Even with companies as massive as Sony, it's often just one or two people within the company who influence the course of their history and the success of their products. Sony's initial involvement in the videogame industry was limited. The company was an electronics giant, but was not yet sold on the long term viable of videogames as a source of revenue. In the late 1980's they worked closely with Nintendo to develop the sound chip used in Nintendo's Super Nintendo console. A leader in emerging technology, Sony later approached Nintendo with their idea for a CD add-on device that would be used with the SNES.
Everything was going swimmingly, and in fact the merger was about to be announced at a major convention before Nintendo took a final look at the agreement and decided they didn't like it one bit. They felt Sony, a company with no history in the videogame world, was given way too much power over Nintendo's own console, and which games would be released for the new add-on. Nintendo instead formed a hasty partnership with Philips.
This left Sony with a difficult choice; either abandon their work and extricate themselves from the games industry as painlessly as possible, or proceed with their research and develop their own stand alone console. As we all know, they chose the latter route, and it was Ken Kutaragi who was largely responsible for the massive success that would follow.
Kutaragi took the failed merger with Nintendo and spent the next 4 years developing the PlayStation console, dealing with skepticism from other Sony executives the entire time. Thanks to the backing of Sony CEO Norio Ohga, Kutaragi was able to get the funding needed to complete the PlayStation in time for a late 1994 launch in Japan.
After the rousing success of the PlayStation, Kutaragi was also instrumental in the design and development of the both the PlayStation 2 (the bestselling video game system of all time), and the PlayStation 3 (arguably the most powerful home console ever released). Kutaragi had also begun work on early designs for the PlayStation 4, 5, and 6.
Kutaragi retired from the games division of Sony Computer Entertainment in 2007, shortly after the release of the PlayStation 3. Though it was widely reported that Kutaragi was stepping down due to the poor initial sales of the PS3, and for what was viewed as a botched launch, Sony insists that the retirement had been planned for some time. Kutaragi remains as Honorary Chairman within the company.
Also influential in developing the PlayStation's popularity in North America was Kaz Hirai, the current head of Sony Computer Entertainment, replacing Ken Kutaragi. Hirai helped launch the PlayStation 1's effective ad campaigns in the early days of the system, targeting a more mature audience, and one that wasn't necessarily familiar with gaming. The ambitious PlayStation ad campaign resulted in billboards and ads across the country, in sporting venues, and on mainstream television channels. The advertising paid off, as gaming was introduced and adopted by gamers of all ages and backgrounds, eventually resulting in the PlayStation 1 becoming the most successful home console at the time, with over 100 million units sold.
Hirai also oversaw the development and distribution of numerous games, including Wild Arms, Gran Turismo, Crash Bandicoot, Twisted Metal, Warhawk, Wipeout, Syphon Filter, Hot Shots Golf, and the North American publishing of Square's Final Fantasy 7, which also utilized a massive ad campaign to raise awareness of the game.
Lastly is Shuhei Yoshida, who's also helped oversee and develop many of Sony's top games. He worked with Hirai to get Gran Turismo out the door, was the executive producer on Sony's mammoth RPG The Legend of Dragoon, as well as working on SOCOM: US Navy Seals, one of Sony's pre-eminent online games, Jak and Daxter, Twisted Metal: Black, ATV Offroad Fury, and many more. Yoshida has been with Sony for 19 years, most of that time having been spent in their gaming division, and is currently the Senior Vice President of Product Development.
These three men helped shape the PlayStation brand in its early years into what it is today, and without them the PlayStation would likely never have existed, or not been nearly as groundbreaking and influential as it has been. If I could speak Japanese, I would surely thank these men for giving me some of the greatest gaming moments of my life. Unfortunately I can't. As hard as I'm sure it will be, they'll have to somehow find a way to go on with their lives anyways, and hopefully those lives will continue to include shaping the future of gaming in some form or another.