219: How Do You Like Them Apples?

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Are Japanese consumers biased against Western products, or are they simply more technologically adept than their American counterparts? According to Phillip Miner, Apple's success in Japan suggests the answer is "neither of the above."

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Huh, I didn't know the iPhone was doing that well in Japan, for some reason that makes me want one even more, if only they'd make me a 64GB version.
An interesting article to be sure, though I feel like you've only scratched the surface with regards to how well Western products do in the Eastern market.

I went to school from Rochester, NY. Nice area, but shitty for trying to find a job.

As for the article, I remember a while back Famitsu had solicited information from its audience as to why the Japanese are so cautious or stingy when it comes to western video games, why they typically sell so little. The responses were pretty interesting.

One of the major issues was our games seem so needlessly complex. Most of the time when we think of Western games we think of shooters, which oddly enough don't come off as being complex to us at all. However, over there they apparently do. I always found this interesting because a lot of their RPG's have started to add so many small features to so many things, where leveling up is no longer a quick process, nor is item creation, there are a lot of concerns as to how to best equip your character, etc. I guess there's a different style of complexity for each of us.

Another issue was the fact that our heroes are all muscle-bound men with short hair. They'd prefer to see younger heroes or heroines with smaller frames. This, of course, is primarily a cultural issue. While even we are getting sick of the space marine on steroids, it's nothing strange for our hero to be a full-grown adult. A lot of our entertainment centers around adults. If you want to read too much into it, then you can suggest it ties into our European histories where each culture has mythological heroes that are full-grown men accomplishing great feats.

Now, I've read a few different things in terms of the Japanese and their gaming habits, but one thing that has been suggested is most adults stop gaming once they enter adulthood and the work world. It's sort of like giving up childish ways. However, Dragon Quest cannot be released on a work or school day over there because of how many play it. Maybe adults play games a lot less over there (which is no surprise as, well, that's adulthood for you, but I know plenty of adults over here that continue to game rather regularly despite a family and job).

Why I bring that up is simply because, if they stop gaming so regularly when they become an adult, then it makes sense that their heroes and heroines would primarily consist of teenagers. I feel this is also a recent cultural trend, as when I look back on a lot of classic games and anime there are plenty of adult heroes and characters as well (Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Trigun, Ninja Scroll, Final Fantasy 4, Final Fantasy 7 (I believe youngest age was 20), Metroid, etc.). It only seems to be some sort of recent media phenomenon that every hero/heroine has to be a teenager that doesn't like other people and experiences "the one" syndrome. Hell, the greatest reason I've avoided "The World Ends With You" thus far is seeing one shot of the kid with earphones saying "I've never been able to understand anyone else" or something. It was so Linkin Park that it killed all interest in the game. I've grown up out of that, but it is what is popular in Japan these days.

Lastly, a lot of our games possess little to no visible story. If they possess a story that was merely tacked on, it takes itself seriously (think Doom 3). The Japanese told Famitsu that they don't understand it. They don't get why our games often enough lack a story, and why every story is such a serious matter. THIS perspective explains why even a lot of Japanese games have cheesy and melodramatic stories that are absolutely horrible (I'm looking at you Project Sylpheed and every fighting game out of Japan). They are there because the Japanese gamers like having a motivation and depth to their characters and plots, but they don't take it so seriously that it needs to be something special. It just needs to be enough to remain entertaining.

Our current gaming culture is in a flux of story-telling. In some ways, what matters most is gameplay. The story is just the means for the gameplay to carry on. In other cases, the story is incredibly important. In 2007 we had Bioshock, Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect. I just replayed Assassin's Creed, and I can certainly say that story was important there. All three of those games were attempting to push game narrative to a new level. Hell, even Modern Warfare pushed the boundaries by placing you in the shoes of a character as he died gazing into a mushroom cloud. That was one of the most powerful emotional experiences I felt from ANYTHING, let alone just video games.

