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Nintendo’s gamer-in-chief, Satoru Iwata, dies

Satoru Iwata

Nintendo's long-standing president succumbs to cancer at the age of 55

Satoru Iwata, the games developer who became Nintendo’s president, has died at the age of 55. Arguably the second most noteworthy person in the company’s history – behind the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto – Iwata was the most unconventional of executives. 

Although he didn’t officially join Nintendo until 2000, Iwata had a hand in the design of several of the Pokemon titles that appeared for the Game Boy Color. In 2002, he became the first president of the company not to be directly connected to the Yamauchi family, overseeing the shift from the Game Boy series of handhelds to the Nintendo DS and the introduction of the hugely successful Wii in 2006. 

Iwata never lost his love for the games, however, and played a part in the design of some of Nintendo’s most successful series, including Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. “On my business card, I am a corporate president,” he said in a 2005 speech. “In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Iwata was an unorthodox leader. For example, he held his own series of interviews with Nintendo staff on the company’s website, which betrayed his passion for games development. In one such interview with Miyamoto, Iwata revealed how Mario wasn’t originally blessed with the ability to jump in early versions of his debut game, Donkey Kong. 

“I also recall that the cabinet we were making the game for had one joystick and one button, but initially I intended it to be controlled using only the joystick,” Miyamoto revealed during the interview.

“So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped?” Iwata replied. “You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping!”

Iwata’s later years at Nintendo were more difficult, with the company failing to adapt to the shift towards mobile gaming instead of handheld consoles, and the Wii U running a distant third to the PlayStation and Xbox console in people’s homes. The company this year announced it would be bringing Mario and more of its legendary games franchises to smartphones and tablets, one of the few occasions on which Nintendo has developed for anything other than its own hardware.

Iwata was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, briefly returning to work last year after an initial recovery. A Nintendo statement reads: “Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.”

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