Ask Iwata, the review of the Italian version of the book on the fourth president of Nintendo

Ask Iwata, the review of the Italian version of the book on the fourth president of Nintendo

Ask Iwata

Three years after the original Japanese publication, edited by Hobonici, and twelve months after the one in English, "Ask Iwata" has finally arrived in Italy, an in-depth book on the late president Nintendo, the fourth of the company, who died there. '11 July 2015. It was translated by Susanna Scrivo, and published by Planet Manga (owned by Panini Comics). The book consists of 192 pages, costs 15 Euros, and is a paperback volume, in 13.5 x 21.5 format. Curiously, it was officially released on March 3, the day the Nintendo Switch turned five.

Satoru Iwata left an unbridgeable void within Nintendo. As we wrote on the anniversary of his death, he is such a special figure as to be essentially irreplaceable: Nintendo did well not to try, entrusting the presidency to Shuntaro Furukawa, whose curriculum is purely managerial. Iwata was born as a programmer, at thirty-three he became president of HAL Laboratory (in full financial crisis), and at forty-two that of Nintendo.

In the review of Ask Iwata we could summarize his career as president in four phases: the first, transitional, in which he managed the life of GameCube and Game Boy Advance (designed without him, when Yamauchi was still president). In addition to taking the reins of the company, around that time he began the first internal renovation and started planning the successes that would become Wii and DS (second phase). This generation was followed by the most unfortunate of the heirs, namely Wii U and 3DS, in which Iwata has also cut his salary. He died in 2015, before Nintendo Switch was born, but the latter platform belongs to him, it is his latest legacy. NX, as it was called at the time, was conceived and designed under his leadership, and was carried on without him.

The book is mostly narrated in the first person by Iwata himself, because it features his pieces written for the website Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun, founded by Shigesato Itoi (writer, copywriter and voice actor, as well as author of Earthbound). To these are added some pearls of wisdom taken from his online column "Iwata Asks", in which he interviewed the Nintendo developers, and from which this volume - reversing the wording - takes the title. Paragraphs written by Shigesato Itoi and Shigeru Miyamoto, two people with whom Iwata has had a long working and personal relationship, have also been included.

Having also read the English version, the translation - apart from a few typos too many, however within the threshold of acceptability - seemed good to us.


Satoru Iwata Didn't Take Himself Too Seriously You shouldn't expect a biographical book. From this point of view the information is limited and all available online. Despite this, being mainly Iwata himself to speak, there are some curiosities. Ask Iwata tells us about his first approach to programming, through a calculator. His attendance at university, the purchase of his first computer (made by Commodore), his first part-time position in the company founded by a fellow student, even before graduating: a company called HAL Laboratory. His passion for video games, his vocation to make people happy. His approach to Nintendo - yes, he, as an employee, creates the link between HAL and Nintendo. His first programming assignments with Golf and Pinball, which lead him to become head of software development.

At thirty-two, while the company is in dire financial conditions, he becomes president of HAL: he tells us, having already married, that his wife (despite the difficult situation) never suggests that he refuse the job. Iwata doesn't have a miraculous solution to heal society, he does it gradually, listening and understanding what his strengths are. He succeeds by talking twice a year with every single employee (about ninety) of the company, without firing anyone, negotiating patiently with creditors.

Satoru Iwata at E3 2005, when he announced the Revolution project, future Wii He also succeeds in making unusual decisions, listening to Miyamoto's opinion, when the latter suggests that he postpone the release of Twinkle Popo, despite the 25,000 copies already booked: that title becomes Kirby's Dream Land, which will sell five million copies.

He tells us about his design of Super Smash Bros., when he is still president of HAL, and helps with his spare time Masahiro Sakurai. They created it together, with the addition of a sound designer, and never imagined it would become an international success, but Iwata is aware that he has something special - literally - in his hands. He tells us about his relationship with Yamauchi, with Miyamoto, with Itoi: we indirectly learn that he has a son, who has already married. Finally, he tells us about his managerial experience, the cardinal principles he follows while he is Nintendo president. In classic Iwata fashion, he proposes complex concepts with simple words, and a lot of quite wacky off-screen laughs (it's not uncommon for sentences to end with an "Ha ha!"). Miyamoto tells us that, at banquets, Iwata was nicknamed Kirby: not so much for his physical resemblance as for his ability to devour every sweet.

