The event space in the Sony Centre is what an estate agent might describe as “cosy” or even “intimate”, and you and I would just call “small”. It’s designed for small-scale demonstrations and minor press conferences, not for big public events; any veteran of Sony’s E3 conferences, or even smaller scale keynotes like TGS or an Apple “Town Hall” event would find this an unusually tiny venue for Sony’s bigwigs. Once 10.30pm rolls around and Sony’s event starts, though, it’s pretty clear that the choice of this space perfectly matches the tone the company wants to set.
This isn’t a gigantic spectacular, the return to Rome of a conquering army. Given this week’s extraordinary PS4 sales figures, Sony would be forgiven a touch of triumphalism, a bigger venue and a lot more fireworks, but there’s none of that to be found tonight. Instead, the event feels surprisingly homespun and off the cuff. This is Sony’s living room, and it’s invited its best friends around to celebrate together. Everyone will fit in if they squeeze.
Nothing of value for the news media comes out of the event. People overseas who tuned in to watch online were no doubt turning off in droves when it transpired this was not a press conference or announcement of any kind – not to mention being entirely in Japanese.
The hour and a half event rambles by entertainingly. It’s far from the tightly scripted events we’re used to seeing from Sony and other platform holders – there are to be no important announcements tonight. The closest we get is that there’s a limited edition Yakuza Ishin hard drive bay cover for the PS4, which will seemingly only be given to 100 customers at the Sony Store (so no, you can’t have one).
The atmosphere is relaxed and cheerful. Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida and SCE Japan & Asia boss Hiroshi Kawano take the stage together to thank everyone for coming, the pair veering into comedy double act territory more than once.
There are a couple of exhibition matches (Killzone: Shadow Fall and FIFA 14) played by Sony staffers, top FIFA gamers and minor Japanese celebrities. More celebs appear on video to muse about their love for PlayStation and congratulate Sony on new arrival – these videos are actually rather endearing, with musicians mostly just chatting off-the-cuff about their favourite games and consoles. Rock group Fujifabric got seriously into Final Fantasy 7, it seems, while a duo from girl group Scandal reminisce about Para Para Paradise and Bust-a-Move and indie crooner Daisuke is, surprisingly, a massive fan of Oblivion, Fallout and Skyrim.
Developers turn up too, although nobody says anything terribly interesting. Capcom’s Ono Yoshinori has made a video for the event, in which he apologises for the Deep Down beta being unavailable at launch, and inexplicably holds a tiny figurine of Blanka in his hand throughout, like the world’s worst ventriloquist. Nagoshi Toshohiro, Yakuza series creator and five-time winner of the coveted “game developer who looks most like a character from one of his own games” award, really gets into the house party atmosphere, turning up on stage with bottles of booze for Kawano.
The man responsible for the remarkable resurrection of Final Fantasy 15, Naoki Yoshida, is next up, accompanied by veteran developer Shinji Hashimoto, producer on Final Fantasy 15 and Kingdom Hearts 3. Finally, Hideo Kojima takes the stage. He introduces the laser-engraved FOX Edition of the PS4, which will launch alongside Ground Zeroes, and talks for a bit about his dream of making games you can play over and over again in completely different ways, so the idea of “clearing” a game is no longer relevant. He pauses midway to check the time; he’s worried he’ll talk so much that they’ll miss the actual countdown to midnight, he laughs.
Nothing of value for the news media comes out of the event, and people from overseas who tuned in to watch it online were no doubt turning off in droves when it transpired that this was not a press conference or announcement of any kind (not to mention being entirely in Japanese, of course). Still, it feels like a nice reward for the crowd who were shivering outside earlier. Moreover, it feels humble and personal – as much a “thank you” from Sony to its most loyal consumers, as a triumphal blare of publicity from a firm that’s already sold 5.3 million consoles before even setting a foot on home turf.
There’s one moment that sums it up nicely for me. When Yoshida and Kawano stepped off the stage at the start of the event, they didn’t go backstage – they walked into the audience and found empty seats right in the middle of the people who had been queuing up outside. This was stage-managed, of course, but it was genuine in its own way. After all, you don’t invite people to a party at your house and then insist on sitting in a different room from them.
Finally, it was nearly midnight. Sony Computer Entertainment boss Andrew House was the last man to take the stage, thanking the audience in excellent if heavily accented Japanese for their support, and apologising for the cold weather they’d endured. Kawano drew a number from a box; the person who would be Japan’s first PS4 owner was decided. To my amusement, it was a cosplayer; to my disappointment, it wasn’t the absolute legend who had turned up to the event dressed as a seven-foot-tall PlayStation Move controller.
A chap going by the name of “Nekomi”, in full combat fatigues and sporting a replica assault rifle and a shocked grin a mile wide, made his way to the front. The whole audience counted down to midnight together. Cheered by developers, celebrities and his queuing companions, Nekomi took the coveted box from Andrew House. Cameras flashed; PS4 was finally, finally out in Japan.