Does Xbox Have a Future in Japan?

Does Xbox Have a Future in Japan?

Let’s be honest: When most of us think about the gaming scene in Japan, Microsoft’s offerings don’t even cross our minds. The size of the original Xbox’s failure in the Land of the Rising Sun was matched only by the console’s massive shell (*pause for audience laughter*).

Any other game company might have slunk away from releasing any follow-up consoles, but Microsoft is not easily thwarted. The Xbox 360 hit Japan in 2005, and to Microsoft’s credit, it didn’t keel over like a dead cow the second it arrived ashore. It’s been a long, slow haul, but the Xbox 360 has finally broken a million and a half sales in Japan.

Not an impressive sales number compared to, say, the 11.5 million Wii’s that have found homes in Japan. It’s still an admirable statistic when you stack those million and a half Xbox 360’s next to the paltry 500,000 original Xbox units that sold in the country.

Regardless of Microsoft’s increased success, you don’t want to make any bets that the next Xbox will clean up in Japan–not unless you’re looking to kill your kid’s college fund for whatever reason, and fire isn’t fast enough. Even so, the mild success of the Xbox 360 overseas indicates that Microsoft’s console bloodline has a chance in Japan after all.

Japan’s interest in the Xbox 360 seemed to pick up after the system trimmed down last year. Apartment sizes in Japan’s urban areas is limited: A more compact version of the system was undoubtedly more attractive than the bigger, bulkier original.

Moreover, the slimmer Xbox 360 takes care of that little overheating problem that still causes the dreaded Red Ring of Death amongst unfortunates who own the Xbox 360 prime. Culture-related anecdotes aren’t always the best source of information, but it’s been suggested by Americans living abroad that Japanese consumers don’t tolerate shoddy electronics, and that a problem on the scale of the Red Ring epidemic is considered inexcusable in the country. If that’s true, Japan had the right of it by initially turning away from the Xbox 360. Americans can joke about the RRoD and cardboard coffins, but affected Xbox 360 owners probably weren’t laughing when their fourth refurbished console blinked itself to death.

It’s likely Microsoft will carry over the Xbox 360’s aesthetic and technical improvements over to its next generation. These improvements, combined with the unique and affordable games that Xbox Live Arcade is capable of offering (if Microsoft retains the name “Xbox Live Arcade” for its future online marketplace, of course) should mean that the Xbox line of systems will expand its little Japanese nook. An expanded network of Japan’s gamers might even find themselves enjoying genres that typically find more success in the west: Western RPGs, first-person shooters, and the like.

Again, it’s not likely that Microsoft’s next console will reign supreme overseas, but chances are good that the name “Xbox” will at least cease to be a complete joke. Heck, maybe even Microsoft will break even on what it spends to ship and market the system in Japan.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. I’m not convinced that “small abode = small console.” With PS3s taking up more space that the George Foreman grill in my kitchen, I suggest cultural mores will trump a console’s footprint. Likewise the intolerance for shoddy workmanship.

    I’ve no proof besides the anecdotal, but I respectfully suggest that the western culture of shop-and-compare simply doesn’t translate as faithfully in Japan.

  2. There are actually a LOT of reasons why Microsoft isn’t doing well in Japan (and in the East Asian markets).

    The 360’s sales have generally sucked in Japan because Microsoft’s entire marketing strategy for the Japanese market has been a colossal mess. If you haven’t noticed, you should find one of those Xbox commercials where their spokesman/mascot is a guy who is wearing a giant X-button on his head.

    The second reason is that Microsoft doesn’t really have a video game studio of its own that is based in Japan that could be directly attuned to the gaming preferences of the Japanese (and by extension, the larger East Asian) audience. This whole BS about supporting developers but giving the middle finger to its first party developers is an extension of Microsoft’s internal developer woes.

    The third reason involves its RROD fiasco. East Asian cultures are very vindictive about being burned by defective products. I mean, when your expensive video game console breaks down on you and you don’t really have that many games on the console that interest you, then you’re much more willing to just cut your losses right then and there. You have to remember that what works in the US and EU markets doesn’t mean that it will work in the Japanese and Asian markets. Even with piracy as a measuring tool of a system’s popularity, you will find that the 360’s popularity is really only supported by native English-speakers (in the Asian markets in particular).

    The fourth reason is partly based on infrastructure. XBL really only makes sense if you have decent broadband connection. For Japan and several developed East Asian nations, broadband penetration is not an issue. For developing nations, however, it is a big problem.

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