Sony Must Not Fear the Female Protagonist Yes, women-led games do sell

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Recently, the Playstation exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn became the best selling new IP on the platform, shifting over 2.6 million copies. In fact, it’s the second best selling Sony exclusive of all time, after only Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Yet at first Sony’s head of worldwide studios, Shuhei Yoshida, was worried that having a female protagonist was “risky.” He said that it made him “nervous.”

It’s no secret that the Playstation 4 has well outsold the Xbox One, and that much of its success has been down to Sony’s collection of games exclusive to their console. Less often talked about is the fact that many of these have featured a female protagonist, or at least memorable supporting female characters.

Horizon Zero Dawn has Aloy; Uncharted 4 has Elena Fisher; The Last of Us has Ellie. Even smaller titles can bring players to the platform – I was coaxed into buying a PS4 to play the incredible Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which features Dr. Katherine “Kate” Collins, a black American woman in a small English town.

the game features a female protagonist

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

It’s long past time to put aside the fear that games with women in them don’t sell. Sony need only look at their own successes to find firm proof that – when given a fair amount of marketing support, something that is often left out – they will fly off the shelves, and bring consoles with them. (An aside, but it’s equally about time a certain subset of gamers stop claiming that the over-proliferation of male protagonists is down to market demand.)

Overcoming the fear

Luckily, Sony does seem to be moving forward in this regard. Two of their biggest upcoming exclusives – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and The Last of Us Part II will star women. In fact, two women of colour and a gay woman respectively.

female protagonis

The Last of Us Part II

Hopefully Shuhei Yoshida won’t be too worried about this – recent sales clearly show he needn’t be.


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Jay Castello

Contributor
Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.

  • HurtingYourFeelings

    Sony doesn’t fear the female protagonist.

    Wtf are you talking about?

    Horizon…Tomb Raider…Heavenly Sword…Uncharted DLC…possibly The Last of Us 2.

    This is just some bullsh*t click bait (and feminist) article.

    Next?

  • mechlord

    what’s a gay woman?

  • asadachi

    Please just stop with your segregation of the sexes. If I play a male or female lead character in a game I don’t care of the gender as long as the game is good. If you play a game with a male character and automatically cry because there’s no female option, there’s something wrong with you. Not something wrong with the game, there’s something wrong with you. If you want good games, not mediocre sucky ones, let the choice of what you play be up to the creator, not the disjointed consumers. But shit, the truth is by replying I’m just falling into the click bait. I mean, why write about anything of substance when it’s easier to just try and push people’s buttons to get them to click on this crap.

    • Nothing wrong with playing a male or female protagonist in a game, and yet so many people have an issue with it. You appear to be arguing, but agreeing at the same time.

      • J.j. Barrington

        Well, people do take issue, but that’s personal; that’s a different matter from it being inherently right or wrong.

        Frankly, it seems there are more people that take umbrage with male protagonists than those that have a problem with female protagonists.

        • At this point the biggest controversy seems to be about what the best selling Sony game of all time is… *sigh*

          • J.j. Barrington

            Poor deflection.

            Apparently, you don’t have a problem with falsehoods in the articles on your site? Hard for anyone to take you seriously with inaccuracies like that and responses like this. But maybe you don’t WANT to be taken seriously?

          • Not really, you mostly seem to come here to argue more than anything else. The point of the article is pretty clear. “Sony doesn’t seem to have an issue with female protagonists. Yay.” Some folks have an issue with female protagonists, some have an issue with male protagonists; but there’s a clear history of game companies having reservations with female protagonists, so good on Sony for bucking that trend and seeing success (not necessarily because of that choice, of course).

          • J.j. Barrington

            I come here to refute sweeping assumptions about gender as it pertains to gaming, and also to correct mistakes.

            If you wanted to give Sony a thumbs-up, you definitely chose the wrong title.

          • So you only come here to be contrarian? What a huge waste of time.

