For most of the world, and for all intents and purposes, the eighth generation of video game consoles began in November of 2013. Sony’s PlayStation 4 was released in North America and Europe on the 15th and 29th of November, respectively, and the Xbox One was released simultaneously in North America, Europe, Australia, and Brazil on the 22nd. The Wii U was actually released in November/December of 2012 in North America, Europe, and Japan, but that’s basically the equivalent of Nintendo’s Super Soaker to Sony’s Glock and Microsoft’s Luger. Both the PS4 and the Xbox One boasted a wide variety of new and exciting features, and even the prices were relatively close: the PS4 sold for $399 at launch, with the Xbox One coming in at a slightly steeper $499.
After both consoles had been released in North American and European territories, Sony quickly began to take the lead in terms of units sold. By August of 2014, the PS4 had sold over 10 million units, while the Xbox One had reportedly sold around half of that. Five million units sold – although not as impressive as Sony’s numbers – is nothing to laugh at. For comparison: the Delorean DMC-12 sold less than 9,000 units before the company collapsed, but the writer digresses, as under close scrutiny that comparison makes no sense. The point is, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have both been doing rather well in most territories and one would assume that neither Steve Stationfour nor Mike Boxone – probably the inventors of the PS4 and Xbox One, respectively – have been hard-pressed for bus fare recently.
“Most territories”, that is, except for two small, virtually insignificant regions the likes of which are barely worth mentioning. These two territories are known as “Lost Springs, Wyoming, USA” (population: 4) and “Japan” (population: 127 million).
The fact that you are reading this article at this moment would lead one to believe that the probability of you being aware of the generally dire state of Xbox One sales in Japan are approximately somewhere between “very high” and “why is this sentence still going?”. From the day of its launch in Japan earlier this month – which was almost a full year after the North American and European release – reports of the utter dearth of fanfare for or even slightly piqued interest in the Xbox One among Japanese consumers have been rampant. When the Xbox One was released, major electronics dealer Bic Camera in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district was filled to the brim with customers clamoring for whatever it was they came to purchase that day.
Also, some guy named Kazuyuki Wakai bought an Xbone.
As previously mentioned, news reports of the utter failure of the Xbox One launch in Japan have been widespread and comparative sales figures have been tossed around left and right like a toddler in a suspicious foster home. But the question is: how and why did this happen? It’s true that the Xbox, which is the product of an American corporation, has never been as popular in Japan as the domestically-produced PlayStation, and this is not especially surprising considering the strong national pride of the Japanese consumer which can almost be indistinguishable from xenophobia in the right lighting. But with the somewhat lukewarm Japanese reception of the previous two Xbox incarnates (not to mention the derision of many people in the industry), one would assume that Microsoft would really beef up their marketing research to ascertain what it is that Japanese gamers want and put a significant amount of effort into their media campaigns to ensure that these gamers knew that they would be getting it with their newest console.
The writer, not being employed by Microsoft Japan’s marketing/PR department but being the owner and frequent user of both a television set and a personal computer, cannot say with any amount of certainty exactly what sort of research has been done, but can report based on his own observations that said media campaigns amounted to a glaringly halfhearted effort that gave the impression of “we had to run SOMETHING, so this’ll do.” It’s almost as if Microsoft only even bothered to release the Xbox One in Japan on account of some sort of contractual obligation, not because they had any sort of confidence that their console would sell and possibly even prove to be a legitimate competitor to the PS4.
Abercrombie & Fitch made a huge mistake a few years ago, when they opened their Japanese flagship shop in Tokyo – using almost solely non-Japanese executives and consultants. They ended up driving away possible customers in droves, apparently unable to understand neither their “cultural needs” nor the reason why they shouldn’t simply try to force their own Western values and business style upon them. As far as marketing strategy is concerned, Microsoft seems to made both “exactly the same” and “the exact opposite” mistake at the same time, almost disrupting the entire space-time continuum and subsequently destroying reality as we know it in the process (the writer has only a vague-at-best understanding of the workings of the space-time continuum.).
On one hand, with the Xbox game lineup widely perceived as being “FPS-heavy” and the console itself being known amongst many circles as a “Netflix machine”, Microsoft probably should have taken into consideration the fact that Japanese gamers generally don’t care much for first-person shooters and that Netflix is not even officially available in Japan. Upon taking this into consideration, they could have done themselves one better and actually acted on it. Instead of focusing on and really pushing a few popular RPGs or fighting games that would have likely attracted more buyers, they instead chose to simply NOT focus on or push Call of Duty as much as they did in other regions. In failing to do so, they basically made the same mistake as A&F by ignoring the wants of consumers and the cultural makeup of their customer base. At the same time, however, they made the opposite mistake as A&F by not even really bothering to push their own style and values on the consumers, either.
In a way, forcing their own thing down the throats of consumers in Japan may have actually been (albeit only slightly) more effective strategy-wise, because if nothing else, at least it would have shown that Microsoft actually cared about Japanese people buying their console. Unfortunately, with the direction in which they decided to go (“nowhere”), it almost feels as if they deigned to release the Xbox One in Japan simply out of spite towards Sony and Nintendo.
On a slightly more personal note, the writer had the opportunity to meet and interpret for Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios’ Xbox division, at an indie game event at the Tokyo Game Show this year. Being tasked with making a short speech to hype the Xbox One at a conference that appeared to be mostly dominated by Sony and its collaborators and fans, he seemed to be slightly nervous and half-jokingly requested that the writer “make (him) sound intelligent and like (he) knows what’s up” when interpreting his message to the crowd. The writer in turn half-jokingly replied, “I promise not to say anything overtly racist, but apart from that I’m not sure there’s much I can do to help you there besides apologize.” A laugh and a smile were shared, but deep down inside, both men knew that they were basically totally correct, and for a single moment, the writer caught himself actually feeling a bit sorry for Microsoft.
The writer then returned home, drank a beer, and watched The Order: 1886 previews. On his Windows 7 PC.
Guest Contributor: AUTOMATON is a video game-based media website owned by Active Gaming Media Inc.