Letting Americans take over PlayStation was a mistake

11 mins read



Opinion by Matt S. 

Japan is still the second biggest market for video games in the world. The interests of that market have shifted over time (the Japanese being much more interested in portable gaming are much more invested in mobile and the Switch than home consoles), and yet nonetheless the market remains huge, passionate, and, from a game development perspective, vibrant. The gaming platforms that do well in Japan also tend to have the greatest range of gaming experiences, as niche JRPGs and visual novel developers flock to the platform.

Sony, however, put Americans in charge of the PlayStation brand, and that was a mistake. Here’s the thing about America: it is a market that dwarfs every other, without a doubt. For all America’s social and economic problems, it has a large middle and upper class, and video games are a big-time hobby over there. Wanting a piece of the American pie, and making some changes to your business model to appeal to that market, is no more surprising than the companies that look at the 1.4 billion people of China and dream of reaching a fraction of a per cent of it… even if that means they need to pull back on the Winnie the Pooh imagery.

However, it is also true that America is also the world’s most militaristic and imperialistic nation, and with that comes certain intolerances. Sony shifted its business model to focus on that market above any other, and has certainly suffered as a consequence of this. America is happy to export its ideas and culture. It has a very limited tolerance for the importation of new, different, or challenging ideas. When Sony decided to move its PlayStation headquarters to California in 2016, it came with some cultural shifts. Anime fan service, which Sony had previously tolerated (if not embraced), was out of the question, and noticeably so. Many fans started to throw around terms like “censorship”, and while that is not what censorship actually is (and represents a misunderstanding of why censorship is a problem), what the fans were right in noting is that there were far fewer fanservicey games being released on the console. Behind closed doors, the Japanese development industry was absolutely talking about that.

That relocation to America also came with a shift in priorities for what Sony itself would develop and publish. Remember, way back on the PlayStation 3, when Sony was desperate for a variety of experiences and published everything from quirky little titles like Tokyo Jungle, Rain and Puppeteer, through to grand-scale art games from Japan like The Last Guardian, and even had a role in launching the Souls phenomenon, because Sony Japan helped with the development of Demon’s Souls? Remember how the PlayStation Vita was supported by Sony with an eclectic range that stretched from Tearaway to Gravity Rush, and on to Oreshika?

Fast forward to today, and Sony is exclusively interested in the big blockbusters. From The Last of Us to Days Gone, Ghost of Tsushima to Spider-Man and even Dreams, aside from a bit of experimentation to launch the PlayStation VR unit, Sony has been exclusively interested in the really big marquee titles. This, too, is a consequence of the American relocation and the pivot to American business style. As we know from Disney/Lucas Arts/Marvel in cinema, the American market has shifted to rewarding really big-ticket items; blockbusters that are too big to fail, and because the resources and payoff are there, they are financed until they can’t fail. The old model of producing ten films to find one mega-hit is so inefficient when it means that there will also be failures. Companies are no longer interested in bankrolling unknown quantities in American entertainment culture. They simply want the proven content.

Sony has shifted towards that same blockbuster model (Sony games even have a title sequence clip that is a near copy of the Marvel one) and this has undoubtedly resulted in critical and commercial darlings. Whatever you might think about those games, their success is undeniable. But this has also ostracised the Japanese arm of the business. One of the most respected development houses in Japan is being gutted. In just the last two months, that developer has lost the leads on Puppeteer and Gravity Rush and the producer of Bloodborne and Soul Sacrifice. All of this is further substantiated by a Bloomberg report from November last year that highlighted that Sony was pulling back on the Japanese market – and its developers there – hard.

And all of this explains why the PlayStation 5 had the poorest launch in Japan since the PSP (at just 240,000 units), and that the analysts in Japan are saying “quantitative analysis shows that Sony is not taking Japan seriously.” As the analyst outlined:

1) The PS4 launched in 2013, but Japan’s release came afterwards.
2) After fall 2018, Sony implemented its own regulations on depictions in games, which has “censored” content aimed at Japanese users.
3) The PS5 reveal video had no Japanese narration, while there were issues with the font used for the subtitles as well as their Japanese translations.
4) The confirm button was changed from O to X in order to set a global standard.
5) Due to manufacturing issues, the initial launch allocation for PS5 in Japan was barely above that of the PS3, preventing the system from reaching early adopters.

