Talking Point: Shuntaro Furukawa Understands, As Iwata Did, The Value Of Experimentation To Nintendo

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Taking over the reigns and responsibility of a treasured company like Nintendo must be daunting at the best of times, but when you’re stepping into the shoes of a fan-favourite executive who’s built up a cult of personality that inspired multiple memes, it must be particularly nerve-wracking. Just ask Doug Bowser, the man who stepped into ex-Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé’s beloved brogues earlier this year.

there’s a world of difference between having played the classics and understanding the philosophy and specialised work behind such successful software

Worldwide Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa had similarly large footwear to fill when he took office last year and the recent TIME interview has shed a little more light on the man and course he’s charting for the good ship Nintendo. His immediate predecessor, Tatsumi Kimishima, had steered the vessel admirably through the launch of Switch prior to retirement, but Kimishima was always a temporary caretaker until a more suitable candidate could be found. It was the empty chair of dearly departed Satoru Iwata that really needed filling, so when Furukawa assumed the role in 2018, it was to Iwata that he was compared.

There were a handful of similarities between the two men: both assumed the role in their 40s; both spent many years working for (or in very close proximity to) Nintendo; both were self-confessed gamers. Beyond that though, 47-year old Furukawa has played his cards relatively close to his chest. A similar age is one thing; that doesn’t necessarily mean they share a similar outlook.

E3 2015 might not have featured Nintendo's greatest games lineup, but we still have great memories of it.
E3 2015 might not have featured Nintendo’s greatest games lineup, but we still have great memories of it.

Furukawa made it known that he “grew up playing the Famicom” and comes “from that generation”, but there’s a world of difference between having played the classics and understanding the philosophy and specialised work behind such successful software. Much of Iwata’s popularity and success came from his facility with all aspects of the business. The ‘programmer’s president’, he could talk just as easily with engineers and tech-heads as with suits and shareholders, a significant advantage when your company’s output relies on the efforts of your development workforce. “This is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means the engineers can’t trick me,” Iwata told TIME in 2014.

we were a little worried that Furukawa might be a bean counter, obsessed with the bottom line and ready to put a stop to the wonderful experiments that characterise the company’s history

Conversely, Furukawa started in the accounts department and spent his early years with Nintendo of Europe in Germany. Accounts departments are (unfairly) derided the world over for being peopled by unimaginative number-crunchers and it’s not the first thing fans might have hoped for in a new, relatively young Nintendo president. His immediate predecessor never positioned himself as anything other than a business man and banker, so it seemed obvious that the incoming Furukawa would be the one to really steer Nintendo into its next phase and, perhaps, provide some of the old razzmatazz we’ve come to expect from our gaming CEOs.

However, after the playful, gentle, insightful Iwata years – as evidenced from the countless Iwata Asks moments preserved online (we’re still waiting for the coffee table book Nintendo!) – we were a little worried that Furukawa might be a bean counter, obsessed with the bottom line and ready to put a stop to the wonderful experiments that characterise the company’s history, preferring to take Nintendo down the path of reliable returns and sure things.





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