Nintendo said Monday that its chief executive, Satoru Iwata, has died of bile duct cancer at the age of 55, several months after he abandoned the Japanese video game giant’s consoles-only policy.
In a brief statement, the Kyoto-based firm said Iwata passed away on Saturday.
The first president from outside the Yamauchi family since it started selling cards in the late 19th century, 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, however.
Iwata, who started off as a programmer, took the top post at Nintendo two years after joining the firm and was more recently pushing a long-awaited departure from its consoles-only policy in a bid to repair a battered balance sheet.
Last year, 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 struggled as rivals Sony and Microsoft outpaced it in console sales.
All three companies are also fighting off the trend toward 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 cannibalizing the hard-fought value of their game creations.
But 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.
Iwata ended his holdout against making Nintendo’s iconic characters available on smartphones and tablet computers, agreeing in March to form a venture with DeNA Co.
Last year, Iwata took a leave for surgery to remove a bile-duct growth.
“Iwata made a great contribution to the industry,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo. “It’s a great loss for Nintendo.”
Shares of Nintendo rose 4.1 percent to ¥20,315 as of 9:05 a.m. in Tokyo. The stock has surged 61 percent this year compared with a 14 percent rise in the benchmark Topix index.