Satoru Iwata, Nintendo president, has died aged 55

13 Jul 2015

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Satoru Iwata, the president and chief executive of Nintendo, and key figure behind consoles such as the DS and Wii, has died.

As reported by Reuters, the 55-year-old passed away on Saturday (11 July) following a battle with cancer that saw him undergo surgery in June of last year to remove a growth in his bile duct. Despite his ill health, Iwata did return to work and was present at Nintendo’s annual shareholders’ meeting less than three weeks ago, on 26 June. But his condition suddenly deteriorated in the days leading up to his death, the Japanese gaming giant has said.

Iwata is credited as being a driving force in Nintendo’s post-millennium resurgence. While the company had at one time held a huge monopoly over the video game hardware industry, competition from Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox – coupled with a series of questionable business decisions – saw it lose a huge amount of its market share. Taking on the role as president of Nintendo in 2002, Iwata envisioned consoles that would appeal to non-gamers. The result was the hugely successful Wii and Nintendo DS – hardware that allowed the company to tap into an audience beyond the traditional gaming community.

Tributes

Among those to pay tribute to Iwata has been Nintendo of Europe president Satoru Shibata, who in a statement said: “It is difficult to put into words the sadness we feel at this time. Mr Iwata was a strong leader, a unique figure in the gaming industry and an important part of  Nintendo’s history. He was a visionary in every sense of the word and we will miss him dearly.

“Just as Mr Iwata challenged us to always push forward, we will ensure his legacy lives on through our ongoing work to always surprise and delight our fans. At this time, our thoughts are with his family.”

In a statement released to IGN, Mario creator and industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto said: “I am surprised at this sudden news and overcome with sadness. The entire development team at Nintendo will remain committed to our development policy, which Mr Iwata and we have been constructing together and to yield the development results which Mr Iwata would appreciate.”

Even Nintendo’s great gaming rival Sony has acknowledged Iwata’s passing, posting “Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata” via the official PlayStation Twitter account.

Nintendo has not yet announced who will now head up the company as it expands into the rapidly-growing mobile gaming sector. In March, Itawa announced that the firm had inked a deal with mobile gaming producer DeNA to licence its games on smartphones.

Life-long gamer

Born in Sapporo, Japan in 1959, Iwata was a life-long gamer who began working in the industry in the early 1980s. A stint with HAL Laboratory Inc saw him help develop the Kirby series, and he went on to work on the hugely popular Pokémon Gold and Silver for the Gameboy Colour, a game that helped solidify the franchise into  a multi-billion dollar phenomenon.

He joined Nintendo in 2000 as the head of the corporate planning division and was appointed president in 2002 at the age of just 42, becoming the company’s first CEO from outside the founding Yamauchi family.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer,” he said in 2005.

Satoru Iwata image via Official GDC/Flickr

Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com