Horizon Zero Dawn is a gorgeous new game that was announced for the PS4 during Sony’s E3 conference two days ago. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where robots have risen to dominate the earth, roaming around as gigantic saurian beasts and reducing mankind back to its original hunter-gatherer state. It also has a woman as its main character. But there was a point where that faced a bit of opposition.
PlayStation Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said the mere fact that a woman was front and center in the Horizon Zero Dawn trailer made him more nervous about showing the game than he was about revealing The Last Guardian again. “She’s a female lead character,” he told Polygon. “That has always been the vision by the team, but we had a discussion. Is it risky to do a female character?” It was only after several rounds of focus testing that they felt convinced enough to reveal the game as it was.
This isn’t the first time the Playstation brand has sweated over a girl: Naughty Dog had to fight to include Ellie front and center on the cover of The Last Of Us, instead of a scowling Joel rendered in bright blue and orange.
Problems like this also exist elsewhere within the company. A memo leaked during the Sony data breach was from a consultant hired by the company who warned the executive of their movie division that superhero movies starring women “made less money” — and he used the clunkers Catwoman and Elektra, as well as 1984’s Supergirl as his examples. Faulty readings of data like this are still rampant in business and still creating bottlenecks for minorities and in some cases, an entire gender (so 50% of the human population).
Despite this fact, the number of AAA video game franchises that star women, or at least have playable female roles, are growing. Nintendo published the return of Bayonetta last year, Lara Croft is no longer treated as a tittilation object, and Mirror’s Edge’s Faith is returning in 2016. The Metroid series is also safe from this kind of thing, but not from Nintendo looking at the sales numbers of Metroid Prime: Federation Force (which are going to be terrible) and concluding that a new Prime game on the NX wouldn’t be profitable.
Despite his initial reservations, Yoshida feels it’s easier to get a video game with a female lead through the production pipe than it previously was, and that it’s necessary for the company’s growth to do so. “Looking at our press conference and other’s press conferences, many teams are doing it now,” he said. “As an industry, I think we should continue to make efforts to have more females in studios on the development side and to get different perspectives. Games have become more and more popular in terms of who plays, especially in terms of mobile. We have a chance to further increase the reach, from a PlayStation standpoint, to a bigger more diverse audience.
“In order for us to do that, the games we create have to appeal to a broader audience.”