughout the industry, with fans, news outlets, and even competitors
all mourning in equal measure. Iwata was buried on July 16, 2015, and his funeral was attended by thousands. During that day, former Sonic Team lead
Yuji Naka said that even the sky in Kyoto is crying. No one can deny the impact Satoru Iwata had
on the gaming industry. Under his leadership,
Nintendo entered a new era of success, and as a result of his efforts, the industry
was pushed forward into a new state of thinking. An entire new market of gamers was opened up. His incredible talents as a programmer
helped to create some of the most celebrated and widely-played
video games ever released, yet he rejected praise for his accomplishments, claiming that he was just doing his job. It's clear that no matter where he was in his life, whether it be in a subway station in Hokkaido, or at the head of
the largest gaming company in the world, Satoru Iwata remained one thing: ________ Satoru Iwata remained one thing: a gamer.

50 thoughts to “Satoru Iwata: CEO, Game Developer, Gamer – Did You Know Gaming? Feat. Furst”

  1. Back when he said not to pay for online, now that he died, Nintendo put Nintendo Online Subscription

  2. 4 years ago, i lost my childhood. LLSI as the goat of video game developing. He influenced not only myself, but many other millions of young kids into video games and imagination. One of the greats

  3. After watching this video this video was all I felt https://youtu.be/Q2bdk86lw6A this man created my fucking childhood, fuck cancer

  4. The Smash fact made no sense, all the characters are Nintendo’s IP or companies that only made games for them or owned by them like HAL.

  5. Screw politicians. Screw Kings and Queens. This is the greatest leader to live. Rest in Glory, Iwata.

  6. I am a Playstation fan and I didn't know how much he did for Nintendo but if this is true, he was a LEGEND. How could there be a person like him in this world? He was incredible.

  7. I’m never going to be able to truly enjoy free Slurpee day again, knowing that it’s also the anniversary of Iwata’s death. ;n;

  8. I literally cry every time I watch this video, he is my inspiration for what I want to become

  9. Even all these years later, seeing this video and thinking of Iwata-san is heartbreaking. Such an amazing, inspiring man.

  10. Without Nintendo and people like Iwata, I would have never been a gamer. Thank you, Iwata, for bringing me joy and a childhood with the DS.

  11. It's been 4 years and i still cry whenever I think about him. My childhood wouldn't be the same if it wasn't for him. Thank you for everything, Iwata-san.

  12. I remember the day after he died, crying at my school and nobody understood who I was crying over…I could say his name but everyone just kind of looked at me as if they didn’t recognize his name.

    Worst. Feeling. Ever.

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