Yet since then we've had...what? Nothing that has truly come close. Still, the holidays of 2007 show that the Western games industry is certainly evolving what we can do with story-telling. We just aren't as uniform about it as the Japanese currently are.

I found those insights from Famitsu to be very interesting. Still, some of our values will clash with theirs because, again, we're just foreign. We will never completely understand their culture unless we assimilate ourselves into it, and vice versa.

The other reason the iPhone is doing well in Japan? Japan is big on style. Things that are slim and stylish and marketed as being 'in' are going to do really, really well here. Apple products have the air of upscale about them, and in a place where appearance matters as much as it does in Japan...its going to sell, and sell well. Apple marketed itself in the perfect way for the (young) Japanese, image-conscious audience.

And as for the xbox...there's nothing about it to garner excitement. It's on the back burner (I read an article on a Japanese blog about how Yotobashi wasn't even advertising prices they were giving for used xboxes (the had Gameboy Advance on there, but no xbox), and I can tell you right now that every single game store I've been to, xbox stuff is shoved into the dark corners, and there's never any one there. Heck, one place, the big Bic Camera next to Kyoto Station IIRC, didn't even have the demo xbox set up--it wasn't turned on, and looked like no one had ever touched it, and it was in the very back, far away from the all the demo spaces for the PS3 and Wii (which were full of people). The xbox was never marketed the right way for Japan and so never took off.

The only people I know with xboxes are all foreigners.

Phillip Miner:
How Do You Like Them Apples?

I dunno...near the end you talked about how "if we are looking for something Western, we'll stay close to home" sounds a bit like a bias.

I mean, it makes sense that the Japanese would have different social sites then us, but there really isn't much fairness in developers trying to create a game here that would sell better if made elsewhere.

I mean we are mostly considered the land of FPS. The Japanese have an abundance of RPG's...It kinda sucks knowing a competant game wouldn't sell well just because it is apart of the typical market...

ccesarano:
One of the major issues was our games seem so needlessly complex...

That is weird... most FPS's its fairly simple. Move, shoot, reload...but rpg's require a lot more investment.

I know there is a culture difference, but that comment just doesn't make sense.

Apple pie sushi sounds like it could be delicious (like, some raw kind of apple pie) or terribly disgusting (apple and cinnamon on a raw fish). Which is it, GOD HELP ME WHICH IS IT?!?!?

hansari:
That is weird... most FPS's its fairly simple. Move, shoot, reload...but rpg's require a lot more investment.

I know there is a culture difference, but that comment just doesn't make sense.

This is based on our own cultural perspective on the medium. A lot of people look at shooters as simple "point and shoot" conceptually, but think about in execution. You have both thumbsticks used at all times, moving side-to-side and backwards and forwards while looking in completely directions than you're moving, with enemies all over the place and all kinds of numbers flashing and displaying on the screen with an information overload. Not to mention this button shoots things, this button tosses grenades, etc. etc.

Most shooters I've played by Eastern companies are rarely as chaotic as Western shooters, with Lost Planet being one of the few to give it a try in an effort to gain worldwide love. Most complex titles like Armored Core from the East garner to a niche audience.

While RPG's may conceptually seem more complicated, the actual interaction is kept rather simple.

This is also just taking the controls into account. I know it is popular to hate on Halo, but throwing in enemies that have physical shields while others have energy shields, and then foes that can only be hurt by getting shot in the back, and the complexity increases more and more.

It's all a matter of culture and perception. We're used to a different philosophy of game design than they are. While neither method is more complex than the other, they seem so.

hansari:

ccesarano:
One of the major issues was our games seem so needlessly complex...

That is weird... most FPS's its fairly simple. Move, shoot, reload...but rpg's require a lot more investment.

I know there is a culture difference, but that comment just doesn't make sense.

It's the complexity of the control scheme. The average JRPG uses menus navigated through with directional controls and two buttons (confirm and back/cancel). The average modern FPS uses 5 buttons for movement, jumping and crouching, the mouse for aiming and shooting, additional buttons for reloading, interaction, keys assigned to individual weapons and usually some sort of objective/inventory/etc. screen.

