Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Will The Xbox One Fail in Asia?

Robert Rath | 24 Apr 2014 16:01
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Don't get me wrong: Asia loves its luxury products. I saw more Ferraris and Rolexes my first day in Hong Kong than I had in my entire life up to that point. And they aren't just for the ultra-wealthy either. People in Mainland China who make $22,000 a year will regularly take smaller apartments in order to afford iPhones and Gucci handbags. But a videogame console is different from a Macbook Pro or an Omega watch in one crucial regard: you don't take your Xbox One out in public.

Luxury brands are a big deal in Asia because the region's culture values status symbols. That Rolex isn't on a CEO's wrist so he can tell time, it's so he can demonstrate that he can afford a Rolex and therefore demands more respect than someone who can't. In many parts of Asia, "How much money do you make?" is a common getting-to-know-you question because it allows people to understand where you stand in the social order. A game console, no matter how cool it is, is never going to fill that public, status symbol role, and therefore isn't a priority purchase.

So What Can Microsoft Do?

Ripping off the Kinect would be a good start. Offering it as an add-on down the line would give Microsoft time to retool the system for localized speech recognition and help it fit into Asia's squeezed living areas. An extra accessory at full functionality sounds like a better idea than a bundled feature with half the content gated off. The price drop and minimization of privacy concerns would help them out too.

As for local content partners, they have to hustle to get those deals and announce them before they lose too many sales to the PS4. It's going to take a lot of money, some innovation and a bit of luck to get that off the ground (and it's not encouraging that we haven't heard any announcements yet) but they could do it. If they pulled off something big like a Netflix or Amazon deal it could be a game-changer, but introducing either to Asia will be a difficult proposition.

And as for making the console a status symbol - they have the tools to move in that direction already. With the right marketing spin, Microsoft could recast its social media sharing functions as demonstrating that Xbox One users as part of an elite club - a Rolex for your Facebook or Sina Weibo feed, if you will. American advertisements about the One's social media integration are all about hey, look at this cool thing I did, but in Asia they could shift emphasis to hey, look at this cool thing I own. In practice, it's the same thing Apple does with its familiar "Sent from my iPhone" stamp.

But in the end, the question is really one of will: how much is Microsoft willing to adapt their console to the Asian market? Are they prepared to sell a stripped-down version? Drop the price like they did in Europe? Or might they put their shoulder behind the localization issue and bring the full Xbox One experience to Asia?

Or will they be stubborn, and confirm what we all suspect - that the Xbox One is a console by Americans, for Americans.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Hong Kong. His articles have appeared in the Escapist and Slate. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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