In 2019, Shawn Layden left Sony. Yes, that Shawn Layden--the dude who has been with the company for multiple decades and been the face of the PlayStation brand since Jack Tretton left. Layden has been the guy who was at the forefront of everything this generation, riding the PlayStation 4 momentum into orbit. Now he’s gone, and the announcement was a little weird. Not long after, some stories started circulating hinting that there is more happening in Sony’s video game division than just a longtime executive moving on to the next thing. But is that something the gaming community needs to worry about?
The stories I’m talking about aren’t just random internet hearsay. First of all, the big sign that something was weird is how the news was circulated. Other figures leaving the company in recent years were given much more noise and fanfare from Sony, while for Layden, all we saw officially was a tweet. It was a very nice tweet, but that was it. Folks like Ken Kutaragi and Andrew House departing were much more celebratory. A mere tweet dispensing the news out of nowhere makes the move seem less planned.
Shortly after the news broke, I saw some curious talk from journalist Mike Futter, who had been doing some recent great reporting on things like the E3 2018 press information “leaks.” Futter mentioned that the timing on Layden’s departure was curious and hinted at a “power struggle” happening inside Sony. Futter pointed to an earlier 2019 report from GameDaily’s Johnny Cullen, observing that Andrew House’s replacement, John Kodera, swapped roles with Sony Europe’s Jim Ryan after barely over a year. That happened back in February 2019, and October 2019 started with more ripples that seem to have stemmed from Sony’s global growth.
Those ripples started in 2018, a few months before Kodera and Ryan swapped jobs. Sony restructured so that there was less separation between its regional presences, and that meant shuffling leadership around. This also led, in part, to the infamous censorship policy, which has been a big deal within certain parts of the gaming community. (The less said about that right now, the better though.) At that point, Layden moved to being the head of Sony Worldwide Studios, where he took the lead on Sony’s flagship gaming content. He was involved with Spider-Man, God of War, and uh, a PS4 port of a PSP port of Castlevanias Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night?
Anyway, the shuffling of leadership and regional policy seemed to cause an internal power struggle, according to Cullen in a newer report on the situation. Sources inside Sony told Cullen that despite being on the cusp of the next console generation, the internal messaging with the PS5 has been vague and confusing. Some of this has been due to leak prevention, but a lot of it seemed attributed to executive disagreements. The signs here seemed to indicate that Layden’s departure was more related to that than anything else. Layden himself has yet to speak on the matter, and Sony isn’t saying anything either. All we have is the tweet, Cullen’s source, and everyone else’s silence to go by.
How will this affect the people playing the games? It probably won’t in any major ways. Sony is still going to be Sony. As we see with projects like The Last of Us: Part II and Sony’s purchase of Insomniac Games (Spider-Man), the company has only doubled down on its successes. More likely, the biggest changes will be in the messaging surrounding the PS5, and perhaps there will eventually be vision changes down the line. Jim Ryan was much more reluctant about cross-play than Layden was, for example. But, as we head into the relative unknown of the PS5, one thing is clear. Well, not clear at all, actually. We’re roughly a year away from the PS5, and nobody really knows what to expect.