Sony PlayStation is an American brand, now. Every one of those changes reflects a company that, for the sake of efficiency, is no longer interested in having a global business so much as forcing the rest of the world to play games the American way. That doesn’t always go down well in the rest of the world, believe it or not. You only need to look at the performance of the Xbox brand to figure out how receptive the Japanese really are to “America first” in their game consoles, and while Sony comes off a much (much) higher base, a userbase erosion can happen very fast if the audience feels like they’re being insulted or treated condescendingly. Having spent a lot of time in the Japanese market, and seen just how hostile it can be to companies that don’t make an effort to adjust their business to the local market, I can assure you that the Japanese market is going to push back, and hard, on what Sony is doing here.

We are talking about a country in which a movie from a beloved anime property beat THE AVENGERS at the box office. Hell, even Dominos, the gold standard of foisting American trash on the rest of the world (that crap is not considered pizza anywhere else in the world) had the good sense to have Hatsune Miku standing next to their very white American CEO in a series of promotions a few years ago. It wasn’t because that CEO had some kind of crush on Miku, I would bet my life earnings on it. It’s because Dominos understood that if you’re going to sell to the Japanese, and all the actually Japanese companies out there making pizzas, you should care about what the Japanese want to see. And, you know what? Good on Dominos for doing that.

Digression aside, I really think that the arrogance towards and dismissal of the Japanese community and games industry has been a strategic mistake by Sony. For one thing, Japan was a market where it dominated over Microsoft, and by losing interest in that market, it’s one less strategic option for Sony to differentiate in terms of the games it creates and the demographics it chases. More importantly, though, it represents Sony ceding a reputation that it had for offering a creative platform and, itself, being supportive of broad art and artistry.

Now, unfortunately, it’s just another American entertainment company peddling content. At some point, the rest of the world is going to tire of that.

– Matt S. 
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

This is the bio under which all legacy DigitallyDownloaded.net articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

  • Dood come on the reason why playstation is mostly focusing on American now is cause Japan dosen,t even care about home consoles games any unless your Nintendo with your hybrid portable people in Japan only play on there mobile devices even the company’s that are in there own home country they don’t seem to care about and those Japanese companies like Capcom and Sega and square Enix mostly aim for the American audience because we actually give a shit and want to support it Japan is a country that is the definition of business, work and always busy they just don’t have the time for stuff like this anymore that’s why they gravitate towards mobile and Nintendos portable hybrid cause they can play it on the go and take it any were with them and No company is going to try something as risky as portable gaming he’ll playstation tried it and it didn’t work out for them. Why would any one try to appeal to a market/country that doesn’t care any more? That’s the huge problem with this article you only bring up bad things and trash talk America and always praise Japan and bring good things up about them and there’s nothing wrong with Japan but it’s really petty people like you talk down to American entertainment or media just to make Japan seem better why can’t you just like what you like with out downing some else?

    • “Why can’t you just like what you like with out downing some else?”

      If I didn’t have American BS shoved down my throat in literally every facet of life then it would be easier to ignore said American BS. Pretty simple, really.

      • Then why don,t you just live some were else? you could if you really wanted to? Don,t just complain about it and why doesn’t bother you so much like I said if you like what you like you shouldn’t worry about other stuff or care what other people like if you only focus on the thing you like you wouldn’t be getting so easily flustered about this it’s not like some one Is stabbing you with a knife what’s so hard about ignoring it? So that’s why you replie makes no sense and it still doesn’t make it right to belittle any country’s entertainment/media not just America no matter how much you you think it’s BS

        • I don’t live in America. That’s the point. America’s so dominant that it shoves its culture down all our throats, and increasingly forces companies that aren’t even American, like Sony, to fall in line and do what America wants.

          You’re most welcome to take your own advice and go away if you don’t like my year-old opinion piece. I’m very much opposed to America’s dominance of global culture and the video game industry. I’ll make no apologies for that and I’ve got no intention to stop the criticism of that dominance.

