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Nintendo president Satoru Iwata dies at 55

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo, has died. He was 55. Nintendo confirmed his passing today in a brief statement.

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth.

Last year, Iwata did not attend E3 on advice from his doctor not to travel overseas. Later in the month, he underwent surgery to deal with a growth found in his bile duct, which in a note to company shareholders he acknowledged could be difficult to treat.

Satoru Iwata was the fourth president of Nintendo, succeeding Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had led the company into its modern identity as a titan of video gaming. Iwata had been a programmer for HAL Laboratory, today known for the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises, before taking Nintendo's top job in 2002.

As president of Nintendo, Iwata oversaw the introduction of two of the company's most profound successes — the Nintendo DS line of handhelds, and the Wii, both of which substantially widened the video game market, not just for Nintendo, in the first decade of this century.

"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."

In recent years, however, Iwata clashed with investors and analysts when the launches of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U fell short of the impact of their predecessors. Iwata sternly resisted calls for Nintendo to push its iconic properties into mobile phone gaming or abandon the manufacture of gaming hardware. Notably, he refused to order layoffs when the company's stock price sagged under the sluggish performance of the Wii U.

"I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world," he said at the time.

Iwata was the first president of Nintendo not related to its founding Yamauchi family. He cultivated an approachable personality through company Q&As (called "Iwata Asks") and appearances such as the latter-day Nintendo Direct video series, in which he spoke directly to the millions of video gamers spanning multiple generations who loved his company's characters and games.

In a keynote address to the 2005 Game Developers Conference at San Francisco, Iwata spoke of his love for video games and his personal origins as a programmer and a developer. He reminisced about his time studying at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, from which he graduated in 1982, and falling in with a group of friends that ultimately formed HAL Laboratory — named, he said, for the computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel.

"People sometimes ask me what I did when I was hired at HAL," he said. "The answer is that I was a programmer. And an engineer. And a designer. And I marketed games. I also ordered food. And I helped clean up. And it was all great fun."

And in his final shareholder meeting just weeks ago, Iwata again answered to an investor who wondered if there was some way for the company to make more off of characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Link, by selling their images to shoe or apparel manufacturers.

"Most products in the character industry are consumption-based, in that they continuously repeat the process of birth and death," Iwata said in reply. "Only a handful of characters can last for one, two or three decades."

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