          • J.j. Barrington

            Apparently so, since the prevailing practice around here is to disregard any opinions that don’t align with the site’s mantra. Nevermind that those opinions are rooted in fact; disagreeing with you or correcting mistakes is contrarian, and that’s that.

            Smh. Do you honestly think you’re going to get people to come around with “arguments” like that? This may as well be a feminist breitbart.

          • Feminist breibart. That’s got a nice ring to it! Maybe call it Shebart?

          • J.j. Barrington

            Pseudofeminist echo chamber is more like it.

          • That URL is available! When recruiting writers for the site i describe it as Jezebel for video games. Which I’m sure you love.

          • J.j. Barrington

            I hate when people intentionally misrepresent things.

            This site- and you, in particular- thrive on misrepresenting feminist values. It’s disgusting, and it’s sad that you seem to enjoy it.

          • Please enlighten me on feminist values.

          • J.j. Barrington

            It’s really simple, actually. I’ll make it two words, so hopefully the simplicity gets through:

            EQUAL TREATMENT.

            That’s the crux of feminism, to the point where some have argued it should just be called humanism(I disagree with that the way I disagree with BLM being renamed to “All Lives Matter”). If, except in cases of the obvious physiological differences between man and woman, your arguments, claims, or values go against that core belief, then your flag is false. Asking for- or demanding, for that matter- preferential treatment is not feminism. Creating issues where they don’t exist, or exaggerating an issue beyond its actual scale… these things are not feminism.

  • J.j. Barrington

    Horizon isn’t the second best selling Sony exclusive of all time. Not even close. Maybe you meant PS4? Cuz EVERY Gran Turismo has outsold it, all the Uncharteds, probably every God of War

    It’s also a little stupid to single out Sony, when they’ve had no shortage of female protagonists in their developed and funded games. There’s a conspicuous lack of Gravity Rush mentioned, as well as inFamous, Heavenly Sword… not at all sure why this article needed writing.

    There’s also the “fear” that games with female protagonists don’t sell, but that’s bull, as indicated by the long-running Tomb Raider and Metroid, and even the more recent popularity of Bayonetta.

    I wish this site were a bit more genuine in its attempts. Articles like this just come off as shallow, click-baity affairs. I mean, why would you target one of the publishers fielding the MOST female protagonists and say this? Why not target somebody with a distinct SHORTAGE of such main characters?

    • Thanks for reading!

    • QUIMICOMORTAL

      Amen to that! Just one exception, Bayonettas games are fantastics but they are not comercial success, otherwise the sequel would have been on Ps4 and x1. And the sequel didnt sell good on wiiu either!

      • J.j. Barrington

        They’re not BIG successes, but successful enough, particularly given the lack of marketing. Bayonetta 2’s lack of commercial success can as easily be attributed to the platform it was on.

        • QUIMICOMORTAL

          I dissagree with the 1st one, if they didnt sell enough to warrant a sequel, then it cant be called a success.

          With the second one, I agree the reason is more the wiiu than the game having a female protagonist, but still, you cant use the game as an example of a female lead game success!

    • Bilal Prince-Ali

      thanks mannn!!! i’ve been tryna tell people this stuff for yearssss!!!!!!!!!! looool

    • Jay Castello

      As I said, “the best selling new IP on the platform” – the platform being the PS4, which it was released on.

      I singled out Sony because of the quote that’s at the end of the first paragraph. Of course I agree that it’s bull that games with female protagonists don’t sell – it’s Shuhei Yoshida who thinks they don’t, not me!

      • J.j. Barrington

        You also explicitly say the second best-selling Sony exclusive of all time, behind only Uncharted 4. That’s wrong. Stick a “PS4” in there, and it’s a different story.

        Yoshida doesn’t think they don’t sell. I read the article you link… read it nearly two years ago, too. Near as I can tell, the concern was about mainstream appeal, which is legitimate, if not unnecessary. But here’s the most important part:

        That was two years ago. If you’re basing your position on something said two years ago and trying to apply it to right now, then you’ve gotten some things wrong from the very start.

