For many Nintendo fans, the announcement of a Nintendo Direct earlier this month was greeted with excitement after a four month long absence of the company’s signature news stream. But amidst the rumours of a HD Twilight Princess port, new Pokemon games and the usual speculation over just what the upcoming Nintendo NX actually is, a more important question hung heavy on many fans’ minds: who would be replacing late CEO Satoru Iwata as the presenter?
As it turned out, Nintendo of Europe CEO Satoru Shibata had taken on the role, beginning the Direct by thanking fans for their messages of support following Iwata’s death in July. The rest of the stream went on as usual, with a number of announcements and new footage of upcoming games, but despite the impressive showing it felt somewhat lacklustre without Iwata’s charm and humour. He wasn’t just Nintendo’s president; he was the face of the company, instantly recognisable to fans the world over.
And who could forget his epic battle with Reggie Fils-Aime in last year’s E3 presentation?
Iwata began his career as a part-time programmer for HAL Laboratories, despite the disapproval of his family. Having risen to the position of President and saved the company from bankruptcy by 1993, and thanks to his work on various classic Nintendo titles – including EarthBound, Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon Stadium (porting the battle system from Red and Green in under a week, without reference notes) – Iwata was able to take a position as the head of Nintendo’s corporate planning division in 2000, and in 2002 was named the new CEO of the company.
In his new position, Iwata placed great emphasis on promoting creativity and innovation within the company. This led to the development of the Nintendo DS, its touchscreen designed to create new ways of playing. Iwata continued this strategy with the Wii, telling Nintendo’s hardware developers to create a console without a conventional controller in order to make games more accessible to everyone. Iwata’s strategy was a resounding success; both the DS and Wii sold phenomenally, turning the company’s fortunes around after the disappointing Gamecube era, and introduced huge numbers of casual gamers to Nintendo’s games.
Iwata’s policy of accessibility extended to Nintendo’s relationship with the public, and it was here that he began to endear himself to Nintendo’s fans. Iwata oversaw the release of the first Nintendo Direct in 2011, presenting a livestream detailing upcoming Nintendo games. The Directs proved a hit with fans, and went on to become Nintendo’s primary means of interacting with the public.
Much of the success of Nintendo Directs came down to Iwata’s unique presentation style. He made every announcement with a cheery smile, apologising for delays with a polite “please understand”, and injected his own brand of quirky humour at every opportunity. There was the time he stood and stared at a bunch of bananas for nearly ten seconds without explanation, the invasion of a horde of Luigis mid-stream, his attempts to fend off a Poltergust-3000-wielding Shigeru Miyamoto. And who could forget his epic battle with Reggie Fils-Aime in last year’s E3 presentation?
Iwata’s charming persona quickly gained him huge popularity with Nintendo fans, and his sudden and unexpected death in July prompted a massive outpouring of public tributes as the gaming world mourned his passing. Often quoted was a speech by Iwata in 2005: “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.” This perfectly captures Iwata’s significance to Nintendo – he wasn’t just some pencil-pushing businessman calling the shots, he was a gamer, a direct link to Nintendo’s fans, and he will be sorely missed.