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Nintendo president Satoru Iwata‘s death from cancer at age 55 continues to inspire emotional tributes from both video game fans and executives in the gaming industry, a $15 billion business in 2014 in the U.S. alone.
“It is a sad moment for the industry,” Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, told the Associated Press. “I always remember a speech he made where 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.’ It’s a statement that defines Nintendo in the time he led, and defines Iwata-san’s impact on our industry.”
Born on Dec. 6, 1959, in Sapporo, Japan, Iwata graduated from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and joined Nintendo in 2000. He was named the company’s first president from outside the founding Yamauchi family in 2002, at a time when Nintendo was falling behind rival Sony Corp. Iwata moved to return the company to the vision that had made it a gaming titan: simplicity of gameplay and a spirit of pure, innocent fun.
“What we are looking for is not next-generation technology, but next-generation gameplay,” Iwata said in 2004.
During his tenure, Nintendo released the now classic Nintendo DS and Wii consoles in 2004 and 2006, respectively, returning the company to the pinnacle of the gaming sector with an intuitive gaming experience that appealed to a broad base of consumers.
“Iwata was a great visionary championing products like the Wii and the Nintendo DS,” Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard said in a statement. “He changed entertainment forever. I consider myself lucky to have called him a good friend for over two decades.”
Nintendo’s fortunes rapidly declined from 2009 onward as the company’s Wii U game console flopped and mobile gaming began to draw casual consumers away from console-based gaming. Iwata long resisted licensing Nintendo’s iconic characters to mobile game developers for fear that doing so only would give consumers even less incentive to buy the company’s consoles.
But in the first half of 2015, it appeared Nintendo, under Iwata, was on the verge of staging yet another comeback. In March, the company announced that it was finally diving headfirst into gaming for smartphones, partnering with Japanese mobile development giant DeNA Co. Shortly afterward, Nintendo revealed that it had also forged a partnership with Universal Parks & Resorts to create “immersive experiences” starring Nintendo’s universally beloved game characters at Universal Studios theme parks.
Netflix then revealed that it was developing the popular The Legend of Zelda franchise into a live-action series. In May, Nintendo reported a return to a full-year profit, its first year in the black since 2011.
While the current impending leadership change comes at an inopportune time for Nintendo, the global outpouring of gratitude and goodwill for Iwata and the company culture he helped create augurs well for both his legacy and the future of the brand.
Hardcore and casual gaming fans alike have flooded social media with touching tributes to the late president, the self-avowed “gamer at heart.” Below are select comments.
— Gary Whitta (@garywhitta) July 13, 2015
— Ramsés Cabello (@RamsesCabello) July 13, 2015
— Haruhichan (@Haruhichancom) July 13, 2015
— Skype (@Skype) July 13, 2015
— Davitsu Vod Davidibi (@Davitsu) July 13, 2015
— meowza (@meowza) July 13, 2015
— Robert Bowling (@fourzerotwo) July 13, 2015
— Skippy [1 day B-day] (@SkippyCinematic) July 13, 2015
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