File this one under "Why we can't have nice things." A week after the console's launch, some PlayStation 4 users appear to be using Playroom, an alternate-reality game taking place in one's living room, to broadcast ridiculous live "shows" involving nudity, firearms, and God knows what else.
This is accomplished through the live-streaming of games through Twitch.tv (UStream also is supported) to other PlayStation 4 users through the Live From PlayStation feature. Generally, the streaming option (through the Share button on a PlayStation 4 controller) governs capture of gameplay, with headset audio if that feature has been enabled. As Playroom's gameplay screen is one's living room, it can become a kind of burlesque show if the performers lack inhibitions.
In one of the more benign abuses of Playroom, a couple from Washington state broadcast something called "The Spartan Show", which became a call-in talk show that attracted the attention of Shuhei Yoshida — the president of studios for Sony Computer Entertainment — and Adam Boyes, the chief of publisher relations. You've probably seen Yoshida and Boyes on stage at PlayStation's many keynote events over the past years.
NeoGAF users noticed this trend yesterday — one chiming in early to say "soon someone will do something absolutely horrible on cam", — and being proven right not soon after. In an episode reported by GameRevolution and discussed in other forums, a couple sat on their overstuffed couch, allegedly drinking to unconsciousness. One lifted up his unconscious partner's shirt, exposing her breast for about 15 minutes. After a brief blackout, the broadcast returned, with the woman completely naked, presumably stripped by her companion.
The difference here is 1) the content is being served on an app maintained by Sony itself, not a Twitch website. 2) It's on a console, and the content is apparently immune to parental controls. While searching for livestream casts is limited to a keyword (a game title, or something else) "Playroom" could easily become a shorthand for anything-goes videos starring the performers themselves.
It's only a matter of time before some troll does something even more sexually bizarre (or violent) and a 12-year-old sees it on his family's PlayStation 4 and all hell breaks loose in the mainstream, especially if that happens in the U.K. and The Daily Mail gets wind of it. Despite the usefulness, entertainment and convenience of sharing to Twitch with the push of a button on the Dualshock 4, I suppose it was inevitable that miscreants would do something to diminish the experience or place it under some kind of heavy control.
We reached out to a Twitch.tv spokesman today to mention these incidents and inquire whether the service was ready to moderate the thousands more user feeds coming with the Live From Playstation integration on PS4. Here was the reply:
Twitch has a very strict terms of service policy which is outlined here. We are very vigilant about removing content that breaks the TOS guidelines and depending on the severity of the violation we will either ban or suspend accounts. In addition to our own efforts, the Twitch community is unique in that it likes to flag content they suspect or know is a breach of our TOS. Like any social network from YouTube to Facebook, there will always be a very small minority of users who attempt to circumvent the rules. As such, our advice is to report it right away and our staff will be quick to act on it if they haven't already. In terms of privacy settings, those are up are to the respective devices.
That's well and good, and probably the best Twitch itself can do at the moment, but it's still a special threat by virtue of being on a console. Child predators, for example, use PCs to groom and lure victims all the time. Sadly, it's kind of accepted in an open platform environment. But when they use the social networking features of a game console — a device associated with kids in the mainstream — it becomes much more pernicious and frightening, and is a grade-A six-o'clock news story.
Neither Sony nor Twitch have done anything wrong, nor anything negligent, but I wonder if either know what they've signed up for here, particularly with regards to Playroom. It's possible that, again, the experience of those who do use a console service as intended will be altered or harmed because someone used it to a perverse extreme. Because it can broadcast users, it wouldn't surprise me to see Playroom removed from the list of games that can share video, to Twitch or anywhere else.