Nintendo president Satoru Iwata dies of cancer at 55

July 13, 2015 13:52
Satoru Iwata led Nintendo since 2002 and helped oversee a tripling of revenue with hits like Game Boy Advance SP and Wii. Photo: Bloomberg


Satoru Iwata, president of the Japanese video game maker Nintendo Co., has died at the age of 55.

Iwata passed away on July 11 from bile duct cancer, the Kyoto-based company said in a statement Monday.

Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto will lead management while a formal successor is decided, spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa told Bloomberg News by phone.

Iwata led Nintendo since 2002 and helped oversee a tripling of revenue with hits including the Game Boy Advance SP and the Wii.

The rise of smartphones ate into sales of its handheld game players and the Wii U failed to match its predecessor’s success.

Iwata was away from the public eye for two months last year because of surgery to remove a bile-duct growth.

“Iwata made a great contribution to the industry,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo. “It’s a great loss for Nintendo.”

In March, Iwata ended his hold-out against making Nintendo’s iconic characters available on smartphones and tablet computers, agreeing to form a venture with DeNA Co. as it tried to recapture casual players.

Nintendo's stock has surged 54 percent this year compared with a 14 percent rise in the benchmark Topix index.

Born and raised in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, Iwata began programming games in high school and studied computer science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, one of Japan’s top universities, the news agency said, citing the 1000 CEOs, compiled by Andrew Davidson.

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 (US$4.5 billion).

Iwata subsequently oversaw a winning streak that included the Game Boy Advance SP, the Nintendo DS handheld player, the Nintendo DS Lite, the Wii, the DSi, the DSi XL and the 3DS.

In 2009, Nintendo posted 555 billion yen in operating profit as revenue more than tripled to 1.8 trillion yen on demand for the original Wii console and software. The Wii shipped more than 100 million units and became the world’s best-selling console.

Iwata followed in November 2012 with the Wii U, which has struggled to recapture gamers who have shifted to other entertainment.

In the period between the Wii and Wii U releases, Apple unveiled its iPhone and iPad; Samsung Electronics Co. its Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets; and Google Inc. its Android operating system used by most mobile-phone makers.

Nintendo has also faced new competition in consoles from Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation, which have lured hardcore gamers with with advanced graphics and shooter-style software.

Those developments weighed heavily on Nintendo. Sales have fallen for six straight years, dropping to 550 billion yen in the 12 months ended March, or less than when Iwata took the role.

The company forecast operating profit will double this fiscal year helped by its move into mobile phone gaming. The smartphone service begins this year and Iwata has said Nintendo is preparing to release a new console, code-named NX.

“The trajectory given Nintendo by Iwata isn’t likely to change,” said Tomoaki Kawasaki, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities Co.

“The successor’s challenge will be to make the smartphone business a reality and create meaningful synergies with the new NX console to strengthen the company’s finances.”

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