Satoru Iwata, who as chief executive of Nintendo oversaw the introduction of gaming systems such as the Nintendo DS and the Wii, died on Saturday, the company said in a statement.
The statement said the cause was a bile duct growth. He was 55.
A former video game development star, Mr. Iwata was appointed the president of Nintendo in May 2002 and became the chief executive of Nintendo of America in June 2013, the company said.
He was the first chief executive to come from outside the Yamauchi family, which founded the company in 1889 as a manufacturer of playing cards and ran it until Mr. Iwata was appointed.
At the start of Mr. Iwata’s tenure, Nintendo, long a leader in home gaming systems, was fending off fierce competition by rivals like Sony and Microsoft. Under his watch, the company surged ahead with the release of the Nintendo DS, a hand-held gaming system, the popular Wii home gaming console, and Amiibo, a line of interactive toys.
But the company struggled to adapt to a changing video game business and resisted the industry trend to develop games for smartphones and tablets, preferring to stick to a more traditional approach of designing games to be played on their own hardware.
It did reverse course in March, but Mr. Iwata said then that the company remained committed to producing its own game platforms. It had planned to share more details about a new system, code-named NX, in 2016.
“For us to create unique experiences that other companies cannot, the best possible option for us is to be able to develop hardware that can realize unique software experiences,” Mr. Iwata told Time magazine in March.
As a former developer, Mr. Iwata displayed a fluency in the language of gaming and an ease with young developers that was a change from his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who led Nintendo for 53 years while professing not to understand video games.
Mr. Iwata first got his start in video games as a contract programmer for HAL Laboratory, a game developer that works closely with Nintendo. The company, which Mr. Iwata later revealed was named because each letter is one ahead of IBM, gave him his first experiences creating games.
Over the 1980s, Mr. Iwata worked on a number of the company’s biggest titles. He became company president in 1993, just after he helped put out the first installment of the Kirby franchise, Kirby’s Dream Land.
The game, which features a puffy, pink protagonist who gobbles up enemies and spits them out as projectiles, became a hallmark of casual gameplay for the mobile game device well before the era of smartphone games.
Similarly, simplicity and ease of use were the driving forces behind the motion sensor technology that made the Wii console so popular.
Mr. Iwata continued to head HAL until he moved to Nintendo in 2000. During the time he presided over a number of key titles including the release of Super Smash Brothers, a game which pitted Nintendo characters like Super Mario and Link from the Legend of Zelda against each other in fights. He also advised on the creation of early Pokemon games for the Gameboy.
Known for pushing back against complicated and expensive video games, Mr. Iwata quipped at a 2006 conference that had Tetris been introduced then, it would have required better graphics and a film deal to be feasible. During the same speech, Mr. Iwata gave a sort of coda on his views on gaming: “Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone.”
A series of interviews about the development of Nintendo products that Mr. Iwata conducted with the company’s employees revealed an easy, amiable camaraderie and were peppered with jokes and teasing. It was published to the Nintendo website under the title “Iwata Asks.”
“Since I myself come from a development background, I think I understand the minds of developers better than most executives,” Mr. Iwata said during one exchange, when asked about his relationship with employees. “I think the fact that I have been centrally involved in the creation of Wii is the biggest factor in explaining why my staff and I understand each other so well.”
Mr. Iwata was born on Dec. 6, 1959. He was a much admired figure throughout the games business, and tributes to him poured onto social media on Sunday as word of his death began to spread. Peter Moore, the chief operating officer of Electronic Arts, said in a Twitter message: “What a terribly sad day. Iwata-San was such a gentleman. Huge loss for the industry.”
Philip Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, posted to Twitter: “He will be missed by many.”
“There are CEOs who make a difference to the lives of the people,” Min-Liang Tan, chief executive of Razer, a maker of games hardware and peripherals, said in a Twitter post. “Satoru Iwata was one of the few who did.”
In one interview posted to “Iwata Asks,” Mr. Iwata explained that his drive to expand Nintendo’s game offerings and user base was motivated by more than the lure of making money or beating competitors. While those things mattered, he said, he was also driven in part by a desire to improve “the position of video games in society.”
“I believe that if we don’t make moves to get people who don’t play games to understand them, then the position of video games in society will never improve,” Mr. Iwata said. “Society’s image of games will remain largely negative, including that stuff about playing games all the time badly damaging you or rotting your brain or whatever. If that happens, then even people who enjoy games will start to feel a strange guilt when they play them.”