In a game like CoD in order to shoot a guy in the head from a distance, you'll need to navigate a complex level with indoor and outdoor environments full of openings where you could be killed from without seeing who did it, watch out for grenades, use cover, and once you finally spot the enemy, you may need to crouch, press another button for scope/iron sight, then properly aim at the head and fire. To a western gamer, who is used to that kind of gameplay, all these actions are easy and go unnoticed. However, a newcomer to the genre would have their hands wrapped their head just trying to move around the map.

Now let's look at DMC. To kill a demon you only need the D-pad and the melee attack button, you use them in a certain sequence to execute a couple of moves in repetition and the demon goes down, since everything else your character does is automated. And yes, I know it's unfair to compare a beat 'em up to a shooter, but the only Japanese FPS I know of is a h-game that doesn't even deserve mentioning.

While the Japanese may be embracing the iPod I seriously doubt the assertation that they are loving their iPhones as this Wired article expands upon: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/02/why-the-iphone/

The Japanese don't like the overpriced plans, there is a lot of competition and with an expensive plan the phone can't survive. The iPhone's monthly plan starts at about $60, which is too high compared to competitors.

Besides cultural opposition, Japanese citizens possess high, complex standards when it comes to cellphones. The country is famous for being ahead of its time when it comes to technology, and the iPhone just doesn't cut it.
http://www.wired.com/gadgets/wireless/news/2008/06/japan_phones

Cellphones are also more of a fashion accessory in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, carrying around an iPhone - a nearly year-old handset compared to the very latest Japanese cellphones - could make you look pretty lame.

Japanese consumers also tend to shop for features, picking phones like the Panasonic P905i, a fancy cellphone that doubles as a 3-inch TV. It also features 3-G, GPS, a 5.1-megapixel camera and motion sensors for Wii-style games.

To put this simply Apple has a Japanese market because their product works. So far the Japanese are not the only ones interested in it as a gaming platform.

Xbox 360 fails because its not completely backwards compatible and is known to die (become inoperable) whenever it feels like doing so. Trying to justify the failure with retorts like "they only push 2 buttons max playing rpg's while we press them all playing FPS's" is not going to fly. Understanding their culture is important but I would rather see more information on western products that sell well in both countries.

I personally would attribute the success and failure of a product in Japan on the general intelligence of the Japanese.

The notion of a Japanese market interested in Western things in the same way that there are Western consumers (and pirates) interested in Japanese things is both insightful and yet amusingly obvious in retrospect.

ZeroKadaver:

Xbox 360 fails because its not completely backwards compatible and is known to die (become inoperable) whenever it feels like doing so. Trying to justify the failure with retorts like "they only push 2 buttons max playing rpg's while we press them all playing FPS's" is not going to fly. Understanding their culture is important but I would rather see more information on western products that sell well in both countries.

You know, the difference in overall preference of genre and gameplay style between western and Japanese gamers has existed for far longer than the current console generation.

So if it's not the complexity of the control scheme, what is it? The lack of bishies and gratuitous fanservice? "We don't accept these kinds of games because you cannot see your character on the screen"? Japanese too used to pointless gray industrial architecture and maze-like outdoors; need more exotic environments?

So besides the fact you use one (ONE) company to try to shake off all of Japan's criticisms regarding xenophobia, you didn't touch on how the original Xbox was the most technologically advanced of all 3 last gen consoles and yet also tanked (worse than the 360 did) in Japan. So that hardly explains the solid showing from Sony and creates even more confusion for the solid DS and Wii sales.

Certainly I understand the point of your article and you're entitled to your opinion, but I think it's really just that Apple has, and always will be, a great marketer (at least until Steve Jobs leaves again and they have to get bailed out by Microsoft again). But I think Apple is a brand apart in this category; American/other foreign companies will always have a harder time in that market. Sony makes TERRIBLE mp3 players, but I bet they'd still outsell Creative, SanDisk, Microsoft, Samsung, and Archos mp3 players any day of the week. Taking the new Zune HD as an example, if it was even available in Japan there's no way it'd make a dent despite being one of Microsoft's best and most recent products.

