Japan video games giant Nintendo says chief executive Satoru Iwata has died of cancer at 55

Satoru Iwata, president of Japan's Nintendo, speaks at a press conference to unveil the portable DS Lite game console in Tokyo.
Satoru Iwata, president of Japan's Nintendo, speaks at a press conference to unveil the portable DS Lite game console in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP/BLOOMBERG) - Nintendo said on Monday that its chief executive Satoru Iwata has died of bile duct cancer at the age of 55, as the Japanese video games giant struggles to turn the page on years of losses.

In a brief statement, the Kyoto-based company said Mr Iwata had passed away on Saturday.

Mr Iwata took a leave of absence last year for surgery to remove a bile duct growth.

"Iwata made a great contribution to the industry," said Mr Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo. "It's a great loss for Nintendo."

Mr Iwata was leading the company's turnaround bid.

Last year, Mr Iwata said he would slash his salary in half for several months to atone for the downturn at the maker of the Donkey Kong and Pokemon franchises, which has struggled as rivals Sony and Microsoft outpaced it in console sales.

All three companies are also fighting off the trend towards cheap - or sometimes free - downloadable games for smartphones and other mobile devices.

Nintendo's chief had argued that venturing into the overpopulated world of smartphones and tablets risked hollowing out the core business and cannibalising the hard-fought value of their game creations.

But Mr Iwata later acknowledged Nintendo had to move into new areas.

"The world is changing, so any company that is not coping with the change will fall into decline," he said.

Nintendo in March unveiled plans to buy a stake in Tokyo-based mobile gaming company DeNA as part of a deal to develop smartphone games based on Nintendo's host of popular characters.

The first president from outside the Yamauchi family since it started selling cards in the late 19th century, Mr Iwata had led Nintendo since 2002 and helped oversee a tripling of revenue with hits including the Game Boy Advance SP and the Wii.

The rise of smartphones ate into sales of the company's handheld game player and its Wii U console failed to match its predecessor's success.

In March, Mr Iwata ended his holdout against making Nintendo's iconic characters available on smartphones and tablet computers, agreeing to form a venture with DeNA Co.

Shares of Nintendo rose 4.1 per cent to 20,315 yen as of 9.05am in Tokyo.

The stock has surged 61 per cent this year compared with a 14 per cent rise in the benchmark Topix index.