It's been over a week since the unfortunate passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. The longtime Nintendo executive left a memorable impact on individuals both inside and outside the games business. And while Iwata-san guided Nintendo through one of its brightest periods in history with the monumentally successful Wii and DS platforms being enjoyed by millions worldwide, Nintendo must now think about its future without Iwata and who may be in the best position to guide its strategy in the years ahead.
GamesIndustry.biz reached out to several analysts recently to get their thoughts on who may be most likely to take the reins at Nintendo next. The Wall Street Journal had recently speculated that the father of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, could be in line for a promotion to president, but the analysts we spoke to disagreed. What they all agreed to, however, is that the odds are quite high Nintendo will look to an internal candidate.
"I am pretty sure that the candidate will come from within the business; the very essence of Nintendo games draws from decades of management recognising a market desire for mass market fun. The obvious two choices are Takeda-san or Miyamoto-san, the former a hardware technology company veteran, the latter, the king of Nintendo first party content. Although it would be a romantic dream to have the company lead by the father of Mario, I think Takeda-san has more corporate experience and really understands hardware; it was he who argued for a new interface for the Wii rather than just a faster Gamecube with better graphics," said Nick Parker of Parker Consulting.
"We are on the cusp of a new generation of Nintendo hardware within three years, both console and handheld, and Nintendo needs Takeda-san's experience. The alternative would be a relative unknown from within, from which there is a deep pool of loyal, long serving (25 years+) candidates. The next five years are crucial to Nintendo as it launches new hardware and explores digital opportunities, including mobile, for its mascot titles; therefore it needs somebody who understands the company culture, can respond to global consumer expectations, and manage an enviable balance sheet."
"Genyo Takeda...was one of the main devs on the Wii, and has a similar trajectory in the company as Iwata (from programmer to manager to executive). Takeda is likely a lead candidate for the job"
Dr. Serkan Toto, who specializes in covering Japan's mobile industry, largely agreed, noting that an unknown candidate is certainly within the realm of possibility. After all, Iwata-san was a relative unknown himself all those years ago. "Iwata-san was apparently a very capable programmer and turned out to be a great leader overall... Nintendo is the most iconic game maker in the world that (at least in Japan) attracts the top talent in gaming: they might have people like him in the work force who could follow in Iwata's foot steps," he said.
Mike Schramm, manager of Qualitative Insights at EEDAR, is placing his bets on Takeda. "Genyo Takeda, who helped Punch-Out and Startropics, was one of the main devs on the Wii, and has a similar trajectory in the company as Iwata (from programmer to manager to executive). Takeda is likely a lead candidate for the job," he said. "Nintendo also has a number of executives on its board of directors who also could step up into the spot. It's very unlikely that the company would hire someone from outside Japan or from another corporation, as Nintendo doesn't need to (and shouldn't want to) make waves with this appointment. Most likely it'll be a senior Japanese executive at the company, ideally someone who has had a hand in game development at some point."
It's interesting to speculate about who could be annointed the next president of Nintendo, but it's not likely to be something we find out anytime soon. Between Miyamoto and Takeda, Nintendo remains in more than capable hands at the moment, and a decision of this magnitude certainly cannot be made hastily.
"It will surely take some time and energy to find a new CEO, but Iwata-san put Nintendo on track and initiated some drastic strategic shifts in spring, mostly importantly Nintendo's move into mobile," Toto pointed out.
With the all important move into mobile and the unfortunately lackluster performance of the Wii U, whoever does step into Iwata's shoes will have plenty to contend with. Iwata was already facing intense pressure from shareholders in the last few years and investors are going to want to see Nintendo improve its fortunes in the next few years.
IDC research manager Lewis Ward commetned, "[Iwata's replacement] is going to have to hit the ground running since Nintendo is facing stiff competition from both within and beyond the industry. Given the fast pace of consumer electronics evolution and the rise of Web-based services, it's pretty clear that the games industry is going to be dramatically different 5 years from now. The new CEO will have to have a plan for navigating these waters with NX and so on, while not undercutting Nintendo's surprisingly innovative culture and willingness to reinvent much-beloved franchises. I can't speculate further on who the next CEO is likely to be, but the background of that individual will say a lot about where Nintendo wants to go in the next several years, which will be crucial to the company's long-term fortunes."
One strategic area that a new Nintendo boss could change, according to Schramm, is the company's consumer-centric approach. "In the end, the biggest change may be the way Nintendo deals with its closest fans. Iwata was a consumer-focused CEO, and really pushed projects that connected directly with gamers and connected gamers to each other. Nintendo's next leader may instead focus on the hardware, selling the product directly rather than the community that comes with it," he remarked.
"Nintendo famously moved away from standard E3 press conferences under Iwata, and another leader might bring Nintendo's presentations back there. Iwata called for accessibility with the Wii and the DS, and the next leader might push for exclusivity or certain audiences instead. A lot of the elements that Iwata championed (like fun, imagination, innovation, and accessibility) are definitely part of Nintendo's DNA no matter who's in charge, but the next leader may approach those elements in a different way."