Iwata, who did not travel to the E3 gaming conference last year due to health issues, was just the fourth president at the Japanese gaming company. He also assumed the CEO post of Redmond-based Nintendo of America in 2013.
After college, Iwata took a job at HAL Laboratory in 1983 where he worked on games such as Balloon Fight, EarthBound, and the Kirby games. He also worked on the Pokemon franchise, and then joined Nintendo as head of the corporate planning division in 2000. Two years later he assumed the president role, replacing the retiring Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had served in the top role since 1949.
Iwata’s death comes at a pivotal time in Nintendo’s history.
The company also is expanding into smartphone games, through a partnership announced in March. In its last earnings release, Nintendo said “a new source of revenue is expected from a gaming application for smart devices which will be released this year.”
Tributes are pouring in from around the web on sites from fans and competitors, acknowledging Iwata’s contribution to the industry as a creator and leader.
Sad day for Iwata-san’s family, friends, and gamers everywhere. His passion, creativity & leadership elevated our industry.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) July 13, 2015
"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." – Iwata-san
— Bungie (@Bungie) July 13, 2015
Even more touching and creative was an audio tribute, remixing some of Nintendo’s most familiar theme music, was released by Chip Tanaka, a Japanese musician, composer, and sound designer, who worked on various video games produced by Nintendo.