Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, who launched Wii, dies of cancer at 55


Nintendo issued a brief statement tonight on the death of Satoru Iwata, the gamer and programmer who served as the Japanese gaming company's fourth president and CEO.

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.

Under his leadership, Nintendo launched the monumentally successful Wii video game console. Released in 2006, the Wii has sold more than 101 million units worldwide.

Kotaku writes that he was forced to skip E3 last year because of his poor health, and soon underwent surgery to remove the bile duct growth. "A few months later, in the wake of concerns over his health, he said via Twitter 'I'm progressing well'."

Iwata was born and raised in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo. He began programming games in high school, then studied computer science at Tokyo's Institute of Technology.

Bloomberg on his humble origins:

Iwata was a teenager when Nintendo entered the video-game business. He desperately wanted into the industry, against his parents' wishes, according to the book. In 1982, after working as a freelance game programmer, he joined HAL Laboratory, a Nintendo unit created in 1980 to make games for the parent company's consoles. He eventually became president of HAL, before moving to Nintendo as head of corporate planning in 2000.
In 2002, the year Iwata took the post of president, Nintendo had annual sales of 555 billion yen ($4.5 billion).

The Wall Street Journal notes that his death places "the company's leadership in question just months before it embarks on its first foray into mobile gaming."

Mr. Iwata had been president since 2002 and led the introduction of successful products such as the Wii console. But in recent years, the company's share price and market presence lagged behind with the rise of games on smartphones, a trend which Mr. Iwata was long reluctant to join.

His final major move as president came in March of this year, when he appeared at a news conference to say that the company would develop videogames for smartphones based on its classic characters such as Super Mario. Nintendo struck a partnership with DeNA Co., a Japanese game provider, under which the companies will exchange ownership stakes and set up a new mobile game platform.

"Nintendo is undergoing one of its biggest shifts ever," Tokyo-based videogame consultant Serkan Toto told the WSJ. "Iwata-san's passing away will make things a little problematic, but it is not unsolvable."

Mashable has a roundup of fan reactions here, noting that Iwata was "well-loved by gaming fans for his constant involvement and interaction," appearing "in countless digital press events, videos and other media, always with a smile and a winningly goofy attitude."

Nintendo Co's President and Chief Executive Satoru Iwata. REUTERS/Toru Hanai, 2014

Nintendo Co's President and Chief Executive Satoru Iwata. REUTERS/Toru Hanai, 2014