Today brings us another Birthday for one of Nintendo's most well-known figures, with President Satoru Iwata turning 53 today. It would seem that, should he want to, Iwata-san will be able to continue in his current role for many years to come.
Satoru Iwata had a passion for video game development from a young age, deciding to study Computer Science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. His first full-time job was with HAL Laboratory in 1982, though in the 1980s he played prominent roles as a freelancer on Nintendo titles such as Balloon Fight and NES Open Tournament Golf. He was heavily involved in bringing Masahiro Sakurai's creation, Kirby, to the market, a major franchise for which he can rightly claim some credit.
After a successful decade Satoru Iwata was appointed President of HAL in 1993, with the company facing financial difficulties. By the time he left to take up a role as Head of Nintendo's Corporate Planning Division in 2000, he'd been credited for leading the company to greater financial security. Such was Iwata-san's success in his new role at Nintendo that Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo's long-term President, chose him as his successor as President of Nintendo in 2002. Yamauchi said the following (via IGN):
Taking into account the things I've encountered in my experiences as Nintendo president, I have come to the conclusion that it requires a special talent to manage a company in this industry. I selected Iwata-san based on that criteria. Over the long-term I don't know whether Iwata-san will maintain Nintendo's position or lead the company to even greater heights of success. At the very least, I believe him to be the best person for the job.
Satoru Iwata was the first President of Nintendo not related to the Yamauchi family through blood or marriage, and has gone on to lead Nintendo to a strategy of innovative consoles and new gaming experiences, with less focus on graphical power. It's a strategy that led to major success with DS — the highest selling handheld of all time — and Wii, which is the biggest selling home console of its generation at the time of writing. The focus on two screens and motion controls, with modest hardware capabilities in terms of graphical output, was considered a gamble, yet it led to a period of impressive growth and profits for the company.
The release of the 3DS handheld, along with the late-lifespan struggles of the Wii, did lead to more difficult times for the Nintendo President. Such was the drop in sales of 3DS that Nintendo implemented a significant price-cut months after launch, with Iwata-san apologising to early-adopters and taking — along with fellow executives — a substantial pay-cut. The fortunes of 3DS have improved with well over 20 million units now sold and each now generating a profit upon sale. It's a vital period for Nintendo, with Wii U hitting the home console market with its GamePad controller, the emphasis once again on controls and game experience innovation. Early sales of Wii U have been close to sell-outs, and Iwata-san stated in the most recent financial reports that he expects the company's recent losses to revert to a small profit this financial year.
Since taking over the helm of Nintendo in 2002, Satoru Iwata has overseen a change of focus with Nintendo, bringing almost unprecedented success with the DS/Wii era. New challenges are clearly ahead with a continued push for 3DS success and with Wii U's arrival, though Nintendo's impressive performance in the past decade leaves the company in solid financial waters, for which much credit is surely due to its fourth President.