Actually the article is a bit off base. The reason Apple does so much better than Microsoft in Japan is simply due to demographics. Consumers in the market for a high-end cell like the iPhone have completely different tastes from those that would buy a high-end gaming console, so while it might be true that Japan as a whole is not biased against Western electronics, your average gamer certainly still is.

Domus:

ZeroKadaver:

Xbox 360 fails because its not completely backwards compatible and is known to die (become inoperable) whenever it feels like doing so. Trying to justify the failure with retorts like "they only push 2 buttons max playing rpg's while we press them all playing FPS's" is not going to fly. Understanding their culture is important but I would rather see more information on western products that sell well in both countries.

You know, the difference in overall preference of genre and gameplay style between western and Japanese gamers has existed for far longer than the current console generation.

So if it's not the complexity of the control scheme, what is it? The lack of bishies and gratuitous fanservice? "We don't accept these kinds of games because you cannot see your character on the screen"? Japanese too used to pointless gray industrial architecture and maze-like outdoors; need more exotic environments?

I'm not a fan of statistics but you need a reasonable and quantifiable amount of data to come to a conclusion. Which is why your data is hearsay and why I asked for more data.

My attributing the success and failures of products in the area to the general intelligence of the Japanese was also left out of your quote as well as the product interest of other companies not in Japan.

Do I need to start bringing in real cultural stopping blocks in business like the lack of Chevy Nova sales in Latin America. Xbox and Xbox360 doesn't fail culturally it fails in a technical business aspect. A huge yearly subscription plan to play online, lack of exclusive games they would want, and many other factors.

ZeroKadaver:
I'm not a fan of statistics but you need a reasonable and quantifiable amount of data to come to a conclusion. Which is why your data is hearsay and why I asked for more data.

My attributing the success and failures of products in the area to the general intelligence of the Japanese was also left out of your quote as well as the product interest of other companies not in Japan.

Note that I haven't mentioned anything about hardware sales, nor have I argued on that point. As far as the games themselves are concerned, the hard data simply appears nonexistent. If you have access to statistics comparing the sales and playerbases of various games by genre, including FPSes in Japan, I'd much appreciate your input. Otherwise I'll be forced to make conclusions based on the information available to me.

As for your comment on the Japanese's general intelligence, it requires too much stereotyping to be valid, furthermore it is not an argument in any way related to any of my points, perhaps misinformed as they may be.

Do I need to start bringing in real cultural stopping blocks in business like the lack of Chevy Nova sales in Latin America. Xbox and Xbox360 doesn't fail culturally it fails in a technical business aspect. A huge yearly subscription plan to play online, lack of exclusive games they would want, and many other factors.

Yes, the Xbox isn't reliable hardware. Yes, despite pouring cash with a dump truck at Japanese developers, they are failing to secure enough exclusive games in both quantity and quality to interest Japanese consumers at large. First Person Shooters do get PS3 releases, however. There are first person shooters on the Wii. They just aren't popular in Japan for some reason and that is what I'm discussing.

I decided that I'd re-read this article, wondering exactly what the deal was with Japan and the mobile telephone. While looking up some information about Japan's ostensible love of the mobile phone, I was struck by some of the statistics. Even though Japan is supposed to be in love with the mobile phone, they only have a penetration rate of 90%, and only 75% of people have one.

Is that really meant to be a proper love of mobile phones? That's nothing compared to European penetration rates - over 90% of Irish people have a mobile phone, with similar rates in Britain, Germany and Italy, among others. I mean, only 57.6% of junior secondary school students have a mobile telephone - in Ireland and Britain, it's closer to 80%, or possibly more. I'm not all that impressed by Japan's penetration rates - the way that people speak about Japan and the mobile phone, you'd expect nearly everyone to have one, not just 75% of the population and only a 90% penetration rate.

