What better way to celebrate Halloween than to talk about ghosts? Specifically the ghost of Satoru Iwata. His legacy will live on as his work with Nintendo has shaped the company to what it is today, and will continue for generations with Nintendo’s continuous strive for quality in their products. If it weren’t for him, the Pokemon games would’ve been stuck at having 150 pokemon per game, his compression technique is still used to this day. From his help with Mother 2 and Pokemon Gen 2, all the way to leading the company with a driving force for Fun over console wars, Iwata will always be remembered as a strong force in quality gaming.
Mother 2, otherwise known as Earthbound, hit a rather hard brick wall during its development. The programming was holding up the entire project apparently. That was until Nintendo had another programmer help out, going with Satoru Iwata. In a GameCenter CX interview, Itoi recalled when Iwata came on as the lead programmer. “We had Iwata take a lookt at our work, and he said, ‘If we use what you’ve got now, it’ll take two years to fix. If we start from scratch, we can get this done in six months.’” The team was able to finish the game in just those six months. Through Iwata’s efficient leaderships kills in splitting up work and finding ways to make efficient progress. There were more people actively working on different sections at any one moment. “It’s like everyone had been using a manual shovel to dig a hole, and then Iwata came and said ‘I’ve built a jackhammer for each of you – please use them.’” It was Iwata who had the ability to come up with ways to streamline the process and the strong work ethic to get things done, even if he had to put all-nighters doing the work himself. Not only that but his ability to not say “No” to any ideas and instead say “Are you ok with doing it this way instead, so we can make it work?” has created so many more options of projects in general.
In Pokemon Stadium, Iwata’s first task was to recreat the program for the Pokemon Red and Green’s battle system on the home console. He also served as a producer for each of the Pokemon Stadium games and was even a director for the original Super Smash Bros. One of his more iconic roles, however, was how he made the program for the development team of Pokemon Gold and Silver, as they were having trouble fitting all the data in for the games, and they ended up solving all their problems, basically. He ended up having a character based off of him in Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. He went on to become the President of Nintendo soon after that. Becoming a producer for many Pokemon games and Executive Producer for a huge number of other Pokemon games and Nintendo games in general.
One of his best decisions, though, was when The Nintendo 3DS and Wii U proved far less profitable than the Wii, causing Nintendo’s net sales to fall by 2/3s from 2009 to 2012. Iwata put his money on the line and halved his salary in 2011 and 2014, also cutting other executives by 20-30 percent. This completely prevented workers from being laid off in order to improve short-term finances. They had saved countless jobs and countless lives in the process. It’s an example that other CEOs and Executives should follow. To take responsibility, leading the company and sacrificing their own instead of sending thousands of employees to the chopping block and then celebrating how much money your company has made. It’s one of the best things a leader can do, and it’s a shame that other leaders would rather throw their workers into the fire. “Iwata was the kind of person who’d say, ‘If making me president is going to make thing easier for everyone, then sure, I’ll do it.’” as Itoi put it. We will never forget you Mr.Iwata.