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From the editor: What Hirai's promotion means for Sony (and you)
From the editor: What Hirai's promotion means for Sony (and you) Exclusive
February 2, 2012 | By Kris Graft

February 2, 2012 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Exclusive, Business/Marketing

It's official: a video game guy is taking the reins of one of the leading electronics manufacturers on planet Earth.

Sony announced this week that Kaz Hirai, best known as a top PlayStation exec, would be taking over as president and CEO of the megacorporation in April, when current honcho Sir Howard Stringer is scheduled to step down.

The grooming and eventual selection of Hirai as Lord of Sony is good news for the "Riiiiiiiidge Raaaaacerrrr!" (sorry) man, but it also recognizes something even bigger: That video game people know their shit.

When you know video games, you have knowledge that is applicable across an array of disciplines. Think about it: Sony is a massive, multinational tech and media conglomerate with around 170,000 employees worldwide. Its major products span across audio, video, TV, networks, semiconductors and electronics components, not to mention music and film.

Did Sony choose someone from any of these specific businesses to lead the company as CEO? No, they chose the PlayStation guy, the game guy, who was a standout candidate even back in 2009 when the company began its search to replace Stringer.

With Hirai's big promotion, Sony doesn't just plan to beef up its video game business, but to pump up the rest of the corporation with Mighty Video Game DNA.

Hirai's a company man, joining Sony's games program in the 1990s. He was instrumental in establishing the PlayStation brand in the U.S., bringing the original PlayStation toe-to-toe with more established competitors like Sega and Nintendo, and repeating major success with the revered PlayStation 2.

The PS3 hasn't been the same runaway success, but its network strategy lays the groundwork for Sony's connected product future. With his previous promotion to head of consumer electronics, Sony wanted to leverage his flexible, applicable video game expertise into virtually every facet of the company.

Sony recognized that video games were driving innovation at the company -- they're a perfect vehicle for technological innovations. With Hirai at the top, he can spread across all of Sony the innovations that have been emerging and evolving in the game industry for years. Audio, video, TV, networks, semiconductors and electronics components, music, film: Today, PlayStation -- and the games industry in general -- encompasses all of these things, plus, of course, games.

And Sony wants to circle around all of those elements, shooting a network web across all of its products, via a backbone that connects tablets, phones, TVs and computers. Through PlayStation Network, Sony has already set this plan into motion, and with Sony semiconductor business head Tadashi Saito coming up as Sony chief strategy officer in April, everything's going to get a lot more connected, and, Sony intends, a whole lot "smarter."

But the implications of Hirai's promotion go beyond Sony. Allow yourself to be a little conceited, and consider this: If your background is in the games industry, chances are your business and creative acumen spans across multiple forms of entertainment, many kinds of hardware, all types of distribution methods, and you have a pretty good idea of the possible implementations of an online network.

If you're really good, the game industry also taught you some marketing facets, like the importance of community management (something driven by the games industry) and public relations.

In general, as someone in the games industry, you have a unique insight into media and technology, both where it is today and where it will go, whether you're talking about new ways to interact with games and media, or how to interact with other human beings.

Video games hardware, software and services are leading other tech sectors. So if you know video games, you might not realize it, but you have a clear vision of entertainment in a modern, connected world. You know your shit.

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Christopher Corbett
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When the board voted (or whatever the process was) to appoint him President/CEO...I bet the ballots had a list of people with a question at the top "Who knows their shit?" Ha ha

Jeremy Reaban
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The trouble with Sony is the only division actually making money is their financial services (insurance).

Their connected vision should have taken play 6-7 years ago, now they are playing catch up to Apple and Amazon. Except they still don't seem to be even trying to catch up.

The Vita is a great example - despite having the hardware capability, it can't read books from the Sony e-book store, can't play Android games from the Sony app store. They recently launched a Walkman that plays Android games like the iPod Touch does, but it's completely walled off from the Vita (and costs as much as the Vita). Why is Sony competing with themselves?

Why can't they design products that use one unified store like Apple or Amazon?

I think it will be a shock if Sony is still in business 20 years from now. Even 15.

Omar Gonzalez
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I'm not going to say I disagree with what you said, But I also want to say, Your argument pretty much sounds like the usual western perspective: "Why don't everyone does what we think (is/edgy/logic/successful) based on our current trends, Is not like the whole word needs to operate under Apple business model.

Doesn't take to much if you spend a week or so overseas to figure that out, I can totally see some European/Asian countries not giving a shit about Apple ecosystem..

Also what is the point of competing with a tremendously successful business model... by basically doing the same? isn't that red ocean? ... Again not saying I disagree entirely with you, just saying Sony success is also about being Japanese, whether we like it or not.

Joe McGinn
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The thing is, Sony politics isn't about games vs. non-games division. Sony is about Sony Japan vs Sony in the rest of the world. I'd be more interested to know where Mr. Hirai stood, for example, on the question of whether to make the Vita a phone. Everyone in Sony thought it should be - except Japan. Guess who won.

Jonathan Murphy
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I know what this means. "RIDGE RACER!"