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Jung-ju Jay Kim, founder of South Korean gaming company Nexon, has passed away at age 54. 

On Tuesday, Nexon’s holding company NXC released a statement: “With deep sadness, Nexon mourns the unexpected death of its beloved founder, Jungju Jay Kim, who passed away in February.”

His sudden death came as a big shock to South Korea’s gaming industry that sees Kim as an icon and a pioneer. The company did not disclose a cause of death. According to media reports, Kim had been undergoing treatment for depression, and his condition seemed to have worsened. He is survived by his wife and two daughters. 

Kim, who founded Nexon in 1994, pioneered the free-to-play PC and video gaming space and launched Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) in 1996. Its popular titles include The Kingdom of the Winds, MapleStory, KartRider, Mabinogi and Dungeon & Fighter. 

Kim stepped down from the CEO position at NXC after serving for 16 years and handed over his position to JaeKyo Lee last year. Kim considered selling his majority stake in NXC worth about $9 billion in 2019 but withdrew the sale because he couldn’t find a suitable buyer. 

Nexon, one of the largest gaming companies in the world, moved its headquarters from Seoul to Tokyo in 2005 and went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2011, raising more than $1 billion in the year’s largest initial public offering in Japan. 

“It is difficult to express the tragedy of losing our friend and mentor Jay Kim, a man who had an immeasurably positive impact on the world,” chief executive officer and president of Nexon Owen Mahoney said in a statement. “As a founder and visionary leader, Jay encouraged those around him to ignore the skeptics and trust their creative instincts. He will be deeply missed by his Nexon family and many friends.” 

According to Forbes, Kim, the third richest man in South Korea as of May 2021, pledged to donate $93 million to startups and children’s hospitals in 2018. 

NXC diversified into the crypto business through investments in South Korea’s first cryptocurrency exchange Korbit in 2017. The company has over 45 live games available in more than 190 countries. 

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