Nintendo Chief Executive Satoru Iwata Dies, Aged 55

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Having served as the company’s president for well over a decade, Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata has died at the age of 55, as a result of a cancerous tumour. An internationally renowned leader in the world of video games, Iwata helped change the face of Nintendo, as well as altering the landscape of the wider games industry, developing titles and consoles that catered for a wide range of tastes and inspiring millions to try out video games for the first time.

Beginning his career as a programmer for Nintendo subsidiary HAL Laboratory in the 80s, Iwata played a key part in the development of the popular Kirby series, along with other games like Balloon Fight and EarthBound. Recognised for his skills and business acumen, he was promoted to president in 1993, and helped to rescue the then troubled company from near-bankruptcy. Along with founder Tsunekazu Ishihara, he then went on to help establish a new company, Creatures, Inc (known for producing Pokémon card games and toys, as well as for working on the original Pokémon TCG video game, and later on the Pokémon Ranger series).

Later, he assisted in the development of the phenomenally successful and influential Pokémon Gold and Silver games. Released on Game Boy Color in 1999, this second generation of Pokémon titles massively expanded the world of the original Red, Blue and Green titles, introducing exciting new monsters and earning a life-long place in the hearts of millions of fans worldwide.

Around the same time, he assisted in the programming of Pokémon Stadium, adapting some of the coding from Pokémon Red and Green  for use in the N64 title. Pokémon Stadium further developed the multi-player elements that had proved so popular in the Game Boy games, as well as granting players their first opportunity to see their Game Boy-trained monsters battle in glorious 3D.

In 2000, Iwata joined Nintendo’s corporate planning division, and soon succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi as president when he retired in 2002. Iwata was the company’s fourth president and the first with no relationship to the Yamauchi family. A passionate advocate of gaming for all, Iwata took to the position with the intention of tackling what he saw as the industry’s exclusivity by working on new kinds of games that would reach under-served audiences.

It was this aim that led to his instrumental role in the development of both the Wii and Nintendo DS consoles, two hugely successful platforms that helped inject a new lease of life into the company. Upon its release in 2004, the DS rapidly became the world’s best-selling handheld game console, while the family-friendly Wii is well-known for its broad reach, its new style of gameplay appealing to millions who might not otherwise consider themselves gamers.

During his tenure as CEO, Iwata worked on various games including titles from The Legend of ZeldaMario and Animal Crossing franchises. Not content with simply developing new gaming projects, however, he also proved an excellent public spokesman for the company. Thanks to his frequent appearances in the “Nintendo Direct” video announcements (which he also helped to establish), Iwata’s face soon became familiar and well-loved by fans eager for news about their favourite games series. He also regularly interacted with gamers through social media, and conducted numerous interviews on his website, Iwata Asks.

Iwata’s public persona was always warm, passionate, witty and light-hearted, his fan interactions and online content funny and entertaining as well as enlightening. Despite his enormous success as a businessman, he seemed never to lose sight of that early childhood fascination with gaming which led him to take his first steps into the industry. As a child, he had created simple number games using an electronic calculator, and upon leaving school, he gained a place at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he majored in Computer Science: this first love stayed with him for life.

Tragically claimed before his time, Satoru Iwata’s inspiring presence will be sadly missed by fans around the world. Our thoughts are with his friends, family and colleagues at this sad time.

Sources: BBC News | News.com.au | NY Times

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