Phil Spencer recently made a comment in Famitsu – which we covered earlier – that he has yet to give up on the Japanese Xbox market. Japan, he said, remains an important market for the Xbox, even if it is not the biggest, and he said: “I will never give up. [on Japan]. ‘ It’s an admirable sentiment, and we have to commend him for the determination he’s shown in trying to make Xbox a thing in the country. Unfortunately, this is a pointless exercise and not necessarily for the reasons you think it is.
First, let’s start with an introduction – Xbox literally never performed well in Japan. Never. The original Xbox saw a big push in Japan, with a dedicated advertising campaign, as well as broad support from many Japanese developers and publishers. However, Microsoft had little understanding of the Japanese market and failed to market it appropriately, which, combined with the Japanese market’s natural distrust of foreign products, led to incredibly low sales for the system – 450,000 units sold.
The Xbox 360 did better, in part thanks to Microsoft’s efforts to secure significant Japanese content for the system. This included anticipated games like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and of course, Tales of Vesperia. These games, combined with smaller niche Japanese games that were starting to find a market there, along with a growing appreciation for Western games, had 1.6 million units sold for the Xbox 360 by the time the console was abandoned there.
The Xbox One, on the other hand, was a total disaster. Since its launch in Japan almost three years ago, the system has sold less than 100,000 units. The Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and even the Wii U have had weeks topping all of the console’s lifetime sales in the country in a single week. It was a shipwreck of extreme proportions.
“Since its launch in Japan almost three years ago, the Xbox One has sold less than 100,000 units. “
It’s extremely easy to blame Japan for the Xbox failure and the constant struggles in the country. However, that would completely miss the harsh realities of the situation – the point is, despite Phil Spencer’s repeated promises for the Japanese market, Microsoft has very clearly given up on making any progress with Xbox in the country.
This is extremely obvious in many ways – there is little, if any, marketing for the Xbox in Japan, as the brand may as well not exist there. Exclusive support for Japanese games, like the one Nintendo and PlayStation easily get, and the one Microsoft fought for not too long ago with the Xbox and Xbox 360, just isn’t a factor for this generation. And, perhaps most importantly, is the fact that Xbox Japan doesn’t even make an effort to ensure a steady stream of Xbox One releases in the country.
The main Japanese games that have Xbox versions – there are still cross-platform games, such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Valkyrie Revolution, among others – will only be released on PlayStation in Japan, the Xbox version will not be released in the country at all, and will only be released to have wider coverage with Western sales. This is something that dates back to the ultimate Japan-related Xbox 360 coup: securing Final fantasy 13, which was rumored to be a PS3 exclusive, as a cross-platform game, but didn’t launch on Xbox 360 in Japan until long after its initial release on PS3 – and the problem got worse over time.
“Not only are Japanese games skipping an Xbox release in Japan, Western games are too – games like destiny and Batman: The Knight of Arkham are among the two most prominent examples of great Western games released exclusively for PlayStation in Japan. “
In fact, the problem is now worse than ever, as not only are Japanese games skipping an Xbox release in Japan, but Western games are too – games like destiny and Batman: The Knight of Arkham are among the two most prominent examples of great Western games launched exclusively for PlayStation in Japan. Microsoft’s own versions are often delayed for the Xbox One in Japan, for example, Gears of War 4 launched in Japan much later than in the rest of the world. The reason for this was apparently a rating issue for the game, which is understandable, but when your release list is already as paltry as Xbox One’s in Japan, then every major delay or omission hurts.
So Microsoft has minimal marketing for the Xbox One, major cross-platform games are skipping Xbox One versions in the country, and often their own games are delayed as well. From their inability to get much Japanese support (plus the good Ladder debacle), it can be assumed that their relationship with the developers in the country is not so good either. So we end up with a console that has no appeal in Japan for anybody– gamers who like handheld games can buy a 3DS, gamers who like traditional Japanese games will choose a Switch or PS4, and gamers who like western games definitively take a PS4. Who is the Xbox One appealing to, exactly?
Is it any wonder that the console sells less than a thousand units per week in Japan, sometimes less than a thousand units per week? month? Is it any wonder that its games aren’t listed and most of the general public probably don’t even know the Xbox One? Is it any wonder then that Microsoft did not want to invest in Japan as it did in the past, and wasted the momentum and goodwill it had built with the Xbox 360?
The common refrain is that Japan doesn’t like foreign products – and yet Apple products continue to sell each week more than any competing domestic product in Japan, and Disney’s pop culture hallmark in the country. is huge. “
So why bother to keep a minimal presence there? Why is the Xbox even officially released or supported in the country, when Microsoft clearly has no plans to do much with it there? Presumably, for optical purposes. Japan is a major gaming market, and Xbox just wouldn’t come out there wouldn’t be a good look for that. Add to this the fact that a large portion of the industry’s top developers and publishers are always Japanese, and you can see why Microsoft probably finds it necessary to keep at least a minimal presence there.
But no, ultimately the failure of Xbox in Japan is because Microsoft is unwilling to put in the constant effort that would have ensured the brand’s success there ultimately, not in Japan. The common refrain is that Japan doesn’t like foreign products – and yet Apple products continue to sell each week more than any competing domestic product in Japan, and Disney’s pop culture hallmark in the country is immense. If Microsoft had made the effort to market in Japan appropriately, and keep going once they started generating goodwill and momentum, they might have been in a very different place – historically, Sega never did well in Japan, with the master system. and Genesis bombing both there. Sheer perseverance saw Sega take gold with the Saturn in Japan – even though the Saturn bombed the rest of the world, it was a big hit in the Land of the Rising Sun, surpassing Nintendo’s N64, and briefly, even the PlayStation.
Microsoft could have done it. But they did not make the necessary sustained effort. The result is that they are practically non-existent in an extremely large gaming market, and they fail to reap the benefits that a resurgent Japan in gaming now brings for Nintendo and PlayStation.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.
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