Last year, Sony delayed the launch of Xseed Games' Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, telling the publisher it wanted a game mode featuring sexual interactions with underage girls removed. That now appears to have been part of a larger policy shift for the PlayStation maker, as The Wall Street Journal today reported on the adoption of stricter standards from Sony on sexual content in games since last year.
"Sony is concerned the company could become a target of legal and social action," an official with Sony's US arm told the paper.
The new guidelines were inspired by two factors. First, the #MeToo movement has made executives more concerned about the company's reputation if it hosts and promotes content that sexually objectifies women. Second, the advent of video and streaming services like Twitch and YouTube mean it's much easier for games from one region to get attention around the world. So even if the content in games is more socially acceptable in one region than another, there's no guarantee that releasing it only where it's acceptable would prevent the company's image from being tarnished in other markets.
Nintendo told The Wall Street Journal that it doesn't regulate its games for content except in that it requires developers to have their games carry regionally appropriate game ratings, while Microsoft declined to comment on its policies. (Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all confirmed they forbid games rated AO for Adults Only to appear on their platforms in 2007 after Manhunt 2 received that rating from the ESRB.)
As might be expected, some developers who make sexually explicit games are unhappy with Sony's move.
"You don't know what they will say until you complete the work and submit it for review," one Japanese studio CEO told the paper. "And if they are not happy, even if they allowed the same degree of sexuality a few days before, we need to take it back and ask our staff to make adjustments. That's very costly."
The Sony official said the company doesn't have written guidelines on what's acceptable or not "because the policy was introduced kind of suddenly in the wake of the #MeToo movement."
Last month, the producer on the Senran Kagura franchise Kenichiro Takaki left Xseed parent Marvelous Entertainment, citing increased restrictions on sexual content in his games as a reason for his departure.