Satoru Iwata (1959 – 2015)

With such shock and sadness, the world lost a true gaming icon. Satoru Iwata of the worldwide gaming company, Nintendo, sadly passed away on Saturday 11th July 2015 at the age of 55 from cancer, following complications from a bile duct growth.

Today, Nintendo issued an official statement, which documents the news of Satoru Iwata’s passing, which can be viewed by clicking here.

To me, this is a massive shock, because I have only just found the news of Satoru Iwata’s death today, and not only has his death been a massive shock to me, but his death has also been a massive shock to the gaming world.

To pay tribute to Satoru Iwata, I will now take a look back on his life as it unfolded, and the highlights of his career up until his death.

Satoru Iwata (6th December 1959 – 11th July 2015)

Satoru Iwata was a Japanese businessman and also a game programmer who had served as the fourth President & Chief Executive Office (CEO) of Nintendo. He had worked as a programmer at the HAL Laboratory earlier on in his career, as this would help him to go on to develop the smash-hit games, such as the Super Smash Bros.’ series, the Kirby series and the Pokémon series, before joining Nintendo in 2000.

Satoru Iwata had also succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi as the company’s President in May 2002, and he had directed the company to pursue the development of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii consoles in 2006, which would help the company to become financially successful among many of the other game console manufacturers. He had served as the company’s President until his death on Saturday 11th July 2015.

Satoru Iwata’s Early Life

Satoru Iwata was born on the 6th December 1959 and was raised in Sapporo, in Japan; his father was a municipal mayor. He had expressed his interest in the creation of video games earlier on, and had began to produce electronic games at his home during his high school years. The several simple number games that Iwata had produced had made use of an electronic calculator that he had shared with his schoolmates.

Following on from high school, Satoru Iwata was admitted to the Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he would major in computer science. While he was attending the school, he did do a lot of freelance work as a programmer for HAL Laboratory, Inc., a game developer that had often collaborated quite closely with the international gaming company, Nintendo.

Satoru Iwata’s Career

HAL Laboratory

After he had graduated from university, Satoru Iwata had joined the HAL Laboratory company in a full-time capacity. Here, he had become the company’s co-ordinator for software production in 1983. Some of the video games that he worked on were Balloon Fight, EarthBound and the Kirby games. With the company itself being on the verge of bankruptcy, Satoru Iwata was promoted to be the President of HAL Laboratory in 1993, and in turn, he had helped to turn the company around and also stabilise its finances.

Satoru Iwata had assisted in the founding of Creatures Inc., which was established in 1995 by Tsunekazu Ishihara. Although he was not part of Nintendo at that time, Iwata had assisted in the development of Pokémon Gold & Silver, which were both released for the Game Boy Color in November 1999. Simultaneously, Satoru Iwata had aided in the programming of the Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 by reading the original coding that was found in both Pokémon Red & Green, and reworking it for the new game. Satoru Iwata had also created a set of compression tools that were utilised in the Gold & Silver Versions of the Pokémon series.

Satoru Iwata & Nintendo

In 2000, Satoru Iwata had taken the position at Nintendo as the head of its corporate planning division. When Hiroshi Yamauchi, the company’s president since 1949, had retired on the 31st May 2002, Satoru Iwata had succeeded as Nintendo’s fourth President with Yamauchi’s blessing, and Yamauchi would then advise Iwata over the course of the next few years. Satoru Iwata was the first Nintendo President who was unrelated to the Yamauchi family through blood or marriage. Iwata had also continued to help out at HAL Laboratory as a consultant.

At the time of Satoru Iwata’s promotion, Nintendo wasn’t performing as well as the other console makers, with its latest release, the Nintendo GameCube performing poorly compared to competitors. Iwata had stated back in 2006 that he felt that the gaming industry was becoming too exclusive, and that he wanted to develop hardware and games that would be appealing to all players.

Under his charge at Nintendo, Satoru Iwata had helped to lead a revitalisation of their handheld system, which would help them to transition from the Game Boy console series to the Nintendo DS Series, with a unique form factor that would allow for more novel games to be played on it. He had also pushed on the development of the Nintendo Wii platform, which had introduced the use of motion control-based video games.

Both units had proved to be highly successful to the company alone, with the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006 helping to nearly double the stock price of Nintendo. Satoru Iwata’s former experience as a programmer, which was a rarity for technology CEOs, was said to have helped to contribute towards his leadership of the company. Due to his success, Barron’s had included Iwata on their list of the 30 top CEOs worldwide from 2007 to 2009.

