TOKYO • Nintendo chief executive officer (CEO) Satoru Iwata died of cancer months after he led the Japanese video game-maker's belated entry into mobile gaming following years of declining sales. He was 55.
The death of the hands-on CEO and president, announced by Nintendo yesterday, comes at a critical time for the company, which is betting that its new smartphone tie-up with online game-maker DeNA will help make up for declining console sales. Mr Iwata had long resisted investors' calls to move into mobile games for fear of cannibalising Nintendo's traditional console base. He announced the move in March as stiff competition from console rivals and mobile games continued to drag down sales.
The company did not announce a replacement but Mr Genyo Takeda, senior managing director and one of the lead developers of Nintendo's Wii console, will lead the committee for Mr Iwata's funeral - a sign he could be taking on the leadership role.
"They say it is not yet decided who the next CEO will be, so there is a slight uncertainty," Japan Asia Securities deputy general manager Mitsuo Shimizu said.
Nintendo DS (2004)
The DS took mobile gaming to a new level. It featured a touchscreen years before Apple's iPhone. Its dual-screen format brought sharper graphics, and meant that a player could focus on a first-person angle on one screen and the whole field on the other.
Wireless connectivity allowed people to play together in groups while still using their own devices, making it more social. Nintendo has sold 154 million units so far.
Sony and Microsoft went after the hardcore gamers, but Nintendo found a way to unite the family with motion sensors that could have a group playing tennis, enjoying virtual bowling or throwing a Frisbee. Instead of using a button to steer a race car, players tilted their controller.
Parents suddenly had a video game system they wanted to use with their kids. It's the most
successful game console, with more than 100 million units sold.
Nintendo 3DS (2011)
It was the successor to the DS, Nintendo's top-selling hand-held device, allowing players to now immerse themselves in a three-dimensional world without awkward glasses. With backwards compatibility - enabling owners to run DS titles on the new device - players could invest in a new machine and not consign their library of software to the trash heap.
While analysts and investors pushed the company to enter smartphone gaming, Mr Satoru Iwata went in a different direction with Amiibos. These cute little figurines interact with gaming hardware to personalise the experience and make games mobile. Over 10 million Amiibos have been sold since their debut last year, and it's managed to breathe some life back into the Wii U.
"This comes just as we saw a glimmer of hope for the company."
Nintendo has forecast it would double annual operating profit in the year through March, thanks to the DeNA tie-up.
Despite some concerns over succession, Kyoto-based Nintendo's shares rose 1.49 per cent, in line with the broader Tokyo market. Deutsche Bank analyst Hanjoon Kim maintained a "buy" rating on the shares and said Mr Takeda and other long-serving board members would likely ensure stability.
Mr Takatoshi Itoshima, chief portfolio manager at Commons Asset Management, said the main task for the next chief would be to carry out Mr Iwata's smartphone project.
Mr Takeda and fellow senior managing director Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario and Donkey Kong hit games, will be the sole remaining representative directors.
Mr Iwata had surgery in June last year to remove a growth in his bile duct and had returned to work. He attended an annual shareholders' meeting on June 26, but his condition deteriorated suddenly in the last few days, Nintendo said.
Gaming fans took to Twitter to mourn him, and even rival Sony's PlayStation account said: "Thank you for everything, Mr Iwata."
Mr Iwata, who became president in 2002 at the relatively young age of 42, was the first CEO from outside the founding Yamauchi family.
Hooked on computer programming in high school, Mr Iwata told developers he was a "gamer at heart". In his later years, though, he came under pressure from investors amid competition from Sony and Microsoft and a shift in casual gamers to smartphones.