Gaming icon created PlayStation console

The father of the PlayStation is stepping down amid tough times for the once-dominant videogame device.

Ken Kutaragi, who led development of the original PlayStation in the early ’90s, is ankling his post as CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony said Thursday. Former Sony Computer Entertainment America topper Kaz Hirai, who took the SCE prexy role from Kutaragi in November, will add the CEO title.

Kutaragi will stay on as honorary chairman and an adviser to Sony CEO Howard Stringer.

The original PlayStation was a big hit, and PlayStation 2 was the bestselling videogame console by far through last year.

However, PlayStation 3, which debuted in November, has been beset by delays and high costs and is lagging well behind Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii in sales.

Though Sony hasn’t given out exact figures, they come with its earnings next month, it is estimated to have sold just over 3 million PS3s through the end of March. Nintendo’s Wii, which launched the same month as the PS3, has sold 5.84 million.

Due to the success of the first two PlayStation consoles, Kutaragi rose quickly through Sony’s top management ranks, becoming head of the company’s consumer electronics division, but was replaced in 2005 in a management shakeup. He retained his position as topper of the game division, however, until PS3’s woes led to his downfall.

While Sony was shaking things up Thursday, Nintendo was crowing. Japanese vidgame company saw sales and profits soar on continuing success for its DS handheld device and a successful launch for the Wii.

For the fiscal year ended March 31, Nintendo’s net sales rose 90% to $8.13 million, while net income was up 77% to $1.47 billion.

In the fourth quarter, as the Wii hit the world market, sales nearly tripled to $2.12 billion.

Though the Wii has done very well out of the gate, most of Nintendo’s success is attributable to the DS, which sold an astonishing 23.6 million units in the fiscal year, more than double the previous year. Total DS sales since its 2005 launch are 40.3 million.

That’s well ahead of Sony’s PlayStation Portable, which launched around the same time and sold about 25 million units as of Dec. 31.

Several of Nintendo’s own DS games performed extraordinarily well. “New Super Mario Bros.” sold 9.5 million units around the world, “Brain Age” did 8.1 million, and the “Nintendogs” series sold 7 million. “Pokemon Diamond” and “Pokemon Pearl” shipped 5.2 million units in Japan alone since September and sold more than 1 million in the U.S. in their first week of sales.

Nintendo expects to sell 22 million DS consoles in the current fiscal year and 14 million Wii machines.

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