He had commented on the Nintendo games in his section of Nintendo’s Wii website, Iwata Asks. In 2011, Satoru Iwata had helped to institute “Nintendo Direct”, which is a series of online press conferences that are open to all that had revealed upcoming Nintendo games and products that were outside of the typical industry channels, and were often done in a quirky, humorous manner, such as a mock battle between him and the Nintendo of America President, Reggie Fils-Aimé.

In the June of 2013, Satoru Iwata had decided to take the role of Nintendo of America’s CEO; as one of his first changes as CEO, Iwata had decided that they would not hold large press conferences at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), and instead have several smaller events, each that would be aimed at a certain demographic. This year, Iwata had put part of Nintendo’s focus on the growing mobile game market, and in turn, he created a partnership with the mobile provider, DeNA, to publish titles, as the traditional hardware console sales had began to falter.

As Iwata had stated, he would take half of his salary to help Nintendo’s poor finances and to better compete against the big technology companies, Microsoft Corporation and Sony Computer Entertainment.

While he was at Nintendo, Satoru Iwata had worked on The Legend of Zelda series, the Mario series and the Animal Crossing gaming series. He had also played as a cameo in Nintendo’s Wii game, WarioWare: Smooth Moves (also a part of the Nintendo Selects range, created by Nintendo), where he is referred to as: “Shop Manager Iwata”.

In his Keynote Speech at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2005, Satoru Iwata had stated in his speech:

“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.” – Satoru Iwata.

Satoru Iwata’s Illness & Death

In 2014, Nintendo had announced that Satoru Iwata would not be present at E3 2014 due to medical-related reasons. It was later revealed that he was undergoing surgery for a tumour in his bile duct. Yesterday, Nintendo had announced that Satoru Iwata had died the previous day at the age of 55 due to complications with this tumour. Today, Nintendo had issued the statement that had officially announced his death on Saturday 11th July 2015. He was survived by his wife, Kayoko. Funeral services are planned to be held on the 17th July 2015.

The flags at Nintendo’s headquarters were lowered at half-mast, and members across the gaming industry and fans alike had expressed their sadness on social media over Satoru Iwata’s passing and gratitude for his accomplishments. Shuhei Yoshida, the President of SCE Worldwide Studios (Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios), stated that: “He has given a great contribution to the development of the gaming industry. I will pray for Iwata’s soul.” The composer and director, Junichi Masuda, who was mostly known for his work with the Pokémon games, tweeted that: “He was a man who understood Pokémon, and a great leader. When I visited the other day, he was well. I will pray for his soul from the bottom of my heart.”

My thoughts go out to Satoru Iwata and his family at such a difficult time. We will miss you dearly Satoru Iwata, but you will never be forgotten for the wonderful and happy legacy you have left behind.

“Thanks to you, you have shaped the world of gaming with such positivity, and you have changed our lives for the better, in so many ways. You’ve inspired us to keep pushing and to keep going in life. Thank you. We will miss you Satoru Iwata, but you will never be forgotten for the wonderful legacy you’ve left behind. We will always remember you in our hearts forever.” – Alex Smithson

If you want to pay tribute to Satoru Iwata, please feel free to leave your tributes below in the comments.

Alex Smithson

Note: If there are any forms of slander made in the comments that have been written, they will be deleted. Please be respectful and pay tribute to Nintendo’s fourth President, Satoru Iwata. No Slander Allowed.


  1. Although I am not familiar with him, you wrote a beautiful tribute to him. God bless his family and what a loss to the gaming world. My son probably knows him he’s a long time gamer.


    1. It’s very hard to think how I’ve grown up over 17 years with Satoru Iwata, because, without him, the Super Mario Galaxy series wouldn’t have existed, and without him, the Super Mario 3D Land & World games wouldn’t have existed.

      I feel absolutely thankful and absolutely grateful for every ounce of hard work he’s put in. Although he’s gone, he will never be forgotten for the wonderful legacy that he has left behind.

      Alex Smithson


      1. My son is 28 and very much a gamer and even our little, not so little, grandchildren are very much into games as well. I played Mario Brothers, but that was when it wasn’t so technical and as great video. I am of the older generation. You are the same age as my oldest grandchild. I know he plays, but his 8 year old brother is more into video games.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can’t imagine how heartbroken both of them must have felt, when I heard the news of Satoru Iwata’s death, it deeply shocked me, because I had no idea he had cancer until the news broke that he passed away. Still, although he is gone, he will never be forgotten, not just for the wonderful legacy he left behind, but also for the positive impact that he has left on the gaming world and the world overall.

        Alex Smithson


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