The PlayStation 4 Expo: Wednesday’s Reveal and the Internet Aftermath

I had the privilege of attending Sony’s mysterious New York City press conference on Wednesday where they finally revealed that yes, they are making a PlayStation 4. It’ll even be called PlayStation 4. The first half-hour or so of the evening was dedicated to explaining the console’s impressive hardware specs: Sony CEO Andrew House and PS4 lead system architect Mark Cerny emphasized the machine’s graphics capability, expanded social network, and connectivity with the PS Vita and a whole range of smartphones. The rest of the night was a showcase of upcoming titles.

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs definitely stole the show, inducing the only whoops of excitement from an otherwise contained crowd.  The new Killzone title looked pretty but didn’t thrill me. Quantic Dream’s David Cage didn’t showcase any of his upcoming title Beyond: Two Souls, but did showcase the PS4′s incredible graphics and processing power with a live-rendered face of an old man. And the odd man in the room was Jonathan Blow, the reclusive developer of indie darling Braid, who announced that his upcoming title The Witness would be coming first to PS4. His presence helped reinforce Sony’s commitment to supporting indie titles and smaller studios as well as the heavy-hitters, a commitment which I was overjoyed that Sony promised to maintain, citing Journey and Unfinished Swan as titles they were proud to produce.

Square Enix was the one big disappointment. As usual, their showing was a cinematic tech demo instead of actual gameplay, and the demo, while notable for featuring the only female protagonist of the night, just didn’t seem to capture the audience’s excitement. Content-wise, the demo appeared to be all-original IP–a very frenetic and colorful story about a shamaness of some sort escaping some robed assassins by unleashing a dragon on them. It looked cool–but the demo apparently isn’t indicative of an upcoming game. No title or anything. So it’s hard to get excited about something that we know we’ll never see again. Why didn’t Square Enix do what it’s done in the past–soup up a Final Fantasy scene for their tech demo? People lost their minds when Square Enix redid the iconic opening scene of Final Fantasy VII for the PS3 demo. If their only intention with this demo was to showcase their graphics, then why not use an established brand as the emotional hook, instead of something we’ve never seen before and already kind of know we shouldn’t bother caring about?

The two biggest content surprises were from studios known for working with other consoles. First, Blizzard announced they’d be bringing Diablo III to the PS3 and PS4 in a strategic partnership with the ultimate goal of” taking over the world.” Personally, if we’re going to be ruled by a game studio that’s not the one I’d pick, but all right then. The other surprise studio was Bungie. Now that their contract with Microsoft has expired, they announced, Bungie’s upcoming “shared-world shooter” Destiny will be on the PS4. No word if it’ll be exclusive, which means it probably won’t, but they did announce there’d be some exclusive PS4 content.

All in all it was a very content-focused night,  with a significant portion of the show devoted to developers and the content they’ve created for the PS4.  Social was also a frequently used buzzword. I also couldn’t help noticing that the games were very male-dominated. There were only two non-gendered protagonists (those from Knack, a children’s game, and The Witness, an indie title) and the one female protagonist was from the only content featured that wasn’t actually a game–Square Enix’s tech demo. All the rest were men.

Men also comprised the entirety of Sony’s presenters, whether on-stage or pre-recorded on screen. This is an observation that several game journalists have made since Wednesday night, only to be met with swift and vitriolic backlash from many readers. Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez wrote an article called “The Lack of Women Presenters at the PS4 Event is Bigger than Sony” which questioned whether there really weren’t any women at Sony who were qualified to present at the PS4 event. Her article met with a shocking outpouring of comments and Tweets disgusted that Kotaku would run such an article, many of whom called for Hernandez’s removal from the writing staff. Kotaku Editor-In-Chief Stephen Totilo even tweeted:

No one is saying Sony should have put women on the stage simply to have women there. Rather, the fact that there were no women on stage is indicative of the unfortunate state that the games industry is still in.  As an attendee of the event, the lack of women was something I noticed right away. It didn’t ruin my night–it was just one of the many subtle letdowns that come from being a woman in the games industry.

Early on in the presentation, one of the images [link here] used to illustrate the PS4′s capability was of a young man standing in a closet in front of a trifold mirror. He’s dressed plainly–sweatpants, tee-shirt–but in each of the three mirrors he’s reflected dressed as the hero of Uncharted, Killzone, and InFamous. I was thrilled: what an incredibly simple and powerful way to render the feeling of playing a videogame, of donning another’s identity, of becoming someone else! If only the game industry would show someone like me up there, standing in front of a mirror that reflects Lara Croft, Tifa Lockhart and Chun-Li back at me. Even one image like that at the PS4 unveil would have made my night.

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5 Responses to The PlayStation 4 Expo: Wednesday’s Reveal and the Internet Aftermath

  1. nini says:

    It’s a shame that Croft, Lockheart, and Li were all made to appeal to the hormones of that young man in that image mentioned earlier.

  2. wererogue says:

    Part of the reason the squ’eenix demo didn’t grab people is that a lot of us saw it about a year ago. It felt really weird for them to re-run it.

  3. marco says:

    I feel like a major problem Sony has right now is that they don’t know who their markets are or how to appeal to them. They really just dropped the PSP way too early here (but at least we’re still getting a couple of otome games and other niche titles), and they seem to lack an understanding of what to do with the Vita.

    To me, this is in direct contrast to Nintendo, who go out of their way to promote to certain audiences and also analyze data and apparently take it to heart and mind (many of Iwata’s talks on Animal Crossing: New Leaf and the female demographic, etc). In its favor, the Vita at least has a couple of awesome titles with female leads, but I don’t think Sony has a grasp on, “oh, ya’know, lady gamers (and anyone not straight, white and het) actually exist, don’t they?” It’s not a background thought or something they care to try and focus on, and it feels quite reflected in moments like this to me.

    It’s not as though Ninty goes out of its way to represent females in the game industry, but at least in some of the dev blog vids and Iwata asks, it’s recognized that there are important female devs in different fields and their works are noted (whether they’re directors, writers, programmers or designers and to a variety of titles); it’s a stark contrast to see what I see from Sony, where I only ever hear of the exact same people (and all guys at that). A part of me kind of does wonder about the make-up of female devs at Sony. But I am curious about how they’ll reach out to certain demographics and who they’ll appeal to, and also how the make-up of the titles for the PS4 will come along.

  4. Gunthera1 says:

    Not only were there no women presenters, but during one of the game demos (Watch Dogs) a female character is literally labeled as “potential victim”. While it may make sense in the context of the game, in the middle of a presentation that is lacked gender parity (on the stage or on the screen) I was disturbed to see one of the few video game representations of women labeled as such.

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