Ken Kutaragi

Ken Kutaragi

Infobox Person
name = Ken Kutaragi

caption =
birth_date = Birth date and age|1950|8|8|mf=y
birth_place = Tokyo, Japan
death_date =
death_place =
occupation = Founder of "PlayStation"
spouse =
nihongo|Ken Kutaragi|久夛良木 健|"Kutaragi Ken"|born August 8, 1950 is the former Chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI), the video game division of Sony Corporation. He is known as "The Father of the PlayStation", and its successors and spinoffs, including the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and the PlayStation 3.

Kutaragi was closely watched by financial analysts who trace profiles of the losses and profits of the Sony Corporation. This has been attributed to the PlayStation franchise's high profit returns for Sony; it has been the key source of profit for the company. [cite web | url = | title = "Sony profits plunge 98%" | publisher = BBC | date = July 24, 2003 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ]

Early years

Ken Kutaragi was born in Tokyo, Japan. His parents, although not wealthy by Japanese standards, still managed to own their own business - they ran a small printing plant in the city. As Kutaragi grew into childhood, they actively encouraged the young boy to explore his mechanical abilities in the plant, and he worked after school there. Aside from his duties in his parents' factory, Kutaragi was a studious, high-level student; he was often described as a "straight A++".

Kutaragi always had the desire to "tinker", often taking apart toys as a child to see how they worked. This curiosity carried from childhood, leading him as a teenager to learn the intricacies of electronics. Eventually, in fact, his love of electronics led to him enrolling in Denki Tsushin University, where he acquired an Electronics degree.

Immediately after graduation, Kutaragi began working for Sony in their digital research labs. Although at the time it was considered a radical decision, Kutaragi felt that Sony was on the "fast track". He quickly gained a reputation as an excellent problem solver and a forward thinking engineer, earning that reputation by working on many successful projects - including early liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and digital cameras.

Role in the gaming industry

In the late 1980s, he was watching his daughter with a Famicom and realized the potential that existed within video games. At that particular time, Sony's executives had very little interest in video games. Thus, when Nintendo expressed the need for a wave-table sound chip for its upcoming new 16-bit system, Kutaragi immediately accepted. Working in secret, he designed and built the chip, the SPC700, wide-spread recognised as a work of a genius. When they found out, Sony's executives were furious. Only with Sony CEO Norio Ohga's help was Kutaragi able to push the project to completion and keep his job.

Even while working with Nintendo, within Sony, gaming was still regarded as a fad and something looked down upon. Despite this hostile atmosphere to video games, Kutaragi managed to persuade Sony to fund his research into the Super NES CD (the device that would eventually become the PlayStation). Despite being considered a risky gamble by other Sony executives, Kutaragi once again had the support of Sony CEO Norio Ohga. The success of the PlayStation led to him heading up the development of more consoles like the PlayStation 2, the most successful games console in history and the latest console in the series, the PlayStation 3.

The commercial success of the PlayStation franchise makes Sony Computer Entertainment the most profitable business division of Sony. Despite being an upstart in the console market against veterans Nintendo and Sega, the first PlayStation displaced them both to become the most popular console of that era. The PlayStation 2 extended Sony's lead in the following generation, at one point holding a 65% market share with 100 million units shipped. [cite web | url = | title = "PLAYSTATION 2 BREAKS RECORD AS THE FASTEST COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT PLATFORM TO REACH CUMULATIVE SHIPMENT OF 100 MILLION UNITS" | publisher = Sony Computer Entertainment | date = 30 November, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ] Ken was recognized by many financial and technological publications for this success, most notably when he was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2004 in TIME magazine [cite web | url = | title = "TIME 100: Most Influential People 2004" | publisher = Time Magazine | date = 26 April, 2004 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ] and the "Gutenberg of Video Games".

Since 1997, Kutaragi had been favoured to become the next Sony president. He enjoyed a close relationship with Sony CEO Norio Ohga, who had backed Kutaragi on the Sound Chip and PlayStation projects.cite web | url = | title = "Mr. Idei's Kurosawa Ending - The Rise of Howard Stringer at Sony is More Properly the Fall of Ken Kutaragi" | publisher = PBS | date = 10 March, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-10-12 ] Ohga's successor Nobuyuki Idei promoted Kutaragi to Deputy Executive President, Sony-Global Chief operating officer, and Vice-Chairman in 2003. During a controversial management shakeup in 2005, Kutaragi was demoted from the Board of Directors and replaced as head of consumer electronics. However, Kutaragi will remain as the head of the Sony Computer Entertainment gaming division and will also be given a new title: Group Executive Officer.

Assessment by industry analysts

Analysts believe that Kutaragi's demotion was surprising and indeed harsh. Many attributed the demotion to his speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo wherein he criticised Sony's policy of using proprietary technologies and implicitly criticised the company's use of DRM technologies in reference to Sony's failure to offer a compelling strategy to answer the rise of Apple Inc.'s iPod. [cite web | url = | title = "Sony learned its lesson in digital music, says exec" | publisher = Macworld | date = 21 January, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ] This was seen as a break within Japanese corporate culture since employees rarely criticized their companies.

Although Kutaragi's leadership of consumer electronics was not successful, analysts also suspect that outgoing Sony CEO Nobuyuki Idei had set up Kutaragi to fail, given that both men had a cool working relationship. Idei assigned Kutaragi the tedious task of turning around the consumer division which had already been falling behind competitors such as Samsung in the LCD market. Kutaragi's rival for the top position, Howard Stringer, was given the less difficult assignment of the content business and his success at Sony BMG resulted in his promotion.

Sony Computer Entertainment, which Kutaragi has been heading since its inception, had a weaker year in 2004 after several years of solid growth. [cite web | url = | title = "Sony hit by drop in games sales" | publisher = BBC |date=April 27, 2004 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ] During that same year, Sony’s game sales fell to $7.5 billion from $8.2 billion, and its operating income slid to $650 million from $1 billion, losing $25 million in Q4 of 2004. This can be attributed partially to the over-saturation of the video game market and price wars which caused the PS2 to lose the top sales position for a time. [cite web | url = | title = "Xbox officially outsells PS2 in US" | publisher = GameSpot | date = March 26, 2004 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ]

Seventh generation game consoles

Kutaragi has labelled the Xbox 360 as "just an Xbox 1.5" and stated that it was "only going after PlayStation 2". [cite web | url = | title = "Xbox 360 = Xbox 1.5? Kutaragi trashtalkin'!" | publisher = Engadget | date = May 25, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ] Kutaragi also touted a number of hardware features to show the PS3's superiority over the Xbox 360 which never actually made it into the final hardware. [cite web|url=|title=Broken Promises: A Closer Look at the PS3||accessdate=2006-11-20] However, SCE Executive Tetsuhiko Yasuda does not consider Microsoft to be a competitor, and has said that they might consider working on games together. [cite web | url = | title = "Sony would consider working with "non-competitor" Microsoft" | publisher = Joystiq |date=February 25, 2006 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ]

On September 8th 2006 Kutaragi admitted that the shortage of PlayStation 3 consoles to North America and Japan as well as the postponing of the consoles debut in Europe put Sony's strength in hardware in decline. [cite web | url = | title = "Kutaragi: Sony Hardware 'In Decline'" | publisher = BetaNews |date=September 8, 2006 | accessdate = 2006-09-23 ]

2006/2007 SCEI management shuffle

On November 30, 2006, Kutaragi was replaced as President of Sony Computer Entertainment by Kaz Hirai, the President of SCE America. In addition to other management changes, Kutaragi was promoted to chairman of SCEI, and retained his position as chief executive officer of the group. [cite web|url=|title=SCE Announces New Management Team|accessdate=2006-11-30|date=2006-11-30|author=Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc.|format=PDF]

On April 26, 2007 It was announced that Kutaragi would retire and instead take up the role of Honorary Chairman. Taking over his position will be current SCEI president and CEO Kaz Hirai, who will be promoted to president and CEO. [cite web | url = | title = "Kutaragi to retire from executive role at Sony" | publisher = |date=April 26, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-04-26 ] [cite web | url = | title = "Farewell Mr Playstation" | publisher = mvcuk |date=April 26, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-04-26 ] [cite web | url = | title = PlayStation creator Kutaragi resigns | publisher = CNET | date=April 26, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-07-23 ] [cite web | url = | title = Farewell, Father | publisher = | date=April 27, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-07-23 ]

ee also

* History of video games (16-bit era)
* List of computer and video game industry people
* SPC700
* Tokyo Game Show
* Kaz Hirai
* Howard Stringer
* Phil Harrison


External links

* [ Playing His Way to the Next Level] – By Jim Frederick, TIME (with reporting by Toko Sekiguchi), 2003
* [|E3 Sony E3 Public Convention 2005] , featuring Ken Kutaragi (starting at 05:15)
* [ Farewell, Father] - By Rob Fahey, a retrospective on Kutaragi's career.
* [] - Unofficial Ken Kutaragi fansite.

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