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What Tretton’s departure means for Sony and the PS4

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The dust has yet to settle around the abrupt and frankly jarring news that Jack Tretton will be stepping down as CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, with former SCEJ president Shawn Layden assuming the role. Formerly COO and executive vice president of SCEA, Tretton joined Sony in 1995 and became a founding member of PlayStation that same year. He was appointed president and CEO of SCEA in 2006, replacing Kaz Hirai, and was tasked primarily with managing PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PS Vita and most recently PlayStation 4.

Tretton is regarded as a successful CEO, particularly in the public light, because of his straightforwardness. Save for the straggling Vita, the systems he managed flourished under his command; similarly, the PS4’s strong start can be partially attributed to his actions as CEO. The question then becomes, “Why leave now?”

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Ignoring the cries of impending doom for the PS4, the obvious answer is also the simplest: Tretton is ready to move on, presumably to a different executive role—“the next chapter” of his career, as stated in his farewell letter. By all rights, this is the most likely reason. Blatant answer two would be that Tretton’s skills are needed elsewhere in the company—but until his next position is detailed, be it one within or outside Sony, that will remain unclear. Then comes salary discrepancies and corporate disagreements—the all too credible black sheep of any corporation. With that said, greater insight can be gleaned from the context of his resignation.

Such a radical corporate shift was never foreshadowed and comes in stark contrast to the unbridled success that PlayStation 4 is enjoying. Coupled with the timing, specifically that the change will take effect April 1, the start of a fiscal year (which, it must be said, is common for executive hat-swapping), this suggests that Tretton’s resignation was planned for some time and Sony was counting the days.

It’s entirely possible that April 1 has been set for some time now, but equally so that the company was waiting until PS4 was in a stable position to shake the corporate ladder, and the timing was mere convenience. With dominating sales and hard-hitting software beginning to role in, that would-be requisite has clearly been met.

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Looking at Tretton’s past performance and the role he played in stabilizing and promoting other PlayStation systems, it’s far from unreasonable to assume that, if he was indeed on his way out, Sony would want to keep him around long enough to establish a comfortable seat for their newest console.  However, assuming foul play was absent from the situation, and Tretton’s departure has come out of necessity and not personal choice, one has to wonder what Sony stands to gain from removing a tried-and-true exec from the situation. Essentially, why Shawn Layden?

Layden comes from a 14-year background within Sony, but from a radically different territory. Japan is Sony’s home turf, and it is so not only as a result of the company’s origins, but thanks to their unrelenting efforts in the East. As such, bringing the president of the Japanese division westward is a no-brainer when it comes to filling a high-ranking position. The reasons behind that decision, however, are less straightforward.

Unfortunately, like most of the circumstance surrounding the news, much remains unknown as to why Tretton is leaving. If it was his decision, appointing Layden could easily have been a forced move by Sony to quickly fill a crucial seat in this, a most delicate stage. If Sony is planning to have Tretton manage other assets and felt Layden would be a better fit for the Western front this generation, then we can expect a change in strategy from SCEA.

In any case, one thing is certain: Andrew House and Layden himself have a hell of a shadow to fill at E3 2014. 

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Austin Wood
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