Regarding the actual article and the high adoption rate of the iPhone, I'm not surprised any more. I might not like the iPhone, particularly its hardware limitations and its simplistic interface, but having a look at various Japanese mobile telephones, the iPhone at least does things better than those Japanese phones. There are various problems with the mobile telephones coming out of Japan, from ugly designs to poorly-conceived interfaces. Some of these can be related directly to the Japanese language, which has the disadvantage in an age of computers to be based on logographics. Speakers of English don't readily recognise just how their language, being based entirely on a standard Latin alphabet without diacritic marks, translates so well on a computer. Perhaps if computers had been developed first by the Chinese or Japanese, rather than the British, Americans and the Germans, we would have seen setups more inclined towards their languages, but frankly, it's a lot more efficient to have an alphabet than a logographic language when it comes to computers.

Then, there's the case of having a load of features, but not having an interface which was built to use them properly. The form factors are absolutely hideous, and I can't see the point in having all of that technological advancement in a phone where the operating systems seem to be set up so badly. Like Apple, the Japanese companies seem to have forgotten that smartphones should be phones first and mobile computers second, and that means giving them an interface which allows the telephonic features to come to the fore. When you're shoehorning mobile television into these devices, it's going to affect the device in ways that the designers probably didn't consider. One of these is the interface, and another, which seems to have been ignored by many designers recently, is the battery life. My Nokia E71, a smartphone running Symbian S60, was definitely designed as a phone first and a mobile computer second. The interface might not be as slick as the iPhone, and it may not have quite as many technological features as Japan's bloated feature phones, but the phone features are available from the home screen, the messaging and contacts features are just a button's press away and it has one hell of a battery life.

But all of what I've said above seems to suggest that the Japanese companies actually are making the most advanced phones in the world. While their standard phone market might be years ahead of ours, they're nowhere in the smartphone market, and I want to introduce you to a phone which will soon make the iPhone look like the overpriced feature phone that it is, and make the Japanese phones look distinctly average.

Say hello to the Nokia N900.

The Nokia N900 is a fully-capable mobile computer, the successor to Nokia's niche market N800 and N810 Internet Tablets. It runs Maemo 5, a Linux OS based on Debian. It has a 600MHz ARM Cortex A8 processor, with a PowerVR SGX graphics accelerator, which is the same as you get in the iPhone 3GS. From there on, the Nokia pulls away significantly. It has a full gigabyte (!) of application memory between RAM and swap, 32GB of onboard memory with provision for another 16GB through a microSD card, an 800x480 screen, and a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens (it's the lens that's the important part - those 5.1 megapixel Panasonic P905i phones probably have an unbranded lens, which provides poor picture quality). Oh, and unlike the Japanese phones, you'll be able to use it in countries with a proper mobile network - GSM, rather than that ridiculous PDC network that they played around with in Japan.

Then, there's the application capability. The phone comes with a Firefox-based browser with full Flash capability - there isn't a single other phone on the market with capability for full Flash memory. Seeing as it's based on Debian, you can install fully-featured desktop office suites, rather than those cut-down versions that you regularly see on smartphone OSes. You have your standard media player, e-mail client, et cetera, and to top it all off, you can essentially run as many of the applications at the same time as you want until you run out of memory. OK, this will probably drain the battery very quickly, but unlike the iPhone, and like any sane phone design, you can just swap out the battery and have capacity for even more insanely powerful mobile computing.

It may be $649 in the US, and €649 or 499 unlocked in Europe, but comparing that to the price of the 32GB iPhone 3GS in Ireland, that almost looks cheap, and indeed, it's even cheaper in the UK unlocked than the 32GB iPhone 3GS is with a Pay & Go contract from O2! All I can say, though, is that the Japanese phones look distinctly unimpressive now. Advantage: Finland.

Interesting read to be honest. Didn't realized Apple was actually doing good in Japan, but doesn't come as a surprise tho'. Apple's tech surely appealed to the nation of the rising sun.

 

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