The battle to win the console race in Microsoft’s toughest market

There was a time when consoles were mostly American. In the 1970s and early 1980s, console gaming seemed more of a pastime in North America, with players enjoying Mattel’s Intellivision and the Atari 2600. Games like Adventure, Centipede, Defender and Star Wars bring the fun of video games and a sense of technological potential to the Western living room. But in October 1985, everything changed. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom, is available in the United States, two years after its debut in its native Japan. Nothing will be the same.

Atari would go downhill, selling fewer and fewer consoles, until it stopped making consoles altogether in the mid-1990s following the failure of the ’64-bit’ Jaguar. Nintendo and Sega will take over the space and market share vacated by American pioneers. Sony later joined these usurpers and console gaming was dominated by Japanese companies. It wasn’t until November 2001, when Microsoft’s Xbox launched nearly two decades after the seismic release of the Atari 2600, that an American company once again entered the console race. But very quickly, a problem arose. Xbox could not find an audience in Japan. At the new home of the console, the American opponent failed.

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But is that starting to change? Have Japanese gamers found space in their hearts for outsiders? Can Microsoft prosper in a market known to be difficult for Western companies to succeed? The figures show that Xbox has finally made its way into the home of PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft has sold more than 100,000 Xbox Series consoles in Japan, hitting this milestone at a much faster rate than any previous Xbox.


Japanese gamers are finally responding to Xbox as tastes seem to be subtly changing. While previous generations may have mainly played JRPGs and omitted Western-style shooters like Halo, young Japanese gamers are starting to pay more attention to these genres. “My friend owns it and wants me [to get one] Okada Yuki, an 18-year-old student from Fukuoka, talks about how he owns an Xbox Series S. This is the first Microsoft console Yuki has ever owned and he mainly uses it to play games. in first-person perspective. gunner.

It’s ironic that, used to try so hard to entice Japanese console gamers, but only now when Microsoft tries a little less, it seems to work better. Once upon a time, Bill Gates tried very hard.

At the 2001 Tokyo Game Show, the famous Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, was swinging. He gave a keynote speech in front of 4,000 audience and talked about his homage to Isao Okawa, the former Sega president who recently passed away, and his immense respect for the industry. Japanese game industry. Executives from Capcom, Square, Sega, Namco, Konami, etc attended. However, despite the announcement of several Sega-produced games such as Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Grind Radio Future, and Gun Valkyrie – and even production of a special smaller Xbox controller S – Xbox continued was a resounding failure in Japan.


In one a baguette Regarding Xbox’s failure in Japan, former third-party relations manager Kevin Bachus spoke at length about the challenges facing Microsoft: “We’re basically going to be playing at home to Sony, Sega, and Sony. Nintendo. As a result, me and Seamus and the rest of the team put in insignificant efforts to try to make Xbox appealing in Japan, but a lot of things worked against us,” he said. Wesley Yin-Poole by Eurogamer.

These things against them include both reality and perception. The fact that Japanese game developers are not used to making PC games, on which Xbox, with its PC game development tools and processes, attracts a lot and the perception that this is the console. American consoles are designed primarily for Western gamers. Either way, the console didn’t sell well, reaching 450,000 units while it was on the market from 2002 to 2005. To look at this aspect, the Dreamcast sold more. five times This number is in Japan and is considered a failure.

Xbox 360 will do slightly better, selling 1.63 million units between 2005 and 2011, and even outselling the PlayStation 3 and Wii in weekend sales a few times, such as when the Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean: The Last Hope exclusives came out in September 2008 and February 2009 respectively. Though the Xbox 360 will prove to be transformative in the Western world, offering features Features like Xbox Live and Xbox Achievements will continue to influence its arch-rival Sony, which has yet to gain much traction in Japan.

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However, speeding up to the present time of 2021, Microsoft is doing much better in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Xbox Series X/S has sold more than 100,000 units in Japan, according to the local bible Famitsu. This is a much faster pace than its Xbox One predecessor, which took four and a half years to reach this number. Breaking down the numbers, 62.6% bought a Series X and 37.3% bought a Series S in Japan, figures released last month showed.

Earlier this year, Xbox’s head of Asia, Jeremy Hinton, spoke to IGN Japan and said that Japan is “fastest growing market worldwide“. Hinton also spoke of the growing interest among indie developers in consoles there, and that some local consumers are particularly fond of the Series S’s smaller size.

Piers Harding-Rolls, director of game research at Ampere Analysis, says the reason behind this relative success of the Xbox Series X/S is a combination of factors. “Microsoft has done a better job of engaging Japanese console players with its message, its activities at TGS [Tokyo Game Show] and promises a better selection of Japanese-made games,” he said.

Harding-Rolls believes the actual design of the console plays an important role. “When Xbox One first launched with the Kinect, it was a product primarily for the Western market aimed at homes with larger play areas,” he commented, while Xbox Series X and specifically is a cute S, which can fit into smaller Japanese spaces. houses.

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Dr Serkan Toto, German founder of Tokyo-based game industry consulting firm Kantan Games, says the success of Microsoft’s latest console has a lot to do with Game Pass. The subscription service, which gives access to hundreds of games, was introduced in Japan in April 2020, and Microsoft dropped a big price on the service shortly after the launch of the new generation console. “Given the generally high prices of console games in Japan, the Game Pass is an even bigger bargain for local users than their US counterparts,” he said.

Harding-Rolls agrees that Game Pass has been key to the success of Xbox Series X/S so far, and adds that with more Japanese content – such as Final Fantasy, NieR, Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts – available on Game Pass, which helped with sales.

Tominaga Ryuta, a 19-year-old student from Osaka, said he bought an Xbox Series X after watching a YouTube video of live streamers playing the console. “I love watching games live on YouTube and I’m starting to like it,” he told me. He’s using Xbox 360 for the first time and he says he’s playing more PC and Nintendo Switch games. However, he does enjoy Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Apex Legends on his Xbox.

Ryuta, along with Okada Yuki, are two Japanese Xbox owners targeted by Ampere Analysis’s survey of domestic Xbox players. “Xbox players in Japan are concentrated among 16-24 year olds, about 66% are male, and haven’t played console games in more than ten years,” Harding-Rolls said. It helps that this demographic is young, but Microsoft still faces an uphill battle. Sony has sold more than a million PS5 consoles in Japan, and Microsoft accounts for ten percent of these, and probably has benefited from the fact that the PS5 is so hard to come by, Toto suggests, meaning Japanese consumers received the Xbox Series X/S as a way to engage with the new generation.

“For foreign companies, Japan in general is a difficult cradle to break. Microsoft has been trying for two decades to make this market work and they have listened to every single piece of advice in the book,” he said. “They’re trying again with Series S/X, but it’s still going to be very, very hard – there’s no magic bullet to turn Japanese users into Xbox customers.”

Piers Harding-Rolls said that Japanese gamers simply love their domestic Japanese consoles: “Xbox market share will increase in this generation, but still lag far behind console companies. domestic. I don’t see this situation changing this generation any of the initiatives that Microsoft has put out.”

While the Xbox will likely never become the dominant console in the homelands of Sony and Nintendo, the Microsoft console has caused Japanese rivals to step up their game and shake up the industry. video games on a global scale.

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