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photo of Mark Doherty holding up phone with Kaz Kirai in front of his own face
Mark Doherty
Mark Doherty

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Meet Mark Doherty, the man behind the Fake Kaz Hirai Twitter account

And find out why he decided to call it quits

In college, Mark Doherty didn’t have many friends who followed video games — at least, not as closely as he did. When he made jokes about E3, his friends gave him confused looks. So, in an effort to find people who would get his jokes, he started a Twitter account, a parody account of Sony Computer Entertainment’s then-CEO and chairman, Kaz Hirai.

The account became popular — to say the least.

Where other parody accounts often get shut down, Fake Kaz Hirai, @KazHiraiCEO on Twitter, won the blessing of some at Sony. It earned followers like president of Sony Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida and Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann. It got a lot bigger than Doherty ever expected, and lasted years longer than he thought it would.

But seven years, 127,000 followers and 2,390 tweets later, Doherty just hung up the towel. And he used the event to raise money for the charity SpecialEffect, which works with modified technology to help those with disabilities enjoy video games.

Ahead of Doherty calling it quits, we spoke to him about starting the account, writing jokes, why he decided to walk away and why his mom didn’t want him to.

Who is Mark Doherty?

“Unfortunately, the answer is incredibly boring,” Doherty says, laughing.

“I’m based in Manchester, [U.K.,] but I’m actually from Liverpool,” he continues. “I have literally nothing to do with the video game industry whatsoever. Like, I don’t work in it, I don’t really know anybody who works in it. Nothing whatsoever. I work in insurance.”

Doherty started the account in February 2011. It was his second attempt at a parody account after his Fauxtaku account — a riff on the video game outlet Kotaku. The idea, he tells us, was to publish fake, humorous blog posts. An idea, he adds, that took too much time and that he only made a Twitter account for.

“So I was like, ‘I’ll just do characters,’” he says. “‘That seems like more of my thing.’”

‘I thought it was a parody account’ tweet from @KazHiraiCEO
A typical @KazHiraiCEO tweet.
Ex-CEO Kaz Hirai/Twitter

Doherty wanted to do jokes about the game industry, something he felt comfortable with. He says he chose Sony’s Kaz Hirai simply because Hirai ran the company he knew the most about. Doherty grew up playing PlayStation games — Journey is his favorite Sony-exclusive game — and felt the company was a good base for what he wanted to do. (For a while, after starting the Hirai account, he also tried to run a similar account for Nintendo of America president and chief operating officer Reggie Fils-Aimé, but Nintendo shut it down.)

Since he was in college when he started the Hirai account, Doherty says he had a lot of free time to put into it; he’d sometimes tweet four or five times a day. And while he doesn’t think now that those jokes were very good, he says they gave him the opportunity to hone his voice and learn how to structure jokes.

“Normally, an idea will just pop into my head and I’ll think about it for a little bit. I spend more time thinking about the wording of the tweet than I do the actual idea,” Doherty says when asked how he writes. “The wording is probably the more important bit — anyone who follows me can probably tell my grammar isn’t fantastic.”

Doherty’s account had a slow first couple of months. That all changed, though, when the PlayStation Network was hacked. All of a sudden, Twitter users were searching for the real Hirai. Since Hirai didn’t have a Twitter account, Doherty’s fake account was the one many landed on. His first “popular tweet,” as he puts it, came on April 26, 2011, when he was making fun of the hacks, saying, “At Sony we believe in an open platform. A very open platform.”

“Getting over 100 [retweets] was unbelievable to me at the time,” Doherty says.

His account jumped from a humble 100 followers to more than 3,000.

The real growth would come a few years later, when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were about to launch. Microsoft was jumbling its messaging with the new Xbox, saying the machine would always need to be online, focusing on multimedia rather than games. Sony, however, was pulling ahead in the market, putting games first — as well as taking potshots at Microsoft. For a guy writing video game jokes on the internet, Doherty had a lot to work with.

“There [were] just lots of things you could make jokes about then,” he says.

Existing outside the game industry, Doherty says, gives him a different perspective with what he writes than people working in the industry or press. It’s more consumer-focused, he says. That said, he believes there’s a balance he needs to strike with what people put out there.

“You don’t want to end up being that guy on the sidelines moaning about how easy it must be to ‘x, y, and z’ when you kinda know that there’s a lot of complicated things going on behind closed doors,” he says. “But yeah, the account isn’t insider baseball. It also means I don’t really have any sort of relationship to the industry that I need to keep going. I can sort of just tweet whatever I want, because it’s not going to affect my day-to-day life.”

Doherty’s tweets also haven’t affected his life because, he says, outside of some people he’s told in his personal life (and possibly a few more after this story goes live), he’s remained relatively anonymous. Even when he lays out the evidence for everyone.

Who is Fake Kaz Hirai?

Doherty brings up two different occasions when he presented his actual identity to people following or interested in the Fake Kaz Hirai account. When Nintendo president Satoru Iwata died in 2015, Doherty retweeted his own account — which, prior to him stopping the Fake Kaz account on June 15, 2018, had only 38 followers — to pay respects. It didn’t seem right, he says, to tweet in honor of Iwata from a parody account. The second time, he commented on a NeoGAF post about the account, from his personal account, saying it was him. Both times, no one said anything.

“I’ve not had anybody go, ‘Oh, I know it’s you,’” Doherty says. “I’ve not ever hidden it — it’s just, the answer’s not interesting. So whenever I’ve said, ‘It’s me,’ people have not cared.”

