Sony Japan gave consumers a treat recently. It was announced that from October 1st the company’s flagship games console, the PS4, will retail for only 34,980 yen. This is a reduction of 5,000 yen on the current retail price and places the price point well below that of the US and Europe in particular where in some countries a PS4 will still sell for around 400 Euros (54,000 yen).
Of course Sony’s detractors, of which there seem to be quite a lot these days, say it is an act of desperation, because Japanese consumers aren’t taking to the PS4 in the quite the droves that had been forecast.
Let’s get something straight here, the PS4 is an international hit. It has sold great numbers across most markets since its launch almost 2 years ago. But it is fair to say that it hasn’t quite hit the expected highs in Japan, yet.
Now, from my own point of view, I remain a proud PS3 owner, who isn’t really in a hurry to upgrade. However, I thought I was the exception rather than the norm. But, amongst my Japanese gamer friends, it seems this is a common thread. They all acknowledge that the PS4 is a mightily impressive piece of hardware, and yet the prevailing attitude seems to be: “Erm, maybe I’ll get one next year”.
So why is this? Why is it that Japan seems to be the only market that thus far hasn’t leapt at the opportunity to upgrade to a PS4. As is often the case in Japan, there are a number of cultural reasons for this. To understand fully, one must appreciate the intricacies of the Japanese gamer mindset.
So, Sony, if you read this blog, (and hopefully you do because I’d love a free PS4 to review!) here are some thoughts on why Japanese consumers have yet to fully embrace the PS4:
Lack of Backwards compatibility
Ok, to many in Europe and the US this may seem a moot point. I’ve read many columns by western journalists saying “Get with the times! If you like old games, then you can always keep your PS3.” In Japan, it’s not that simple. Over here, retro gaming is big business. Anybody who has ever been to one of the many video game stores in areas like Tokyo’s Akihabara or Osaka’s Nipponbashi districts will notice the trend.
In these stores the number of Playstation 2 games is equal to or in some cases even outnumbers the number of Playstation 3 and Playstation 4 games. Not bad when you consider that the console has largely been considered obsolete since about 2009. Going back further, a number of stores have an extensive range of PS1 games and even going right back to the early 90s and the likes of the Super Famicom (Super NES in the west) and the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis to my American friends).
Lack of an Extensive back catalogue of games
The PS4 has an ever expanding library of games, however, the fact remains, it has been on the market for less than 2 years. Thus far, there aren’t anywhere near as many games available as there are for its predecessors. From my own point of view, this is the main reason why I too am reluctant to upgrade.
From my first gaming console in 1992, the aforementioned Sega Mega Drive, I have always waited until a console has been out for at least a year or two before buying. This allows the game catalogue to expand sufficiently and also allows the price of the console itself to drop to a more realistic level. For comparison purposes, I purchased a Sony PS1 in 1998, about 2 and a half years after its launch.
I got my PS2 in early 2002 again a little over 2 years after launch, and finally I got my current console, my PS3 in 2009, 3 years after it was released in Japan. By that reckoning, I should be ready to buy a PS4 sometime in the spring of next year. Many of my Japanese friends seem to share this line of thought.
The PS4 has seen some big hits on the game front this year. Batman Arkham Knight, the final installment in a series of games that runs back to 2009, was a massive hit not only in Japan but also worldwide. Likewise the soon to be released Star Wars: Battlefront also looks certain to be a huge success here in Japan when it comes out in November.
However, this being Japan, naturally one should expect that Japanese games are the ones that will really draw new customers in.
Looking back, the original Playstation had a slew of Japan-made titles upon its release in 1995. The likes of Tekken, Ridge Racer and one of my all-time favourite sports games: International Superstar Soccer Pro (Or Winning Eleven as it is known in Japan) were followed a year or two later by all-time classics like Biohazard and Metal Gear Solid.
Likewise the PS2 had titles such as Onimusha and Metal Gear Solid 2 to ship shortly after launch, which helped propel the fledgling system into the minds of Japanese gamers. This time around, the launch titles for PS4 had a distinctly more international flavour and perhaps that’s one reason for the slow uptake amongst gamers in Japan.
Not everybody wants to play online multiplayer games
One of the things that bugged me and some of my Japanese friends too in the run-up to the launch of the PS4 was the over-emphasis on online playability. Personally, besides buying occasional downloadable content for some of my PS3 games, I never go online. What started as a good idea really seems to have been derailed in the last couple of years.
Going online with playstation is a nightmare! The games themselves play well, and given Japan’s superior broadband speeds connection is seldom, if ever an issue. But the other players are such simpering crybabies, so obsessed with achievements, ranking tables and trolling each other that they seem to have forgotten just how to enjoy a game.
Sony’s business model doesn’t exactly do them any favours here either. Previously, on the PS3, Sony’s online servers were provided for free, with customers having the option of upgrading to “Playstation Plus” a premium service for a nominal annual fee.
However, with the PS4 this subscription service is now mandatory to enjoy online game content. With games like the aforementioned Star Wars: Battlefront almost completely doing away with single player game modes, in favour of online battles of up to 40 individual players, options for the solitary players like me are getting increasingly limited.
Therefore, a number of older Japanese gamers are sticking with their older consoles in order to get a more fulfilling single player experience. Sony has already proven down the years that when things get tough, they know how to innovate and advance. I am sure this time around will prove no different. That being said, it’ll be a while before I get a PS4.
Maybe next year…..