Nintendo CEO dies of cancer: 7 things about Satoru Iwata and the video games giant

Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co., gives a keynote speech at a game developers conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on March 2, 2011.
Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Co., gives a keynote speech at a game developers conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on March 2, 2011.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata died of bile duct cancer on Saturday at the age of 55.

Mr Iwata took some time off for health reasons last year and underwent surgery to remove the bile duct growth. A few months later amidst concerns over his health, he tweeted: "I'm progressing well ."

Here are seven facts about the chief and the video games giant:

1. Mr Iwata took 50% pay cut

The computer science graduate first joined Nintendo's HAL Laboratory in the 1980s where he worked on games like Balloon Fight and EarthBound.

He was appointed President in 2002 - the first not to be related to the company's founding family - succeeding Mr Hiroshi Yamauchi.

Last year, Mr Iwata took a self-imposed 50-per-cent pay cut for five months following Nintendo's downturn. The Japanese firm suffered a 30-per-cent drop in its nine-month profits for fiscal year ending 2013, mostly due to poor demand for Nintendo's Wii U.

2. Mr Iwata led Nintendo to huge success with Nintendo DS and Wii consoles


Nintendo DS. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG 

Mr Iwata oversaw some of the strongest and weakest periods in Nintendo's history as a video game company, launching Nintendo DS and Wii consoles.

Nintendo DS line was a series of handheld game consoles developed and sold from 2004 to 2013 and was succeeded by the Nintendo 3DS line in 2011. Collectively, more than 154 million units were sold worldwide as at end 2014.

Released in 2006, home video game console Wii line sold more than 101 million units worldwide as at end March this year.

3. A familiar face at Nintendo's online press conferences

Mr Iwata appeared in all of the company's online press conferences, called Nintendo Direct, to publicise its new games and news.

In all the Nintendo Directs, such as in the video below, he gestured with both hands towards the camera saying "direct", making it his own catchphrase.

4. A super programmer

Mr Iwata noticed that the launch of Super Smash Bros Melee was behind schedule when he conducted a review. To prevent a delay, he stepped in to help, spending three weeks at HAL Laboratory addressing the game's code and fixing the bugs. He had fancied himself to be the most proficient software engineer in the video games industry because he believed that he could write better codes than the company's engineers.

5. Nintendo was founded 121 years ago

Founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, it originally produced Japanese playing cards. By 1963, the company had tried many small niche businesses such as cab services and love hotels.

6. Creator of the cross-shaped D-Pad

The cross-shaped direction pad, D-Pad, was invented by an employee, Gunpei Yokoi.

The thumb operated four-way directional control with one button on each point is also found on most modern video game console gamepads, game controllers and on the remote control units of some television.

7. Super Mario Bros


Super Mario Bros. PHOTO: GAMESPOT.COM

The game was released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. In it brothers Mario and Luigi live in the Mushroom Kingdom where they must rescue Princess Toadstool.

The game involves eight worlds, each with four sub-levels. Though the worlds differ in themes, the fourth sub-level is always a castle that ends in a fight.

The first Super Mario Bros game sold more than 40 million copies and is the second best-selling video game of all time after Wii Sports as at May 2013.

SOURCES: Mashable, Guardian UK, TIME, The Japan Times, The Verge, Nintendo Insider