Despite that, Doherty says he’s heard “tons” of rumors about who Fake Kaz Hirai is. But typically, they’re people you’d expect — not a guy living in Manchester who works in insurance.

“To be honest with you, people mostly think it’s some kind of game journalist. Quite often it’ll be the Kinda Funny guys,” he says. “And then people make the obvious joke of it actually being [Hirai] or somebody that works at Sony.”

Over the course of the seven years Doherty ran the account, he gained a lot of fans — even when he was making fun of them.

“It was scary at first, because they could delete it at any moment. I wouldn’t really care, to be honest. When it became obvious that they liked the odd tweet ... and they were actually having fun with it, it actually made it a lot more enjoyable,” he says. “It’s a nice part of the Sony thing that they let it happen and promote it a little bit. Like when Kaz had my tweets on stage behind him — which was kind of bizarre.”

Doherty even seemed to have the blessing of Hirai himself, whom Doherty’s never met or spoken to.

“He ended up speaking to a couple of people who work for Sony about it,” he says. “They said he hasn’t read any tweets, but he was told it was funny in a good way. So he decided not to get it shut down.”

That said, Doherty adds that he wonders what Hirai thinks of the account’s profile photo, which features the ex-boss with a goofy grin on his face, holding up four fingers. “I would not want a nonideal photo of me being the most famous photo of me,” Doherty says with a laugh. (We were unable to reach the real Hirai to comment for this story.)

For the most part, Doherty says he hasn’t told a lot of people about the account. It’s not that he’s embarrassed by it, he says; it’s just difficult to explain to people he knows who don’t really follow games.

“It’s just weird to be like, ‘OK, I’m not him. I make jokes about games that you’re not going to find because you don’t follow games. It has 100,000 followers for some reason,’” Doherty says. “It’s just a weird conversation to have.”

Two unexpected fans of the Fake Kaz Hirai account, though, are Doherty’s parents.

“Every single time I mention, ‘Hey, this is a weird thing that happened’ — things like when the official PlayStation website posted one of my tweets thinking it was the actual Kaz, these sorts of stories and just bizzare interactions [I’ve had] — I think they find it interesting,” he says. “They’re typical parents ... they want to tell people about my Twitter account.”

But after all the jokes, the 127,000 followers and weird moments in his life that the account has brought him, Doherty has walked away — for the most part.

What’s next for the two of them

Like anyone who starts something as a hobby, something to do in their free time, Doherty says he never expected his parody account to get as big as it did — much less last seven years.

When he started the account, Doherty says he thought if he could get at least 1,000 followers, he could keep making jokes about E3 during his last few years of college. “I thought the moment I got to work and had a job [...] that’s when [I’d] ditch it,” he says. “It was actually then when it exploded.”

But now that he’s stopping posting, he says it’s weird walking away. He doesn’t seem heartbroken about leaving the account behind, but it has been around for a considerable portion of his life at this point. He talks about how much he likes seeing a joke land, resonating with hundreds, or thousands, of people. He loves reading through all the replies, he says.

“But at the same time, it’s going to be nice knowing next E3 that I don’t have to stay up until 3 o’clock in the morning to watch Sony’s press conference,” Doherty says. “Yeah, it is weird. But the more I think about it, the more it feels like the right decision. So I’m quite happy about it. I’m sad to see it go, but I also feel like I’m doing the right thing.”

photo of Mark Doherty
Mark Doherty
Mark Doherty

One of the big reasons Doherty’s left the role? He says he just doesn’t really follow game news the way he did in the past. It’s difficult to write tweets about the game industry if you aren’t really following it, he says.

“I kind of felt like — I mean, if I’m being completely honest with you, it kind of felt like the tweets were getting a bit worse,” Doherty says. “It’s very difficult when you’re reading them and [you say to yourself], ‘I don’t think that’s funny.’”

Yet Doherty didn’t ignore his following on Twitter. Tied into the end of the Fake Kaz Hirai account was a crowdfunding campaign for the charity SpecialEffect.

“I’ve got something that has 100,000 followers, and I was just thinking what would actually be a good thing to use it for — something that would be useful or something I actually had interest in,” he says. “Charity seemed like the obvious option. I’d been following SpecialEffect on Twitter for a while and thinking that I want to do something for them.”

The account isn’t necessarily going away, either. Doherty isn’t deleting it, and he says he can’t promise he won’t tweet from it again. If he does, though, it has to be the right type of story. He doesn’t want to make a big deal of ending the account, only to come back to it and start back up like nothing happened. Besides, the Fake Kaz Hirai Twitter is where Doherty follows all game-related stuff.

“[My mom] told me to not end it,” he says. “Whenever she sees me looking at my phone [...] she’s going, ‘Well, why are you ending it?’ It’s like, ‘I want to, that’s why.’”

When asked what the account’s legacy will be, Doherty laughs at the question. He genuinely thinks people will forget about it when he’s done, he says.

“I guess if it’s anything — it’s still true now, but when I started the account, you [saw] a lot of kids and teenagers taking all this stuff way too seriously,” Doherty eventually replies. “And it’s like, it’s fun. Have fun with it. Video games are fun; you can have a joke about it. I guess, for me, that’s what I want it to be. We have a thing that we enjoy, and we all enjoy it, so let’s talk about it in a fun way, joke around and not take it overly seriously.”