We regret to inform you that Satoru Iwata, the Chief Executive of Nintendo for the past two years and an extremely influential video game creator, died on July 11 at the age of 55.
Nintendo issued a statement on Saturday, confirming that he passed away due to a bile duct growth. Iwata’s medical complications began in 2014 when he was unable to attend E3 for health-related reasons. It was later revealed he was undergoing surgery for a tumor in his bile duct. He was survived by wife Kayoko Iwata.
Satoru Iwata was born on December 6, 1959, and raised in Sapporo, Japan where he demonstrated early on a knack and fluency for the language of electronics. He began producing simple electronic number games in high school and progressed in his technological talents as a student of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. There, he majored in computer science while working as a contract programmer for HAL Laboratory, Inc., a game developer that often collaborated closely with his future employer, Nintendo.
After Iwata graduated from university, HAL Laboratory brought him on full-time and appointed him as coordinator of software production in 1983. It was during this time that Iwata truly showed a prowess for the creation of popular, unique video games. Throughout the 1980s, he spearheaded a number of the company’s most influential and game-changing titles, including the first ever Kirby installments. Still, with the company on the verge of bankrupcy in 1993, Iwata was promoted to president of HAL and helped stabilize its finances.
His successes did not stop there, though. After helping a friend found Creatures Inc. in 1995 and assisting in the development of Pokémon Gold and Silver, he eventually took a position at Nintendo in 2000 as the head of its corporate planning division. And when Hiroshi Yamauchi, the company’s president since 1949, retired in 2002, Iwata succeeded as Nintendo’s fourth president – the first to come from outside the Yamauchi family (a testament to Iwata’s expertise).
As the president of Nintendo, Iwata propelled the company forward against fierce competition from the likes of Sony and Microsoft, with the release of several seminal games consoles and products, including the Nintendo DS, Wii, and Amiibo, a line of interactive toys.
Despite his prowess for creating products, though, many cited Iwata’s inability to foresee the future of video game development – or, at least, accept it. In the past, Nintendo has struggled to adapt to an increasingly mobile industry, geared toward smart phones, tablets, and apps, preferring to create games for its own hardware.
However, it did reverse course in early 2015, with Iwata shifting part of the company’s focus to the mobile game market and planning a new home console system known as Nintendo NX for 2016. That said, Iwata remained committed to producing traditional game platforms that provided fans a unique, otherworldly experience. As a fellow gamer, himself, he has always placed innovation over investment.
While giving a speech at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California in 2005, Iwata perfectly encapsulated the reason for his success in the creative yet extremely corporate industry.
On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. In my heart, I am a gamer.
And indeed, it was Iwata’s childhood love for games and the creation of them that set him apart from his predecessors. They were not merely a pastime or assets to be sold, but a present source of inspiration and fun.
With that in mind, Iwata will be sorely missed from both the world and the world of gaming. You can listen to a touching tribute to him from Hirokazu Tanaka, the composer behind video games like Dr. Mario and Earthbound.
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R.I.P. Satoru Iwata: December 6, 1959 – July 11, 2015.