Sony PlayStation Architect Resigns

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The chief architect of Sony Corp.'s flagship PlayStation game console will leave in June as the company struggles to retain supremacy in the video game industry and revitalize its flagging reputation as an electronics and entertainment pioneer.

Ken Kutaragi, 56, an icon among gamers, will resign as Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s chairman and group chief executive, Tokyo-based Sony said Thursday. He will be replaced by Kazuo Hirai, who is now president and chief operating officer of the division.

Kutaragi's most new brainchild, the PlayStation 3 console, came out in November but was marred by embarrassing production shortages and a $600 price tag that some Sony fans said was too precipitous. For the past some months, Sony has resorted to giving away free game titles and other marketing gimmicks to stimulate sales.

Sony has also struggled to enlarge beyond the young, male demographic of so-called "hardcore" gamers. Investors have been upset for several quarters that Sony has unsuccessful to magnetize women, young children and older gamers to its products, and its market share has shrunk as a result.

Problems connected to Sony's limited demographic came into sharp focus late last year, when Nintendo Co. launched a rival game console, the Wii, for about $250. The device which includes a diminutive, wrist-mounted controller and a console that's skimpy on realistic graphics has grow to be a surprise hit among girls, suburban mothers, senior citizens and other people who have never considered themselves gamers.

Sony shipped 1.84 million PS3s worldwide through Dec. 31. In the same time, Nintendo sold 3.19 million Wiis.

The defeat to competitor Nintendo prompted Sony Corp. Chief Executive Howard Stringer to rocket his turnaround effort. In November, the Welsh-born executive — the first foreign-born CEO of a major Japanese electronics company — demoted Kutaragi by stripping him of day-to-day management tasks.

The leaving of Kutaragi — dubbed the "Gutenberg of Video Games" by Time Magazine in 2004 — will be effective June 19. After that, he'll be honorary chairman of the entertainment division and will serve as Stringer's senior technology adviser.

Although Kutaragi will stay an adviser, some U.S. gaming experts said the leaving may have been a face-saving firing and an effort by Stringer to recover from the failed PS3 launch.


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