Here in the States, we pretty much consider the Xbox 360 to be the winner of the console war this generation. Of course, we have to completely ignore the fact that the Wii has outsold it by a ridiculous margin, even in the U.S. But many gamers have become hesitant to call the Wii a true gaming console, due to its heavy focus on the casual market, lack of third-party support, barely there online features, and inability to provide HD visuals. So if you think it's fair to ignore the financial success of the Wii in light of its less hardcore focus, then yes, the 360 won this round.
However, something completely different is going on in Japan. The 360 just hasn't been able to drum up a whole lot of interest. In fact, the PS2 is currently almost selling as many new units as the 360 over there, and sales have been so underwhelming that the 360 has been taken off the shelves of several Japanese retailers.
Now, some of the reasons for this disconnect are fairly obvious. The 360 is pretty much geared toward an American audience. Its three biggest-selling franchises are Call of Duty, Halo, and Gears of War. Though all three of these franchises are radically different, they are all shooters that appeal to American gamers. Japanese consumers have a tendency to be less interested in these types of games.
But the Kinect should do well in Japan, right? Well, not really. The Kinect is designed to take advantage of larger living rooms, something many Japanese gamers don't have in their traditionally smaller homes. In fact, even players in the States have complained about their Kinects requiring more space than they had available. On top of that, the Kinect lineup hasn't really delivered anything that's screamed, "This will be a hit in Japan!"
Many gamers even felt that Microsoft's toned-down showing at TGS (Tokyo Game Show) this year was a sign that they were considering pulling out of the Japanese gaming industry. However, Microsoft has assured us that this is not the case, and next year they are going to attempt to have their biggest TGS showing yet.
But what can Microsoft possibly do in order to connect with the Japanese market?
Well, first of all, the 360 needs some strong third-party Japanese support. Suda51's upcoming Kinect game isn't enough. Now, this doesn't mean that American and European companies should try to emulate what they see working for Japan; that sort of strategy always comes off as being disingenuous. Microsoft should be seeking out third parties that are actually located in Japan, and that have a realistic understanding of what is currently selling in that market. They need to be chasing down Capcom and Kojima Productions and even Atlus for some 360-exclusive titles. The 360 needs games designed with a Japanese mindset in order to reach the Japanese audience.
Secondly, whatever promotion Microsoft does needs to be targeted at Japan's unique audience. Some reports a few years back actually showed that several Japanese gamers were turned off by some of Microsoft's advertising. Once again, emulating Japanese ad campaigns from an American perspective isn't going to cut it. Hire ad agencies that know the demographic and have proven track records in the industry.
Thirdly, the Xbox line of consoles is geared toward the hardcore gaming crowd. This is a truth that cannot be downplayed. Microsoft can push the Kinect all they want, but it's the hardcore gamer games that are going to keep the console strong. This is just as true in Japan as it is anywhere else.
Fortunately, this is something they're keeping in mind. Microsoft's head of Xbox operations in Asia Japan, Takashi Sensui, recently told Famitsu magazine: "Certainly it was our tendency last year to emphasize casual gaming alongside the release of Kinect, but if you looked at our TGS booth this year, there was a whole range of titles built to appear to the core market. We would like to receive support from the casual market, no doubt about that, but the passionate group of 360 users who have supported us up to this point will continue to be the core of our fanbase."
On top of everything else, Microsoft needs to realize that they are the underdogs. Japan is the home of both Nintendo and Sony, and Microsoft is a foreign company. Trying to act like the big dog in the park is just not going to be effective.
All of this simply comes down to understanding their demographic. If Microsoft can figure out the specific needs of their target audience in Japan and cater to those needs, they have a shot at keeping their consoles on shelves.
My prediction: Microsoft has what it takes to survive in Japan. However, it's going to take some restructuring and a shift in focus. It may also require them to accept the fact that they are the little guys, and view things from this perspective.
TGS 2012 is almost a year away, but it's going to the major indicator of Microsoft's future strategy. We'll have to keep our eye on them and cross our fingers for what we hope is Microsoft's best TGS showing ever.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*