It Is Official – Sony Seems To Be Over Japan. Here’s What That Could Mean For The Future Of PlayStation
Just a few weeks ago, I pointed out that Sony seemed to be done with the Japanese video game market, and that, in spite of the many defensive excuses a lot of fans make, that they were sidelining it and moving on. I also pointed out that this is not because of any perceived decline of the Japanese market (which saw growth last year, and which remains Sony’s second biggest market even now), nor because of a Japanese market that doesn’t like home consoles (evidenced most effectively by the fact that among the most successful games in Japan at the time were ones that could only be played on consoles, and not in portable modes in any form).
Almost as if to vindicate the point, Sony has now made its most decisive action yet in terms of highlighting and broadcasting to the world that, in fact, it may very well be done with the Japanese market to the meaningful degree many PlayStation fans would hope for or expect. We recently got the news that Sony is going to be shuttering Japan Studio, the prestige in house Sony development team that ranks as among its oldest (and responsible for some highly iconic, beloved, and critically and commercially successful games) almost entirely, including even the third party support and localization teams (with those being rerouted to Sony’s international development studios instead). And with this, I think, we can lay any notions that declarations of Sony’s abandonment of Japan are premature to rest once and for all. It is now evident they are not.
But what exactly does Sony’s decision comprise of, and what are its implications? Well, it can actually be understood fairly in three broad strokes:
- Sony Japan, the development studio, is now mostly done;
- Sony Japan, in terms of local marketing and support for Japanese third parties, as well as Sony’s own Japanese IP, is also being wound down, and those functions will instead be handled by western studios, and
- Other Sony Japanese studios, such as Polyphony Digital and Team ASOBI, remain unaffected by this move
So, let’s tackle those one by one. In terms of Sony Japan’s loss as a development studio, that is truly a tragic outcome (especially given how iconic and integral to the history of PlayStation they have been), but, let us be honest, in practical and functional terms, this one will probably actually have minimal effect. Unfortunately, Sony Japan had already been slowly gutted by PlayStation over the last decade or so; Sony Japan had been bleeding important and notable talent over the last five years (they lost people as notable as Keiichiro Toyama, Fumito Ueda, and Masaaki Yamagiwa in this period), their game output had been dwindling in the last ten years (especially on consoles, they managed to put out only a fraction of games they used to on the PS2 or PS3), the budget allocated to them had been steadily going down, and Sony Japan games got next to no marketing support by PlayStation anywhere – not even in Japan, let alone western markets (even when those games were extremely well received, such as the cult favorite Gravity Rush series).
Functionally, all that happens is that the nearly no games they were putting out are now reduced to no games; the nearly no marketing they got is now no marketing (since there’s nothing left to market); and the nearly no important remaining personnel they had at Sony Japan are now no remaining personnel.
That is, of course, a cold way to look at it, because as I have said before, a lot of the heart and soul of PlayStation comes down to the diversity, depth, and variety provided to it by the Japanese games it gets in its library, that its competition Xbox definitely does not – or certainly not to the same degree. And Sony’s capability to have those games on its platforms is now hamstrung, at least in terms of being able to produce its own.
However, the wording of Sony’s confirmation, which explicitly states “the roles of external production… of JAPAN Studio titles will be concentrated within the global functions of PlayStation Studios” seems to suggest that Sony Japan may also have acted as an interface, a liaison, between the PlayStation platform and Japanese third parties – and that that function has also been gutted from them, and been reassigned to Japanese third parties – and this would be a hefty loss indeed.
Now, again, to be very clear, the writing has been on the wall here for a while too, for those who have been observant of many smaller things here. We have heard complaints from smaller Japanese developers about being forced to submit their games for certification to PlayStation’s western headquarters, adhering to their western certification guidelines, even if they have no plans on international release; we have heard of PlayStation arbitrarily applying content restriction guidelines, such as for violent content in CyberConnect2’s Naruto games, on Japanese games; we have heard of reports regarding Sony’s strategy from anonymous insider sources, who have claimed that Sony allegedly plans on focusing on big hits as far as Japan goes, counting on the fact that mid and smaller tier Japanese games don’t have any place else to go (which is a calculation that may have started to backfire on them, given the success of the Switch and the recent underperformance of PlayStation); we have heard Sony is not supportive of smaller Japanese developers; even something as innocuous and minor as Sony forcing the western layout and functions of the X and O buttons on Japan (which are the reverse of what Japan has been used to, where O is Accept and X is cancel, in keeping with Japanese cultural symbolism of those two symbols, and the long held standards of the Japanese console market) has pointed at this.
Even accounting for this, however, I feel like this will definitely start to have a bigger visible impact on the quantity of smaller Japanese games on PlayStation going forward. If these smaller companies find PlayStation hard to work with, which they may, especially if there is no local contact for them, and they have to deal instead with someone placed in a different part of the world, in a different timezone, speaking a different language, then they may choose to forego PlayStation for their releases (a move which will become more and more admissible as sales of Japanese third party games on PlayStation platforms continue to fall as they have been for the past year). Even in terms of bigger Japanese support, collaborations with independent Japanese developers may be impacted. Something like Bloodborne? After all, that was a Japan Studio collaboration with FromSoftware – but Sony explicitly notes that that function has also been rerouted to its western first parties. Even the long rumored (and never quite materializing) Silent Hill game could see adverse effects, as that too would fall under the purview of something like this.
If all you cared for from PlayStation are their big western third person action adventure games, you really should be safe, those aren’t going anywhere. Even in terms of Japanese support, if what you wanted are big blockbusters like Resident Evil or Final Fantasy, the future of those on PlayStation is secured, those won’t stop coming to the platform. But the flavor of PlayStation libraries came from smaller Japanese games and developers, both first and third parties, and going forward, we will definitely see that being impacted negatively as a result of this – it will almost play out like Xbox, which gets the big Japanese games without trouble, but smaller fare isn’t always guaranteed.
It’s a move that makes sense, financially – but conceding on an entire country as a market and as a development community might not be the wisest long term move, and may end up impacting the health of PlayStation, at least relatively. I don’t think PlayStation will suddenly fall to selling only 30 or 40 million units – I just think that its insane global success owes itself to it being a global platform, and very explicitly and specifically sidelining a market (and such a big one at that) is anything but global.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.