On November 7, 2020, Bloomberg published an article where it questioned Sony’s commitment to the Japanese video game market. Author Takashi Mochizuki wrote, “Japan-based developer support teams have been reduced by as much as a third from their peak, and the rolling contracts of a number of game creators at PlayStation’s Japan Studio, one of the unit’s oldest in-house software ateliers, haven’t been renewed, former employees said. The U.S. office believes the PlayStation business doesn’t need games that only do well in Japan, employees in the California headquarters said.” The allegations of unrenewed rolling contracts were later corroborated. Keiichiro Toyama, creator of the Silent Hill, Siren, and Gravity Rush series, left Sony Japan Studio to form the indie studio Bokeh Game Studios. Teruyuki Toriyama, producer of Bloodborne and the Demon’s Souls Remake, has also left Sony Japan Studio.
Jim Ryan, the CEO of Sony PlayStation, claimed that Bloomberg’s allegations were false and said the following:
The Sony stance is that the Japanese market remains incredibly important to us. We have not been as excited about the engagement of the Japanese game development community as we are now for many years. That continues and strengthens yet again with PS5. In our two launch shows — which featured a reasonable amount of games, but not a huge number of games — there were eight Japanese-developed titles there, many of which are the subject of collaboration and partnership between PlayStation and the Japanese publishing community.
However, on December 28, 2020, analyst Hideki Yasuda from the ACE Research Institute questioned Jim Ryan’s rebuttals, arguing that the actions of the company in Japan do not match their words. He gave a list of reasons for his skepticism of Sony PlayStation’s dedication to the Japanese market:
1. The PS4 launched in 2013, but did not release in Japan until 2014.
2. After Fall 2018, Sony began to implement its internal censorship policy on Japanese video games, even when those games have passed the ratings boards.
3. The PS5 reveal video had no Japanese narration. In addition, the fonts for the subtitles and the translation quality were questionable.
4. The confirm button was changed from O to X to set a global standard.
5. Because of manufacturing issues, the initial supply in Japan was barely above that of the PS3.
Yasuda later provided some quantitative corroboration, showing how the PS5 is falling behind the PS4 and PS3 launch-aligned:
With the recent departures of Keiichiro Toyama and Teruyuki Toriyama from Sony Japan Studio and Hideki Yasuda, it is hard to believe Jim Ryan’s claim that his company is still dedicated to the Japanese market. Looking at the PS5’s sales data in Japan, it is even more alarming. The PS4 struggled in its first few years in Japan because of the lack of games that appealed to the Japanese audience. Meanwhile, the PS5 is backwards compatible with almost all PS4 games, including big hitters like Final Fantasy VII Remake, Dragon Quest XI, and Persona 5 Royal. It effectively has an instant library of games that appeal to the Japanese audience albeit those games are not new. However, this is a far better situation than what the PS4 was in. To see the PS5 substantially behind the PS4 in spite of that backwards compatibility advantage is damning.
In addition, Sony’s censorship policy has likely burned a lot of bridges with the small, low budget Japanese studios. In a live broadcast back in October 2018, studio light (yes, the “L” is lowercase) stated that Sony’s approval process has become so strict that it became a hindrance to their release of Silverio Trinity. Apparently, when seeking for approval, Japanese developers have to communicate with Sony in only English. This is not just inconvenient, but also difficult for studios whose staff only speak or write in Japanese.
This policy also costs studios valuable time and money. Here’s what a chief executive from an unnamed Japanese studio had to say:
You don’t know what they will say until you complete the work and submit it for review. And if they are not happy, even if they allowed the same degree of sexuality a few days before, we need to take it back and ask our staff to make adjustments. That’s very costly.
The staff in small studios, whether they be Japanese or western, do not earn a lot of money. In fact, how much they will earn will depend on how well their games perform. Communicating in a language you are not fluent in and being told to spend additional time to alter content to appease arbitrary standards are costly snags that small studios cannot afford. In fact, some publishers like PQube have opted to not even release some of their games on PS platforms like with Gal Gun Returns or have even gone out of their way to make fun of Sony’s policy like with D3Publisher. Meanwhile, the Switch and PC have been their go-to platforms thanks to more laissez-faire policies. Honestly, this is quite ironic as Nintendo has always had a reputation of being the “family friendly” company and yet, the Switch has been the platform that is getting ecchi titles like Senran Kagura Peach Ball and Gal Gun Returns.
Some of you reading this may question why Sony censoring “pervy” games seems to be a big deal. After all, these games are very niche, so it is not like anyone will miss these games if they never see the light of day, right? In fact, I am not even interested in these games. However, it is not my business to be concerned about what games other people play. It is also of my opinion that artistic expression takes precedent as long as no laws are broken. The right to express includes the right to express in ways others do not approve of. If the game contains material you disapprove of, you are free to look for other games that may appeal to you.