Today an era officially ended in the game industry, as Ken Kutaragi had his last day at work at Sony Computer Entertainment. Though a bittersweet development, his exit was not unexpected. The executive announced his intention to retire in April, nearly six months after he was replaced as SCEI president by Kaz Hirai, former president of Sony Computer Entertainment America. Kutaragi will continue to hold the advisory role at SCEI in Japan.
After helping Sony get into the console market in the mid-1990s, Kutaragi became widely known as the "Father of the PlayStation." After Sony's collaboration with Nintendo on a disc-based console, the Super NES CD, ended in acrimony, he pushed the company to produce its own device.
After the original PlayStation was released in Japan in 1994, the Walkman maker soon challenged the Mario Factory for supremacy in the console market. The PlayStation 2, released in 2000, saw Sony become the world's biggest force in gaming. As of 2005, the PlayStation had sold over 102 million units worldwide, with the PS2 moving over 120 million units as of May 30, according to Sony. In 2004 and 2005, Kutaragi also championed the release of the PlayStation Portable.
But after years of being one of the multinational's most profitable divisions, SCEI experienced difficulties with the PlayStation 3. Production problems pushed back the platform's launch to November 2006 in Japan and North America and March 2007 in Europe. Subsequent sales of the comparatively expensive console have been far behind that of its competitors, with the Wii outselling the PS3 4-to-1 in the US last month.
In many cases, Kutaragi was personally blamed for the PS3's woes. A November Newsweek report claimed his "slowness" to negotiate with publishers allowed Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto IV to also be developed for the Xbox 360. Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer told the Wall Street Journal in March that he found Kutaragi "uncommunicative" and had struggled to earn the executive's trust.