        Another issue is the metric by why a game is considered to have “sold.” There isn’t a game with a female protagonist that has sold as well as the best-selling games with male protagonists. Is GTA your measuring stick? Call of Duty? As long-running as Tomb Raider and Metroid are, they don’t or rarely do Gears numbers.

        • Jay Castello

          I totally concede that that was a mistake. However, you’re now both arguing the fear that female characters don’t sell is “bull” and that they actually *don’t* sell that well simultaneously. You kinda have to pick one.

          • J.j. Barrington

            I’m asking you to specify what it means to “sell,” first and foremost.

            If you require the tens of millions that Grand Theft does, then even the games you mention don’t “sell.” If what you expect is lower on the charts, then the argument can easily be made that games with female leads already DO sell.

            To expand upon Yoshida’s comments, we don’t know what his definition of “selling” is, either. Gravity Rush, which hasn’t seen the popularity of Horizon, is still deemed a success; other games have had similar receptions and been deemed successful in Sony’s eyes under Yoshida. And as you yourself mention, there are quite a few other games either already starring or soon to star a woman as the main protagonist, coming from Sony or a Sony-funded studio(Quantic Dream). Wouldn’t that lead us to believe that his comments were less about female characters in general, and more about Horizon, specifically?

            I’m less inclined to jump to the conclusion that it was the inclusion of a female character than some other factors. Shu’s been with PlayStation for quite a while, and there’s been no shortage of female leads that have been celebrated on the brand’s platforms during that time. From Parasite Even to Final Fantasy to Dino Crisis to Tomb Raider to Beyond Good and Evil, and that’s just the third party stuff.

            It’s a leap to take the company’s history and products into consideration and then think his words extended beyond the one game in question.

            I appreciate that you, at least, are taking this discourse seriously.

          • Jay Castello

            I take it seriously because I truly believe in what I write – I’m not trying to be “clickbait” or controversial for the sake of it.

            You’re digging into a deeper conversation, one that might be a great future article, but this one was simply about Yoshida’s comments that a female character made him nervous. You can see in the link I provided in the article that he said that. Yes, I very much agree that his comments seem strange. That’s what this article is about. Nothing more and nothing less.

          • J.j. Barrington

            That his comment comes after many successful female characters have already appeared. For that reason, I couldn’t help but see past the surface of the comment. Coupled with how old the comment is and the title, the article seems… odd to me.

  • Sweetbrandigirl2004

    Horizon isn’t even close to being SONY’s best selling game TLOU way out sold EVERY other game Sony has EVER put out ! Likewise so has ALL the UC games as well as GOW and Grand Turismo. I fully support Female Protagonist as a female game I look for game that have them and I’m happy to see more games featuring them.

    • Meaux Szyslack

      *Best selling NEW IP (never existed before) on the PS4; she made that quite clear.
      *TLOU is far from the best selling Sony game–whether you’re only counting PS4 or all PS history.

      • J.j. Barrington

        “In fact, it’s the second best selling Sony exclusive of all time, after only Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.”

        That quite clear, but also quite incorrect.

      • Sweetbrandigirl2004

        TLOU is the best selling NEW IP (never existed before) for PS. It sold more copies and won more GOTY Awards then ANY game in history a whopping 234 ! TLOU II is going also break records aswell !

        • Meaux Szyslack

          What the hell does awards have to do with sales figures? And you continue to miss the most important aspect of all this–she said PLAYSTATION 4–not Sony’s entire history.

          • Sweetbrandigirl2004

            Regardless of whether she’s talking about Sony history or just the PS4 TLOU is still the best selling game in the PS 3 or 4 history. As for awards they are a direct refection of how popular a game is which translate into copies sold. That my friend is what awards as to do will sells.

  • klarax

    its up to them, its their company. and an eastern one at that, they will continue to be that too and wont pander

    • You should try reading the article.

      • klarax

        you misspelt ‘click bait’