It’s no mystery that the Xbox One’s performance in Japan has been quite weak since it launched on Serptember 4th, 2014. At the moment the console has sold just over 77,000 units, and local penetration hasn’t shown any hint of recovery pretty much since the second month on the market.
Last week, the console moved only 135 units in the whole country according to Media Create, and that has become par for the course basically every week.
That’s why many have made a point to mock Microsoft’s efforts to work on the Japanese market and with Japanese developers at every possible occasion.
Issues like the cancellation of Xbox’s Japanese poster boy Scalebound by PlatinumGames, also don’t help, and while what actually happened remains a mystery, it’s pretty natural for many to see it as a soft belly where to aim their sarcasm and negativity.
Basically every time we report about the involvement of the Xbox brand in Japan, we see comments encouraging a complete disengagement from that unsuccessful venture, and those are still among the most charitable.
Yet Xbox Division head Phil Spencer recently flew to Japan to meet the local third party publishers, and pledged once more the brand’s commitment to keep working with them.
As gamers, we should definitely encourage this kind of approach, regardless of what camp we sit in.
First of all, any investment from console manufacturers in the Japanese market and in Japanese developers, helps in supporting both. The console market in Japan has been struggling to compete against mobile for a while, and it definitely needs all the support it can get, no matter what manufacturer it comes from.
Investment from first parties in the market helps keeping console development desirable for the developers themselves, mitigating the bleeding of talent towards the cheaper and (on the surface) easier mobile market.
That’s not only limited to Japan: while the Xbox One isn’t selling well in the country, it’s doing much better worldwide, and publishing games on the console can provide local developers and publishers with additional revenue and audience.
For most Japanese games, the revenue and audience provided by Xbox One probably aren’t as big as those of native Japanese platforms, with their fans already well accustomed to the Japanese style. Yet, considering the similarity in architecture with PS4, and the ease of porting the games, they’re still potentially significant.
There is another, very relevant factor that many overlook: one of the biggest values that makes the gaming industry the source of such a great hobby for all of us is its diversity. From AAA masterpieces like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Forza Horizon 3 and Final Fantasy XV, to titles more suitable to a niche audience like Black Desert Online, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, or Conan Exiles, and more that stand in between like NieR: Automata, Gravity Rush 2, Ace Combat 7 and Hitman (just to bring a few examples in a veritable galaxy), our hobby offers a whole range of experiences fruit of many cultures and development approaches.
Almost completely removing the Japanese industry from that rich diversity is a net loss for a console’s line-up, and for the many gamers who have made that console their platform of choice.
While I don’t see Microsoft gunning for high profile Japanese exclusives in the near future, it’s important for them to keep bringing as many multiplatform Japanese games to their console as possible.
This doesn’t just add diversity to the line up of a console that certainly appears to need it, but opens up a whole different world to many gamers that are way too used to be fed a range of games centered on western blockbusters focused on a few genres.
Certain areas of the mainstream gaming media and of the western industry itself are already doing whatever they can (for different reasons) to marginalize the Japanese gaming industry.
Lately, we’ve been seeing an increasing amount of Japanese games getting western releases. The last few years have been great for localizations, even of niche titles that many would have never imagined to see in English.
Paradoxically, a discouragingly high percentage of Japanese games go almost completely ignored on the biggest media outlets, and most recent industry awards could easily be defined the “western game awards,” because prominent titles from Asia don’t even get nominated, despite their undeniable merits and quality.
In this scenario, in which the Japanese gaming industry is either ignored by many, or even intentionally pushed towards obscurity, the attention of first parties can certainly help in keeping such a relevant source of gaming diversity under the spotlight, and those first parties include Microsoft.
The bottom line is that Japanese games can use every single stage they can get, and the many gamers that have picked Xbox One as their console of choice benefit from a more diverse line up.
Microsoft keeping Japanese gaming on its radar is good for the Japanese industry, good for gamers on Xbox, and good for the preservation of a diverse development culture in the gaming industry as a whole, which is positive for every gamer with an open mind.
So, when you’re tempted to mock Microsoft for trying to get some Japanese games despite selling only 100-something consoles a week in Japan, try thinking beyond the blindfold that comes from bleak console rivalry. Whether you play on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo or even PC, be happy that there is one more force doing what it can to help keeping Japanese games under a spotlight that many would like to remove.