Kutaragi out as Sony wanes

The chief architect of Sony’s PlayStation game console stepped down Tuesday as the Japanese company struggles to defend its dominance in the videogame industry and revive its reputation as an electronics pioneer.

Ken Kutaragi, 56, retired as Sony Computer Entertainment chairman and group chief executive, the gaming unit said Tuesday. The unit is now headed by Kazuo Hirai, SCE’s former president and chief operating officer.

Kutaragi had already been relieved of day-to-day responsibilities as president last year but stayed on as chief executive and chairman. In April, he announced his intention to retire from those positions this month.

Though no longer a board member, Kutaragi will hold an advisory post at the gaming unit, according to SCE official Sayoka Henmi.

The departure of Kutaragi, an icon among gamers, marks the end of an era at Sony that saw the company dominate the videogame industry with its flagship PlayStation consoles.

But it also highlights troubles amid a series of blunders over the rollout of its PlayStation 3 and intense competition from Nintendo’s Wii console and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

Kutaragi’s most recent brainchild, the PlayStation 3, has been marred by embarrassing production shortages and a $600 price tag that some fans said was too steep. It went on sale late last year.

Tokyo-based Sony shipped 5.5 million PS3 machines in the fiscal year through March 31, fewer than the 6 million the company had targeted. Nintendo shipped 5.84 million Wii consoles worldwide during the same period.

The PS3’s hefty startup costs have weighed heavily on the company’s fight to drive up profit in its core electronics division. Sony is not expecting to post a profit in its game business until the fiscal year ending March 2009.

The flop has added to the woes facing the maker of the iconic Walkman, which has ceded its leadership in portable music players to Apple’s iPod.

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