Nintendo Co Ltd Chief Executive Satoru Iwata died of cancer on Saturday, 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 on Monday, 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.
Iwata long resisted investors' calls to move into mobile games for fear of cannibalizing Nintendo's traditional console base. He announced the move in March as stiff competition from console rivals and mobile games continued to drag on sales.
The company did not announce a replacement but Genyo Takeda, senior managing director and one of the lead developers of Nintendo's Wii console, will lead the committee for Iwata's funeral - a sign he could be taking on the leadership role.
"They say it's not yet decided who the next CEO will be, so there's a slight uncertainty," Japan Asia Securities deputy general manager Mitsuo Shimizu said. "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 percent, in line with the broader Tokyo market <.TOPX>. Deutsche Bank analyst Hanjoon Kim maintained a "buy" rating on the shares and said Takeda and other long-serving board members would likely ensure stability.
GAMER AT HEART
Takatoshi Itoshima, chief portfolio manager at Commons Asset Management, said the main task for the next CEO would be to carry out Iwata's smartphone project.
"The next goal for the management is to carry this on,” he said.
Takeda and fellow senior managing director Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario and Donkey Kong hit games, will be the sole remaining representative directors.
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 suddenly deteriorated in the last few days, Nintendo said.
Iwata's main legacy was broadening the appeal of video games with the bestselling Wii, which included fitness titles and fantasy battles. Gaming fans took to Twitter to mourn his death, and even rival Sony Corp's <6758.T> PlayStation account said: "Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata."
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, 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 (NASDAQ:MSFT) and a shift in casual gamers to smartphones.
(Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Yoshiyuki Osada and Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by Stephen Coates)