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Iwata Leaves a Legacy of Change Behind

If you pay attention to the gaming world at all, you have no doubt heard the very sad news that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11th from cancer. The news shocked the gaming world, as it was fairly common knowledge that he had been sick, but no one really knew how serious his condition actually was.

The news of Iwata’s death prompted Nintendo fans around the world to share their memories and tributes, and the #ThankYouIwata hashtag quickly started trending on Twitter. You should really check that out for some amazing art tributes, some of which even brought me to tears.

It’s kind of amazing when you sit back and think about the impact that Iwata had on the gaming scene over the two-plus decades. As a developer and producer, he had a hand in some of my all-time favorite Nintendo games (Balloon Fight, NES Open, Kirby’s Adventure, Adventures of Lolo). And his leadership tenure at Nintendo featured some industry-changing moves:

The Nintendo DS
A dual-screened console with touch controls. When the DS was first unveiled, people thought it was crazy. It sold over 130 million units worldwide.

The Wii
A console that anyone could pick up and play. The easy to learn motion controls and the pack in game Wii Sports helped the Wii become the most mainstream console since the original NES. It sold over 100 million units worldwide.

Nintendo Direct / Iwata Asks
In 2011, Iwata began the Nintendo Direct series in Japan, presentations where he would speak directly to the Nintendo consumer base. Over the past few years, this series has influenced the landscape of gaming journalism and public relations, as more and more developers and publishers are cutting out the middleman and speaking directly to their audience. Gaming journalism right now is still trying to adjust to this new reality.

The Iwata asks series gave fans a look into the creative process, as Iwata would interview Nintendo developers about the projects they were working on. You can still watch these over at iwataasks.nintendo.com.

Nintendo Goes Mobile
In March of 2015, Nintendo announced a partnership with mobile developer DeNA to create games for smartphones and tablets. This was something many gamers had been clamoring for since mobile gaming started to explode. Their approach will be to create new games –not port old ones–for mobile devices featuring some of their most popular characters.

All of those things are huge–not just for Nintendo, but for the industry in general. From disruptive hardware to changing the way publishers and developers interact with their audience, Iwata’s time at Nintendo was industry-changing. And I think people realize that, which is why you’re seeing such heartfelt tributes to him since his passing.

The sad part of all this is that he’s not here to see it. It became very fashionable in the wake of the Wii to criticize Nintendo’s direction, and their place in the modern gaming landscape. Iwata, Reggie and the rest of Nintendo’s leadership were under constant fire for the perception that they were not keeping up with Sony and Microsoft, particularly in the areas of technological advancements and third-party support for their consoles.

Even when a game like Splatoon came out–and was critically acclaimed–the mainstream gaming press didn’t pay it much attention. And of course, Nintendo’s presence (or lack thereof) at E3 this year was met with universal negativity by the gaming press. From a PR standpoint, it seemed that the only thing the press wanted to focus on over the past couple years is Nintendo’s shortcomings.

But the passing of Iwata has served to remind people what Nintendo has accomplished over the past two decades, how much they’ve impacted the industry, and how special about Nintendo is as a brand. It would be nice if that positivity lasted more than a week, and if it didn’t take the passing of one of our industry’s greats to get people talking about Nintendo is a positive light.

I want to thank Iwata for the amazing contributions he made to something that is such a huge part of my life. my thoughts and condolences go out to his family and everyone close to him.