          • Well I done arguing about it you obviously don,t have a brain to at least understand what I’m talking about what don,t you get about ignoring it doesn’t matter where you live you have the choice not to pay attention to it no one pointing a got damn gun at your head telling you must listen to all this American stuff you chose to listen to it and chose to have it shoved down your throat but let again it’s like talking to a rock when I tell you this stop acting like America is hell cause it’s not stop being a hater online were everyone can see it and keep it to yourself then you won’t get people like me criticizing you and and playstation moved to American for the better it has better excuse games better hardware and better marketing and strategys playstation was doing hot as a Japanese company okay they are doing what better now. SO that’s it I’m done talking to you about this hot ass take

          • This is adding on from the last message I sent. (Typo) “meant fist party playstation exclusive games” which sell in the 20 million copys range bye the way and to be honest playstation has always had an American presence even as an Japanese company going all the way back to 1995 with crash bandicoot being the mascot for the playstation 1 made by naughty dog an American Studio so so an American made mascot was the was poster character/mascot for playstation when it was an Japanese console and the Japanese playstation ended up buying the Studio in 2001 when the company was still Japanese and this isn’t the only American Studio they had when there were still an Japanese company there were many more🙄 so don,t act like it’s a new thing to have the brand affiliated with America and even Sony alone has been more of an American company than an Japanese company all the way back in 1972 10 years after the Japanese company had been created 🙄 I’m a really big playstation fan so I no all this stuff

          • I find it amusing that you’re criticising my intelligence when you’re clearly a product of the American education system.

            You are right, though. You are done. I’m not going to some knuckle-dragging lobotomy victim (try and) troll me. One of the joys about owning this joint is that I get to have the last say.

            I mean, I know you’re not going to be able to resist responding to this comment – because people of your level of intellect never have any self-control – but I’m just flagging with you that at that point I will ban you, and edit all of your comments to say very funny things.

          • Ok do it I don’t care I’m not going to be coming back here ever again after this comment and yes I responded to this comment so I guess I have no self control 😑 whatever at least I’m not an slime ball like you and by the way I was born and raised in Alaska then came to America so please don’t assume stuff and sure you might have the last say but I will have the last laugh cause you showed me your true colors Matt and the type of shitty person you truly are so you can take away everything from me on this site but you will never be able to take away the truth I know about you so good riddance

          • “I was born and raised in Alaska then came to America.”




            Oh dude I don’t even need to ban you for that comment. Thank you so much for that. You are a certified genius, alright.

          • Please, for the love of God, learn to use full stops. Or “periods” as they call them in Alaska and its close neighbouring country, America.

          • I was gonna say, I don’t think this guy’s ever heard of punctuation marks. Maybe they’re not part of the curriculum in his beautiful home country. XD

        • Fun fact: the majority of the people don’t live in the US! Yes it’s true, they already live somewhere else… Yet, Sony’s move to the US means that all global Playstation users are suddenly subjected to the morals of the US.

          Playstation has leadership in Europe and Asia over Xbox because Europeans and Asians don’t like the American attitude that violence is good, sexuality is bad, and everything should be about maximizing profits.

          So all of a sudden, out of the thee console manufacturers, Nintendo finds itself most in-line with European and Asian culture, to their surprise I’m sure. But I have to admit they’ve reacted quickly. They’re now selling the games that Playstation won’t (and uncensored too) so with marketshares shifting they may end up being the winner in Europe and Asia.

          Interestingly the total gaming market is about 200 billion euro, with about 50% (and still growing) mobile, with Asia-Pacific as largest and fastest growing market. So even from a financial point of view moving geographically away from the largest market may not be a wise decision on Sony’s part.

    • man you need to shut up lying. you americans the one who think your country so better than anyones & are the ones who think your race is better man please….you americans are all full of yourselves and all your food, technology, cars, video games & consoles, ideas & everything are awful & yes “Japan” is far way better in my opinion. you americans the ones that killed off all the INDIANS just so that your kind can take the country from them, your kind are the ones who went to Africa to enslave all those innocent black people stacking them on slave ships & then torturing them to death killing them off as best as your kind could and so on. you need to SFTU spitting your lies about america not being bad man screw trash america & you

  • I’m sorry but I have to defend my country here. Dominoes isn’t considered pizza in The States either! 😂

    Other than that I’m 100% with you.

    • Dominos is this fascinating phenomenon, in that I have never met someone that genuinely likes it, and yet it’s this global monster. Every other fast food chain has some kind of fan base – there are even people that genuinely enjoy Mcdonald’s – but Dominos? Nope.

      I must study this further 😀

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