By Chris Morris
April 26, 2018

Nintendo’s announcement that company president Tatsumi Kimishima would step down at the end of June caught the video game world off guard Thursday.

Shuntaro Furukawa, who will take the reins once shareholders sign off on the transition, is something of an unknown to investors and gamers, but his ascension could mark the start of a new era at Nintendo that will set the course for decades to come.

Furukawa is young (46 years old, to be precise). And even in his limited public comments so far, he has hinted that he’s not afraid to think differently, even if that means breaking with tradition.

“I grew up playing the Famicom and come from that generation,” he said at a news conference after the company announced his promotion. “Now as a member of management with Super Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto, I have a lot of respect for him. On the other hand, with this new job that can’t just be it, so I expect to say what needs to be said to run the company.”

Furukawa takes over Nintendo as the company is enjoying tremendous success with Nintendo Switch. (The company upped its hardware forecast from 15.1 million to 20 million for the year.) That system is early enough in its life cycle that he will have time to shepherd its path for some time — and build relationships with third party publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision, Bethesda Softworks, and smaller, independent studios.

More importantly, though, he’s taking over early enough to have a serious impact on the company’s next generation of hardware. And that’s when Furukawa can truly start to build his legacy.

Kimishima, while he did an admirable job of running Nintendo after the 2015 death of Satoru Iwata, was largely a placeholder for the company. Switch, like Wii and Wii U, was Iwata’s baby.

“Ultimately Mr. Iwata was the head of development, so he put a lot of thought and time into Switch,” said Miyamoto, who also serves as Nintendo Creative Fellow at the system’s launch.

Iwata, originally, was expected to be the person to guide Nintendo into its new future. He assumed the job at age 43 and his youth and different mindset rejuvenated the company. He stumbled, yes, with the Wii U, but he was also able to reverse course and embrace mobile games, after initially dismissing them because the quality of games, he said, was substandard.

Furukawa now has the chance to not only build on what Iwata started, but guide Nintendo into its future under his own terms. He inherits a company that is still a leader, but faces increasing challenges from mobile devices, other forms of entertainment, and possibly virtual and augmented reality devices in the years to come.

The question is: What area will he prioritize first?

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