Rest in peace Satoru Iwata

It’s a bit of a shame to only start talking about people who inspire you and have had such an influence on your life when they have already passed away, but I guess that’s just the way things go. The saying, you don’t really know what you have, until it is gone, really holds up I suppose.

Earlier this year my favorite author died, sir Terry Pratchett.

Saturday my favorite CEO died, mister Satoru Iwata of Nintendo.

It’s weird right? To talk about your favorite CEO? Oftentimes we talk about our favorite author, our favorite musician, our favorite actor, but not about our favorite CEO. Of course, this has to do with the fact that CEOs tend to be less visible to the general public than authors, musicians, etcetera.

Not mister Iwata. Every few months for the last few years he appeared in an online video in which Nintendo announced what we, the fans, the gamers, may expect from them in the coming days, weeks, months and years. This he did with a touch of humor. His stock phrase “directly to you” – accompanied by his typical hand gesture – has become a recurring theme in Nintendo Directs (what the videos are called) and a fan favorite.

Iwata direct

Iwata also appeared in the interviews he took with developers that created games for Nintendo platforms and which appeared on Nintendo’s website (i.e. the Iwata Asks Series) and he often gave interviews himself to game media. But of course, Satoru Iwata was not only my favorite CEO because he was visible. No, there’s many other reasons why he deserves that title.

For one, he taught me that CEOs do not have to be money grubbing a*****. They choose to be money grubbing a*****. Mr. Iwata never chose to be such a CEO. When Nintendo suffered its first loss since 1981 in 2012, he did not decide to restructure the company (which generally means “fire a lot of people”), no, he took a substantial pay cut, and humbly declared that the fault was his and that he would make things better. Which he did. The company today is as profitable as ever. If things went wrong, it was him who carried the weight. When costs needed to be cut, he looked at himself first (and the other high rank workers in the company) and not at the people who work for him on the floor.

Nintendo Co President Iwata bows during their strategy and earnings briefings in Tokyo

Also, Satoru Iwata was a CEO who knew the ins and outs of what his company was selling. He worked “on the floor” himself. He started out as a game developer, a programmer, at HAL Laboratory (a Nintendo subsidiary). He knew what it meant to create videogames. He knew what he was asking his people to do. He was also a very good programmer. He saved the cult classic Earthbound, which would never have released if it wasn’t for him reworking all of the code. He gave us Balloon Fight and helped on many, many Kirby games.

Maybe the best way to describe Satoru Iwata as a CEO and as a person would be to let him speak for himself:

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.

Rest in peace Mister Iwata, and know that you have taught me that a company can have a heart when the heart of its president is big enough for two.

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Rest in peace Terry Pratchett

I was first introduced to the works of Terry Pratchett in the waiting room of my opthalmologist at the age of 10, which seems to be as good a place as any. There was a game magazine there, in that waiting room, which no one ever read apart from me. Every time I went in for another eye exam, I picked up the magazine and went straight to the end of it. Why? Because at the end of that magazine there was the walkthrough section, and in that walkthrough section there was a walkthrough for this game called Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!? It looked like a cartoon. I loved cartoons.

I still do.

One of the screenshots in the walkthrough was that of an old man sitting on a wooden weel on top of a giant pole. That image never left my mind, and even though I didn’t have money to buy the game at the time, nor the means to play it, I knew that one day I would.

wooden weel

In the end I did buy Discworld II. Four years after I had first seen that screenshot. I loved it, even though it wasn’t an easy game. I loved the world it was set in, I loved the humor, I loved the characters… I loved all of it.

It did take me another two years to figure out that the game was based on a long running series of books though – around the time I discovered this little thing called the Internet.

From the moment I found out about Terry Pratchett’s writings, I read about five to six of his books every year. I have not read them all… Yet… Even though I own almost all of them. I’m savoring them.

Terry Pratchett is my favorite author, has been ever since I first saw that screenshot – even though I didn’t know it at the time. He has helped me through the best of times and the worst of times. His Discworld is my favorite place to escape to. My favorite place to enjoy a holiday.

I’m sad to see sir Pratchett leave this world so soon, but I’m sure Death will take good care of him whatever afterlife he may end up in.

Rest in peace, good sir.

You will be missed, but your dreams will endure.