Satoru Iwata, the beloved president of Japanese gaming company Nintendo, has died of bile duct cancer. He was 55. Iwata joined Nintendo in the 1980s, working on games including Balloon Fight, EarthBound and the Kirby franchise, working his way up the company ladder before taking on the top post in 2002. Stepping in for the retiring Hiroshi Yamauchi, the company’s president since 1949, Iwata became only the fourth president in Nintendo’s history and the first to be unrelated to the Yamauchi family. Two years ago, he became CEO of Nintendo of America, Inc.
Iwata’s popularity inside the company, and throughout the gaming community as a whole, could be attributed to the fact that he saw himself as a gamer first, executive second. Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in 2005, he said, “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
During his tenure, he oversaw some of the company’s most successful product launches, including the Wii and the DS, both of which helped the company reach new markets including younger and female players. He also was behind the company’s late but eventual shift away from focusing on hardware toward adapting to the new landscape of mobile gaming.
Nintendo’s brief statement, issued Monday morning, did not name a successor. The company made its first annual operating profit in four years during fiscal 2014 ending in March.