Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Will The Xbox One Fail in Asia?

Robert Rath | 24 Apr 2014 16:01
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Hong Kong Skyline

The Kinect Is a Localization Nightmare

Xbox, play Titanfall.
Xbox, play Titanfall.
Xbox, play Titanfall?

Imagine that, but in Cantonese. Though actually, this would probably never happen, at least not by the September launch date - considering Kinect voice commands can't handle Irish accented English yet, one wonders how it will manage Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean or Singapore English. The fact is that while you can generally count on one language being predominant in America, Europe and even Latin American countries, Asian countries have a wide range of different languages, regional dialects and unique creoles. Singapore, for instance, has four official languages - English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. English is the common tongue, but accents can vary widely and people often pepper their speech with phrases from other languages. India, by contrast has hundreds of dialects. According to Microsoft's Kinect website, the original Kinect could understand Japanese, so maybe it's possible with work - but I highly doubt they can pull it off by launch.

So while I understand the practical issues that could limit this feature, as a consumer it's no fun to spend $500 on a voice-command wonder machine and boot it up to find: KINECT VOICE COMMANDS NOT AVAILABLE IN YOUR REGION.

But the Kinect hangups don't end with language - as far back as last June, Alan Bowman, Microsoft's regional vice president for sales and marketing in Asia was talking about the need to readjust Kinect to function in Asia's squeezed living spaces. "We listened to the feedback, not everyone in Asia has living rooms," said Bowman in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "The field of vision required for Kinect is much smaller."

And let's not even get into worries about privacy. While government spying is a fairly fresh worry for Americans, it's old hat for the rest of the world. It's an open secret that China monitored Skype in the past, and if you live in certain Middle East countries there are specific words that aren't advisable to say or type over the internet unless you want to end up in a government file. Paranoia about surveillance is common overseas, and I can't help but believe that when the Xbox One releases in Mainland China there's going to be a lot of speculation about whether the PRC is using it for data collection - particularly since all those units, by law, must be manufactured in the Shanghai SEZ.

Simple Economics

The Xbox One costs $100 more than the PS4. The fact that this is already a wedge issue in a country as affluent as the U.S. does not bode well for overseas markets.

When I was in India a few months ago, I made it a point to watch several reviews of the Xbox One. The Indian market will be especially telling for the Xbox One, since the 360 has done monster sales numbers there over the last few years. The consensus was this: it's great, if you can afford it, but in India value rules all. (There are also major concerns about the console's reliance on high speed internet, which doesn't have heavy penetration in India yet.) Indian gamers aren't alone in cost concerns either - I read a similar opinion in Singapore's The Straits Times.

And that's part of the problem. I can't claim special knowledge about the rest of Asia, but at least in Hong Kong the PS4 is being sold like a luxury product, only available at the Sony Store in a four-game bundle that costs HK$5,074 ($654). The Xbox One looks to be treading the same road, and it's a dangerous game to play.

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