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Plenty of CEOs like to give public presentations. Few of them are as natural or engaging as Steve Jobs, but that doesn’t stop them trying to emulate the late Apple co-founder by getting up on stage and speaking.

Satoru Iwata’s final appearance was as a Muppet.

Nintendo hired the Jim Henson Company to build a Muppet likeness of the Nintendo CEO to deliver an off-beat and quirky presentation at E3, video gaming’s biggest annual show.

It would be the last time Iwata spoke to gamers. The Nintendo CEO died on July 11 after suffering from a tumor in his bile duct at the age of 55, his company announced Sunday.

Bold bets

Iwata did things differently.

He was the first Nintendo president from outside the Yamauchi family. His predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi, famously never played video games. But Iwata was a gamer. He started as a game programmer at HAL Laboratory before becoming that company’s president. Iwata eventually moved to Nintendo, which enjoys a very close relationship with HAL. It took just two years for Iwata to ascend to the top job.

But he took over a troubled Nintendo. Knocked off its perch by Sony and facing new competition from Microsoft, the one-time giant of gaming was suddenly facing two larger opponents. Iwata quickly realized that Nintendo could never triumph in a straight fight; Microsoft and Sony would always be able to outspend them to produce more powerful consoles and secure more exclusive games.

So Iwata changed the terms of the fight. Instead of competing for the small pool of hardcore gamers, they would target a far larger market: Everybody else. Nintendo’s goal was to expand the definition of “gamer”.

We know now that Iwata’s gamble on the Nintendo DS and Wii were spectacular successes. But at the time, few predicted that.

DS and Wii

The Nintendo DS went head-to-head with Sony’s PlayStation Portable in 2004. Sony’s device was sleek and absurdly powerful; Nintendo’s was a chunky hunk of plastic. Sony boasted the PSP was more than a dedicated gaming device, but also a portable entertainment system that would play music and movies; the DS just played games.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata presents the Wii game console on December 7, 2006 in Tokyo, Japan.

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