The 2016 D.I.C.E. Awards posthumously honoured late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata with the Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming the fifth recipient to be acknowledged for their business leadership.
Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé accepted the award, after Shiver Entertainment’s John Schappert led with his own tribute. In his heartfelt speech, his second after The Game Awards, Fils-Aimé touched on Iwata’s career, sprinkled in his own anecdotes, and shared what it would have been like to have had chance to meet him in person.
“On behalf of Mr. Satoru Iwata’s family and all of Nintendo, thank you for the honour of this Lifetime Achievement Award,” Fils-Aimé began.
“Just think about Mr. Iwata’s career. Direct involvement in titles as diverse as EarthBound and Kirby, Pokémon and Wii Sports. It’s a cliché to say someone did it all, but he really did. He worked on games for every single game platform Nintendo ever created. Mr. Iwata’s been gone for some time now, but I still think about him almost every day. And what occurs to me more and more, is how Mr. Iwata left his fingerprints on so many projects. And for that matter, how those impressions changed our entire industry.
“EarthBound was one of the games he worked on early in his career, and one of the people working alongside him was Shigesato Itoi. So he knew Mr. Iwata from way back when. After Mr. Iwata’s death, I think Mr. Itoi may have best captured Mr. Iwata, the man, when he said ‘Mr. Iwata, you always put yourself second.’ And that’s it. That’s who he was, humble, self-effacing and incredibly kind.
“John, I appreciated your Iwata anecdotes, and I thought maybe I could follow up with one of my own. It was a dinner we had in Kyoto, just the two of us, just after I had been promoted to president of NOA. Now, Mr. Iwata did not drink alcohol. But he knew I had a certain fondness for a good glass of red wine or a quality Sake. So he arranged, in advance, to have a special sake prepared just for me.
“I found out later the Japanese name is Hire-Sake, quite a delicacy. It’s prepared by taking the fin of a blowfish and steeping it in hot Sake for about ten minutes. He had the waiter present it with full formality, and I took a sip. ‘Woah!’ Now, I worked for Mr. Iwata for over a decade, involving thousands of conversations and phone calls, meetings, emails… and I can tell you in all that time I lied to him only once. And that was the time. Because I smiled, and told him I really liked it.
“But the point, as Mr. Itoi said, is that he was putting me first. It didn’t matter that this wasn’t something that he wanted, it was something he thought I might want. And as we continued to talk that night, he created an ever stronger impression. Because he told me how much he thought we were alike. ‘What?!’ This is a man who grew up making great games. Well, I was just happy to be playing a great game. ‘I’m like him?’ And then he explained.
“He said that when he came into Nintendo, even after having worked for them for years at HAL [Laboratory], he was supremely challenged. He was an outsider. He not only needed to understand how the company’s gears meshed, but he had to be the one to personally operate them. And he said my background, with no video game employment, was similar. Even though I loved games, I had to learn about this wonderful industry and, more importantly, about Nintendo on the fly. And I can say, that was the night we had changed from being colleagues to being friends.
“Everyone on Earth feels like an outsider at times, it’s an anxiety we all know. In fact, I imagine almost everyone who started work at Nintendo felt that way at first. But I also think if you asked them, they’d say they soon became part of a very warm and close family. And it’s a family that Mr. Iwata guided wisely and considerately.
“Let me conclude by saying this. Maybe there are some of you out there who had the opportunity to meet Mr. Iwata in person. But, for most of you, probably not. So let me tell you what it would be like to meet him. He would greet you with a big smile. Always. And if he found out you were a game developer, the smile would get even bigger. And he’d ask you about the game you were working on. He’d want to know how it played, and how things were going. And if you tried to ask him about his work, he’d briefly answer and then turn the conversation back to you. That’s how he was. As Mr. Itoi said, he always put himself second.
“In closing, there’s no other way to say this. Mr. Iwata, you were the best of us. You were never second to us. You will always be number one. Thank you.”