If you're a gamer, there's a very good chance Satoru Iwata had a big impact on your life.
Iwata, the president of Nintendo, died of cancer on July 11. He was 55.
Iwata was an enormous force not just at Nintendo, but in gaming. He led Nintendo through the eras of the GameCube, Wii, DS, 3DS, and Wii U, and he worked on "Earthbound," "Pokemon," "Kirby," "The Legend of Zelda," "Smash Bros.," and countless other titles. These are consoles and games that filled my childhood with joy, and which I spent literally thousands of hours playing. The games alone account for some of the biggest successes in the industry, and many of their sequels continue to entertain millions of people around the world.
Even as he rose through the ranks of HAL Laboratory and later Nintendo, Iwata always struck me as someone who genuinely cared about the joy of gaming more than anything else. In 2005, when speaking at the Game Developers Conference, Iwata reflected on his time heading HAL, which developed "Smash Bros." He noted that the moment of success for him wasn't when the original Nintendo 64 version of "Smash Bros." and its sequels sold millions of companies worldwide, but rather the first time testers picked up the game and provided proof it was fun:
I also remember the first version of "Smash Bros." developed for Nintendo 64. The concept for this game, as you know, was to take the classic, friendly Nintendo franchise characters and have them — as you say in America — beat the heck out of each other. The ideas not brand new — there certainly have been a lot of fighting games. And the characters looked pretty much the same way they always had. So when we brought the idea to Nintendo, the concept did not sound hip or cool or revolutionary. And because of all this, there were people both inside and outside Nintendo who did not strongly favor the idea. And this was the environment that we worked under.
That attitude remained until the moment of truth — the moment when testers began picking up the controllers and actually playing the game. This is what happened. People smiled. They laughed. Then began shouting at each other. That was the moment when everything for "Smash Bros." changed. And I must tell you, this was also one of the proudest moments in my development career. Yes, the "Smash Bros." series has become a great worldwide success because it's sold more than 10 million copies. But the memory of that first moment when the testers began to play stays with me always. That is the moment I call success.
We at HAL found a way to bring our idea to life. Our team believed deeply in the concept and we did not waver in our approach. So in this important sense, we at HAL — we're just like every one of you. Even if we come from different sides of the world, speak different languages, even if we eat too many chips or rice balls, even if we have different tastes in games, every one of us here today is identical in the most important way: each one of us has the heart of a gamer.
These comments are how I'll always remember Iwata — as someone who wasn't afraid to innovate, but who always strived to put gamers first in all his work.
Rest in peace, Mr. Iwata, and thank you for all the joy you brought to my life.