• FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, Nintendo Co. President Satoru Iwata speaks during a news conference in Tokyo. Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

    FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, Nintendo Co. President Satoru Iwata speaks during a news conference in Tokyo. Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan. (AP Photo/Koji ... Sasahara, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this July 15, 2008 file photo, Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo Co. Ltd., speaks at a news conference where Nintendo unveiled an enhancement for its Wii Remote controller and new games at the E3 Media and Business Summit in Los Angeles.  Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan. (AP Photo/Ric Francis, File)

    FILE - In this July 15, 2008 file photo, Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo Co. Ltd., speaks at a news conference where Nintendo unveiled an enhancement for its Wii Remote controller and new games at the E3 Media and Business Summit in Los ... Angeles. Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan. (AP Photo/Ric Francis, File) (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2005 file photo, Nintendo Co. Ltd. President Satoru Iwata displays a new smaller remote control device as he makes a key cameo appearance at the annual Tokyo Game Show in Makuhari, east of Tokyo.  Nintendo said President Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan.   (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2005 file photo, Nintendo Co. Ltd. President Satoru Iwata displays a new smaller remote control device as he makes a key cameo appearance at the annual Tokyo Game Show in Makuhari, east of Tokyo. Nintendo said President ... Iwata died Saturday, July 11, 2015, of a bile duct tumor in a Kyoto hospital, western Japan. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File) (The Associated Press)

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata dies after leading Japan game company through success, woes

Technology Associated Press

Satoru Iwata, who led Japanese video game company Nintendo Co. through years of growth with its Pokemon and Super Mario franchises, died July 11 of a bile duct tumor, the company said Monday. He was 55.

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Iwata, president from 2002, died in a Kyoto University hospital. He had not been seen recently at game events, such as E3 in Los Angeles, where he was usually a participant.

Iwata led Nintendo's development into a global company, with its hit Wii home console and DS handheld, and also through its recent woes caused by the popularity of smartphones.

His replacement was not immediately announced, but the company said star game designer Shigeru Miyamaoto will remain in the leadership team along with Genyo Takeda.

Iwata had been poised to lead Nintendo through another stage after it recently did an about-face and said it will start making games for smartphones — meaning that Super Mario the plumber will start arriving on cellphones and tablets.

The falloff in appetite for game machines in the past few years was partly because people are increasingly playing games or doing social media and other activities on smartphones. Nintendo has repeatedly had to lower prices on gadgets to woo buyers.

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Until the recent shift in strategy, company officials including Iwata had repeatedly rejected the idea of developing games for mobile devices, a market that they brushed off for years as irrelevant.

In March, Nintendo announced an alliance with Japanese mobile game company DeNA Co. to develop games for mobile devices.

The company returned to profit in the fiscal year ended March 2015 after several years of losses.

Nintendo pioneered game machines since the 1980s, developing one of the first machines and the hit Game Boy hand-held machine.

Its main rivals in the business are Sony Corp. with the PlayStation machines and Microsoft Corp. with the Xbox One machine. Both companies have done better in adapting to the era of online and mobile games.

Iwata succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi, who ruled over the Kyoto-based company for half a century, transforming it from a traditional playing-card company to a technological powerhouse. Yamauchi died in 2013 at 85.

Iwata was picked, with Yamauchi's blessing, and Yamauchi remained adviser for many years.

Iwata was a respected and popular figure in the game industry, partly because he was relatively more approachable than executives at other Japanese companies, who tend to be aloof and rigid in demeanor.

A funeral service will be held on July 17. He is survived by his wife Kayoko. The company declined to disclose other details of his family.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama