Sony names new CEO, but is he the right one?

playstation controller

Sony hands the controller to its PlayStation frontman. Can he get them to the next level?

The rumors of storied Sony exec Kazuo (Kaz) Hirai’s succession as CEO were not at all exaggerated. The PlayStation purveyor confirmed last week that its games console wunderkind Hirai will level up on April 1 and take over as president and CEO of the Japanese electronics goliath.

The general reaction has been positive. There is a consensus on current CEO Sir Howard Stringer’s struggles and over-stayed welcome, as well as Hirai’s eminent fitness for assuming the reins. Hirai is a familiar face to at least hardcore gamers, since he worked his way up through Sony via the PlayStation. So I admit that, as a gamer, I have a bit of an irrational prejudice for Hirai. (May I call you Kaz?) It’s nice to see someone I feel  is “one of my own” take control of the whole ship.

Taking just a brief step back, however, makes me realize this may be glittering, but it’s not necessarily gold. Most analysts would agree that a change has been needed at the head office in Tokyo for awhile. One of the most compelling cases is, ironically, also the one that seems to put the biggest question mark over Hirai’s head: the PlayStation.

Observers such as CNET’s Don Reisinger rightly bemoan Stringer’s handling of the PlayStation Network breach that occurred in early 2011, as well as the decline of the PlayStation brand. But hang on a second — who has been more directly involved in that side of the business? Not only has Hirai been the more direct navigator of all things PlayStation recently, but he has also been knee-deep in Sony games since before the legendary DualShock controller, joining Sony Computer Entertainment America in 1995. Yes, that includes the years of the insanely successful PlayStation 2, but he has remained the face of the PlayStation even in these darker days.

It might sound like I think folks like Reisinger are dead wrong. Well, maybe just maimed wrong. The points about Stringer’s muck up of both the PlayStation breach and brand are sound, and Reisinger’s praise of Hirai’s stepping into the breach, so to speak, is warranted. Ultimately, Stringer is responsible for the performance of all of the company’s operations. My flag-waving is not about shifting blame from Stringer to Hirai, nor is it necessarily that I think Hirai can’t revive my beloved console maker. I just think that in regarding him as a replacement, onlookers might want to consider the ground he just finished tilling before forecasting bumper crops.

However it shakes out (and I’m pulling for Kaz), it looks like we’ll be living in our world, but playing in Hirai’s.

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Photo by Kenny Louie, used under a Creative Common license.
Chris Huston

Though he relishes a dashed good book or a bit of sport (and British idioms), Chris Huston now spends much of his free time on his video game consoles, playing anything from Rock Band to Red Dead Redemption, or Need For Speed to Netflix. He finances these not-completely-innocuous vices by writing about video game companies and the technology industry for Hoover's.

Read more articles by Chris Huston.

Comments

  1. I hope Hirai is the right person for the job. Sony is badly in need of help! Didn’t they used to make TVs?

  2. Chris Huston Chris Huston says:

    And they hope to again, one day, Alex! Yes, they are getting schooled by competitors on a number of fronts. None of those fronts is a greater contrast to their past successes than the PlayStation. The PS2 was just legendary (and I don’t use that term lightly) not only as a game console but as a retail product. It’s STILL selling to this day. Nintendo is kind of a wild card, but Sony should not have been outmaneuvered by Microsoft.

    Many felt the original Xbox was better than the PS2, but it was only a stronger *machine*, which rarely translated into better games. The PS2 was easily the best system of its generation. The PS3 is (from my own experience and those I’ve read online) a far more reliable machine mechanically than the Xbox 360, but Microsoft beats Sony on so many other elements of the console experience that the Tokyo tycoon looks far more like the console newbie than the Redmond rookie does.

    My affection and respect for both the PS2 and its accomplishments outweighs my normal may-the-best-company-win philosophy. It’s got a long haul to get back its video game crown. It may have an easiER (or at least more clear cut) road ahead with its TVs, et al.

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