Understanding everything, understanding Miyamoto

Satoru Iwata in 2013, still in great shape, despite the problems of Wii U This book makes clear, while not making it explicit, the main ability of Iwata: the will to understand. Not so much the speed of thought, the logical and human skills: even those, yes. But the main characteristic of him was precisely the desire to understand the nature of what he had to relate to: that they were people, consoles, market movements. She didn't interview his employees just out of courtesy, but to understand something more about his company, how he works, and to deepen the knowledge of his subordinates: a word that we use, but that he did not use. Iwata has never arrogantly imposed his leadership.

Another virtue that stands out from his words is that Iwata has never prioritized short-term profits. He was thinking of the medium and long term, and beyond; he was friends with Miyamoto, with whom there was mutual respect, never affected by potential reasons for envy. Of the concrete reasons: Miyamoto was much more talented, successful and had ideas totally unthinkable for Satoru, but Iwata, despite being younger, had surpassed him in corporate degrees. Both would have had reasons to be rivals, both decided to remain friends, and to go to lunch together every Monday, exchanging ideas and opinions.

Satoru Iwata in an image of E3 2015, just before he died Iwata often reiterates that he is "Miyamoto's number one observer". And it's true, and not out of friendship. Because the desire for understanding of him, once he became Nintendo president, must have led him right there. What's at the heart of Nintendo's success? The games of him. And whose main games are they? By Miyamoto. Consequently: what is Miyamoto's development philosophy? What was natural to the master like breathing was not natural to anyone else. And Miyamoto was gradually moving away from video games: to pass it on, it had to be understood and codified. Iwata has done exactly that, and the results have been seen with the new generation that has shaped the Nintendo Switch. Although Miyamoto hasn't hand-directly, tangibly-handled any recent Nintendo work, his philosophy is present in every one of the most successful games.

Even more than Nintendo Switch, this is the main gift Iwata gave to the company: having understood and disclosed his DNA, extending it to the whole company, through the merger of internal teams. In the book this concept is implicit, but underlying most of the chapters: Miyamoto tells us that Iwata often quoted sentences, which he himself did not remember saying.

Diversity and innovation

Satoru Iwata in his last meeting with shareholders, in 2015 Iwata had the courage to dare, Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii are there to prove it. He was convinced that Nintendo should make people happy, and it should do it by experimenting, not fighting in the same territory as other companies, without distinguishing between A (passionate) and B (casual) players. It is quite obvious, despite not being dated, that these words were written in the Wii era. The stories take a leap in time from those years, to the moment of Iwata's death: the chapter written by Miyamoto dates back, as far as we can deduce from the context, to the Switch era. And it's a shame, because it would have been nice to read Iwata's personal thoughts on the difficult moments he had with Wii U and 3DS: we know that he did everything possible to get out of that situation, further complicated by his illness, among other things, and we know who succeeded, endorsing the NX project (the future Nintendo Switch). But it would have been nice to understand his position on this issue in particular, that of casual gamers, and that of Nintendo's "diversity".

It would have been nice, because it would have been potentially enlightening on the Switch's successor. We know that Iwata encoded Nintendo's DNA, which left a modern, updated, and fluid company structure in sharing ideas and skills. He has been setting the stage for years, perhaps decades, of future success. But it is precisely on "diversity", on experimentation, and on the relationship with casual players, that - we imagine - the future Nintendo is at stake. This is an approach that has worked with Wii and DS, but which has proved unrepeatable, also due to the flourishing of mobile gaming. Nintendo Switch has had exceptional success, and it has achieved it also thanks to its being both hybrid and home: paraphrasing what Iwata writes in the book, for a console, in addition to performance, it is essential to understand the environment and the way it will be. used. And there is no doubt that in Japan now games are mainly played with laptops, and in the West with housewives: Nintendo Switch has solved the problem. An elegant and functional solution, like the ones he liked. But Nintendo Switch has been successful mainly because, in its first year, it had huge games aimed at traditional audiences, and because first of all it turned to it.

Satoru Iwata, the classic Nintendo Direct greeting, created during his presidency, in 2011 If Nintendo can - as with the Switch - manage to combine its desire to excel with that of being different, then the successes will not end here. But it is really a shame not to know how Iwata reacted to the "abandonment" of casual players, which he has always held in the highest regard, on a par with passionate users. Apart from this point, we recommend the book to any video game lover; and we also recommend it to anyone wishing to broaden their management knowledge, because they will find themselves reading about an incredibly atypical and meticulous managing director, with an absolute understanding of the company he ran.

For Nintendo fans, moreover, there is the - not negligible - emotional factor. Because everyone, both those who loved him and those who criticized him, loved Satoru Iwata: and as Miyamoto writes in the book, "if now I have a great idea over the weekend, I don't know who to talk to about it on Monday morning" .

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