The wraps have been off the PlayStation 4 for months now, but today's keynote kicking off Tokyo Game Show 2013 nevertheless represented a unique opportunity for Sony. It was an opportunity to really introduce the Japanese gaming public, who won't be diving into the next generation until next year, to the PlayStation 4. So why on earth was the first sizzle reel dominated by a Japanese college student playing Killzone: Shadow Fall?
True, I'm sure that there are Japanese students who enjoy Killzone, even if Idolmaster 2 ended up outselling Killzone 2 when it debuted on the PS3 back in 2009. But that doesn't make it any less odd to see Japanese gamers happily hanging out and playing Killzone -- a game I can't help associating with the West, using the Share button to stream to their friends, all the while daydreaming that they're in an e-sports-like Killzone tournament. I mean... is this what you think of when you imagine Japanese gaming?
Maybe it's not surprising that handheld platforms have so thoroughly surpassed consoles over here in Japan, what with the apparent determination to ignore what Japanese gamers have been playing over the past few years. Such images made it seem as if Sony was out of touch with the trends and interests of its own home territory (though granted, Monster Hunter has been stolen by Nintendo, limiting their options a bit). In effect, they had taken a trailer that might have been shown at E3, replaced everyone with Japanese actors, and called it a day. It's just not the sort of scene that I can imagine appealing to the great mass of gamers here in Japan.
Obviously, I don't want to go overboard in attaching meaning to one sizzle reel. In the end, the reel is just to get people into the mood, not convey any real information Nevertheless, it was a sight that set the tone for the rest of the presentation. A little later, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House took the stage, and used the opportunity to explain that gaming is no longer a niche industry by pointing to the very Western phenomenon of Call of Duty, and its billion dollars in sales. He also talked about the digital shift, the role of indies, and the need for enhanced social functionality -- all of which are more global trends than Japanese ones.
Ultimately, the most compelling element of today's keynote was SCE's Shuhei Yoshida demonstrating the PlayStation app, and how it could interact with the PlayStation camera. When he drew a tiny monster and threw it into a crowd of digital creatures faintly resembling the minions from Despicable Me, it drew a gasp of appreciation from the assembled press. It was the kind of demonstration that did in fact have the potential to speak to gamers in Japan, where the iPhone has taken off in much the same way that it has everywhere else.
Beyond that though, Sony's keynote was disappointingly general, choosing for the most part to stick with information that has been known for some time. Sony did take the time to demonstrate the PS Vita TV with Knack, showing how it could be used to stream PS4 games to another room, but it was a relatively brief part of the keynote. Probably the most intriguing bit of information to come out of the PS Vita TV demonstration was the word that it will be compatible with Sony's forthcoming streaming services, though no further details were given about the services themselves.
Once again, I was reminded that the Japanese domestic console market just doesn't matter in the way that it once did. Sony seems to have accepted this, and they were content to use their forum to speak to a global audience, rather than a Japanese one. Outside of the PS Vita TV, there was little in the way of information intended for the domestic Japanese audience. Honestly, it's hard to tell why they should care about the PlayStation 4.
None of this is surprising, I suppose. More than ever, Japanese gamers are glued to their smartphones and handheld consoles. The taboo against responsible adults over the age of 30 buying and owning a $400 game console remains strong. But there's a part of me that wonders if an opportunity hasn't been missed with this presentation. Surely they could have brought up a few Japanese indie developers? Showcased a few games maybe? Talked up the PS4's connection to the Vita?
In any case, the stage has been set. The PS4 will be out in November in the US and Europe, February in Japan, and its laundry list of developers will be mostly from the West. Consoles will become an even more niche proposition here in Japan -- a trend that started with the release of the last round of consoles. Any opportunity Sony had to really sway Japanese audiences, and Japanese developers, has probably passed. We'll have to wait a little longer before finally meeting the Killzone-loving Japanese gamer in the flesh.