One of the best things I did in my life was to read Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World by David Sheff. Providing a wealth of information on Nintendo’s early history, it also made me took note of the company’s strategy at the time of then-company president, Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Imperious, secretive, and cunning, Yamauchi secured Nintendo’s fortunes with a cutthroat business strategy. Perhaps it was the reason why Nintendo mightily transformed from maker of love hotels to the gaming powerhouse in the 80s and until today. Maybe it was also the kind of leadership that was needed at that time in order to succeed.
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By the turn of the century, Yamauchi was older and the industry had changed. It was at this time when Satoru Iwata became president of Nintendo. You probably know all of it already. From the GameCube to the Wii and Wii U. From the Gameboy Advance to the Nintendo DS and 3DS. Iwata was there both at the highest and lowest point of the company. You probably know this all too well. So I’m not going to elaborate.
In 2009, I was finally able to buy my own gaming device. It was a Nintendo DS. The first game that I want to play was the Ace Attorney series. I heard it was like a novel. A visual novel, they said it was called that way. You read the story, and you interact with it from time to time to progress the plot. It was a marvelous game.
I never identified myself as gamer before that.
For a while, I thought games were just Call of Dutys and Half-Life. They were very popular. I tried them but my head got dizzy every time. Perhaps it was my familiarity with Nintendo that for my first paycheck, I bought that handheld instead of a gaming-capable phone, or Sony’s alternative. When I was a kid we had a Family Computer, of which I do not know exactly what happened to it after my few times playing the system. Then my cousin’s SNES, wherein every Saturday, me and younger would go to her house to play with her for 3 – 3 hours of Super Mario World. At one point my cousin’s father scolded her and decided there won’t be playtime one Saturday. We waited for him to let us play, until me and my brother went sleepy. Before we realized it, it was already nightime.
Maybe that was the reason why I bought a Nintendo DS when I finally can afford one. Maybe it’s not just the familiarity, but because deep in my heart I want to continue playing the unfinished games we played when we were kids.
Since then I watched every E3 presentation. Because I have a Nintendo DS, I checked out Joystiq every time I got the chance to find out what the latest games are. It was then that the likes of Satoru Iwata and Reggie became embedded in my mind. At first, to me they were just new Nintendo employees in addition to Shigeru Miyamoto. But over time, the various quotes from the Nintendo president were so iconic and memorable on their own that I began to consume them. I watch regularly the Nintendo Directs were he made fun of himself always! I read the Iwata Asks interviews, which provided wealth of information for Nintendophiles and gamers alike. Then his interviews.
Satoru Iwata had become the face of Nintendo. And I, a Nintendo gamer naturally liked him.
But he was also well liked in the gaming community. While people like the president of Zynga was universally hated, everyone likes Iwata. Key people in the industry like Shuhei Yoshida (PlayStation), down to that humble video gamer in his room love Iwata. While Hiroshi Yamauchi was always in the shadows, Iwata appeared as the face of Nintendo. From the memes he helped span, to his passionate love for games, you can’t helped but love him. And this constant jibber jabber and Directs and Iwata Asks we have come to associate him with Nintendo.
Satoru Iwata had cancer, a fact that we all know since last year. Of course we all thought every thing’s fine again, since he said so. When he went out of the hospital and got thinner, he updated his Mii Avatar subsequently. He was not in E3 last year but we saw him in a stage-fight with Reggie. He was not in E3 this year, but he was there in puppet form.
Satoru Iwata has always been there. In sharp contrast with Yamauchi, and his peers, he was always present in the most important time. The cult of personality that is Satoru Iwata cemented his image to everyone who loves Nintendo and follows their news. It’s so amazing yet so strange. Even if we never met him, it felt that we have someone close to us.
We can never separate Satoru Iwata from Nintendo. Now I wonder who will replace him. His final major decision is Nintendo’s careful move to mobile gaming. A man who truly believes in the value of games, the move to mobile gaming was planned accordingly, in a classic Nintendo fashion of arriving late to the party but with poise. While I do wonder how things will change for Nintendo, I feel we should just leave that issue some other time. For now, let us just celebrate his life. A gamer at heart. His death made me realize that I should meet my heroes. One day I will.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to play.