As the news of Nintendo President’s Satoru Iwata early death shocks the industry, speculation gets underway as to who might replace him at the company, which has known only two other modern-day presidents.
Nintendo announced late Sunday that Iwata, 55, died of cancer on July 11. In that announcement, it said there are only two remaining representative directors remaining at the Kyoto, Japan-based company. They are Senior Managing Director Genyo Takeda and Senior Managing Director Shigeru Miyamoto. As representative director, Japanese law gives them the right to make certain decisions on the company’s behalf.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Miyamoto, the creator of such Nintendo franchises, as Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda, is considered one of the leading candidates for the job. In Redmond, where Nintendo operates its American headquarters, Iwata also held the role of CEO.
Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s President, issued this statement about Iwata’s passing: “Mr. Iwata is gone, but it will be years before his impact on both Nintendo and the full video game industry will be fully appreciated. He was a strong leader for our company, and his attributes were clear to most everyone: Intelligence, creativity, curiosity and sense of humor. But for those of us fortunate enough to work closely with him, what will be remembered most were his mentorship and, especially, his friendship. He was a wonderful man. He always challenged us to push forward…to try the new…to upset paradigms—and most of all, to engage, excite and endear our fans. That work will continue uninterrupted.”
Replacing Iwata will be incredibly difficult. Iwata, who has been president since 2002, was the first company president outside the Yamauchi family, and led the introduction of the Wii and the Wii U. He was also been an outspoken opponent of mobile and social games and the freemium business model, even if the opinions were controversial at the time.
More recently, it seems he’s warmed up to the other platforms (although likely not the free-to-play model), given one of his final big moves was announcing that its classic characters such as Super Mario, would be coming to smartphones with the help of DeNA, a Japanese mobile-game maker.
Perhaps, most memorable was his speech at the Game Developers Conference in 2011. At the show’s only keynote, Iwata said he feared that the industry’s focus on mobile and social would hurt the gaming ecosystem. The keynote was given at the exact same time that Apple’s Steve Jobs was unveiling the iPad 2 directly across the street in San Francisco.
His solution for the divide between console and mobile was innovation, which he defined as making the impossible possible. “For 25 years, we’ve been making the impossible possible,” he said. “Why would we stop now?”
As part of the speech, he also voiced his concerns about the development of talent in the industry, which speaks directly to who Nintendo could be looking for as its next leader. He said in the past, everyone was a generalist, but today, in this era of specialization, “people can not tell exactly what other team members are doing, it makes me wonder, where will the next master game creators will come from?”
As the creator of major Nintendo franchises, Miyamoto may be the generalist the company is looking for. More recently, he oversaw the development of Splatoon, a new shooting game that has already sold more than a million copies for the Wii U since its introduction in May.
In Miyamoto’s statement about Iwata’s death, he said this: “I am surprised at this sudden news and overcome with sadness. The entire development team at Nintendo will remain committed to our development policy which Mr. Iwata and we have been constructing together and to yield the development results which Mr. Iwata would appreciate.”
Nintendo has said it has no plans yet for who would replace Iwata, and has not yet named an interim leader.