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Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has died at age 55

Iwata was a game developer who rose to lead one of the video game industry's most important companies.


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 13, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 9:18 am CDT

Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo passed away on Saturday according to a statement issued Sunday by the company.

Iwata had struggled with health complications in recent years. According to the statement from Nintendo, Iwata suffered from “a bile duct growth” which led to his death. 

The outpouring of grief from the game community was immediate and overwhelming.

Iwata was one of three faces that defined the modern image of the legendary game development and publishing company, along with famed developer Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo of America President and COO Reggie Fils-Aimé.

Iwata began his career as a programmer at HAL Laboratory, Inc., the Japanese developer known for creating the character of Kirby, and for leading the development of the Super Smash Bros. series. Iwata later became president of HAL Laboratory in 1993. 

Iwata joined Nintendo in 2000, serving as the general manager of the corporate planning division until he took over leadership of the company in 2002. He was the first president of Nintendo who was not related to the founders of the company, the Yamauchi family.

The Nintendo GameCube console and original DS handheld were launched during Iwata’s tenure as president and CEO. The Nintendo DS secured Nintendo’s position as the leader in the handheld gaming market.

Nintendo’s success with the Wii console also took place under Iwata’s leadership. Iwata prioritized blurring the line between gamers and people who weren’t part of the traditional video game audience. The Wii was a smash hit that dominated industry narratives throughout the seventh console generation, outshining both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as the console that pioneered motion control gaming.

In recent years Iwata tackled the question of moving the company into the mobile game sphere on smartphones and tablets, and in March he announced a new Nintendo console, code-named the NX, as the company’s newest initiative.

In 2013, Iwata also took the role of CEO of Nintendo of America whereupon he spearheaded the Nintendo Direct program, replacing live press conferences with video presentations about Nintendo’s upcoming games and hardware. Iwata became an even more familiar face as he often hosted the events personally.

Iwata chose not to attend E3 2014 owing to recovery following an operation to remove a bile duct growth. “I was counseled that removal at an early stage would be the desirable medical option,” wrote Iwata in a statement issued on June 24, 2014. “Therefore I had surgery last week, and I came through it well, as predicted. I have already resumed my business by email and by other means, but it is anticipated that a little more time is needed for me to return to my regular work schedule.”

“You won’t be seeing Mr. Iwata in person at E3 next week,” Cindy Gordon, Nintendo of America’s vice president of corporate affairs told Kotaku in an email on June 5, 2014. “He’s been instructed by his physician not to travel overseas in the immediate future, and so he will not be making the trip to Los Angeles. Please understand that it is business as usual for Mr. Iwata, and he continues his normal duties as president of Nintendo Co., Ltd. while he remains in Japan. As always, he will be actively involved in all of Nintendo’s activities at the show.”

While many industry observers were aware of his illness, Iwata’s death still came as a shock. He had been generally positive about his recovery, and continued to make public appearances in 2015. He recently appeared in spirited trailers for Super Smash Bros. Wii U and in Nintendo’s E3 2015 Digital Event, though he did not travel to Los Angeles for the industry convention. He will be sorely missed in the video game world.

H/T Time | Photo via Official GDC/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 13, 2015, 2:07 am CDT