A Brief Aside - Microsoft in Japan

I was wasting some time at work reading about different people's takes on this year's Tokyo Games Show (TGS) and something kept coming up. Probably because of Nintendo's (and the Wii's) absence from the event, Sony and Microsoft were scrutinized more closely. Many bloggers/reporters/etc said something similar to the following, but I will quote Jason Hill of "Screen Play," a blog hosted by Australian paper the Age because of his concise summary:

"Microsoft certainly now has a wide range of Japanese-centric titles...

...But if the Japanese continue to ignore the 360 even with such a strong line-up, it will be interesting to watch Microsoft's response.

Having Japanese developers create 360 games for the West (like Capcom's magnificent Dead Rising) is crucial, but perhaps Microsoft needs to accept that Japanese gamers will never embrace a Western console and invest their money elsewhere."

From a person living and gaming in Japan, let me tell you that his last comment couldn't be more true. Outside of any numbers or sales percentages my experience with both the youth and twenty-something market is that they just don't give a damn about Microsoft. Nobody I know personally owns an XBox or a 360. In every game store I've ever been to the section for Microsoft products is smaller than the Dreamcast section, a console which has been officially "dead" for many years now. I highly doubt that bringing the Japanese developers on board will be able to change this situation.

A bigger problem, as I see it, is that Microsoft isn't a face in that gamer's cathedral known as the video arcade. Most of the truly successful franchises outside of the RPG and adventure (aka, "dating sim") genres are huge names in the arcades, that or their parent companies are. I think that when doujin games like Melty Blood can become huge successes, ported from PC to Arcade and finally to PS2, this illustrates what Japanese consumers are really looking for in a game title.

It's surely not the "high" price which hurts Microsoft either! Japanese gamers I know are willing to throw down close to $100 for the "Special Edition" release of the newest PS2 RPG or adventure title, and all they get is some dinky PVC figure of the main character and a larger box. And how about the people paying nearly $300 for a Nintendo DS earlier this summer? No, if XBox was interesting or appealing to the Japanese gamers they would spend their money on it.

What we have is a case of a whole national market rejecting a product time and time again, and only because Microsoft has resources far beyond those of most other corporations have they been able to survive the battle this long, and this far away from home.

And it's not just the "console war" I see them losing. More and more I get comments from my co-workers and students on my iPod or my MacBook. They point and wail "kakkoii!" (cool) or "kawaii!" (cute), and these are the things that in the end truly matter to the Japanese consumer. As proven by the DS fiasco earlier this summer, when there is demand for a product in Japan there is demand for a product. As the art teacher who sits next to me shyly inquired, "Can I get MacBook with Japanese keyboard?"

Yes, yes you can. And if Microsoft (along with Fujitsu, Toshiba, and their other partners over here) starts losing the "notebook war" as well...well then I think things are going to get truly interesting.

I can't tell if this is actual specualtion or wishful thinking. Maybe a bit of both.


Anonymous alex said...

This is an interesting phenomenon. Something the indies should (and do, really) take advantage of, not just the nationals. You have to respect that about the Japanese culture, the refusal to just take what's there - all the requirements needed to make a desirable product... Consumer wisdom, consumer legend... because, really, it's all consumerism, and people might as well get used to the fact and be in some way informed.

Blogger tom said...

david helmer and myself were just talking about this a few weeks ago. so many good points.

but yeah, japan would much rather shell out the cash for a not-even-fucking-close to being ready PS3 than a 360.

that being said, Enchanted Arms is sooooo mediocre. it made me sad. i wanted to like it so much.

have you heard the new falcon? i have access to all of the hot new al-blums and i can easily upload them for you on my webspace if you can't get them easily.

Blogger darrell said...

No, I haven't heard the new Falcon...but I'd like to. An upload would be much appreciated.

PS- Have you ever heard of Melty Blood? It's my new favorite 2D fighter. Check it out...you can get it for PC and they just released it in Japan for the PS2. It's completely fan-made and it rocks hardcore.


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