Goin’ ‘Round ‘n Circles?

The Xbox 360’s performance in Japan has been rocky, to say the least. The numbers aren’t great, and Japanese games seem to reject all but a few of Microsoft’s offerings. Most pundits have all but written them out of Japan’s gaming history.

But Microsoft hasn’t given up. They still put on a solid show at the Tokyo Game Show, sold out the special Blue Dragon combo pack and received high scores from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. But, there’s still a problem: Sony and Nintendo are already ahead, by far, despite the Xbox 360’s one-year head start.

Blue Dragon debuted on December 7, 2006, and Microsoft expected to sell 200,000 copies in Japan, elevating them above punch line status, and it looked like their predictions were right. Approximately 80,000 copies sold on day one, and 30,000 people bought a 360 in that week. To date, more than 133,000 copies of Blue Dragon have made it into Japanese homes, more than any other Microsoft-published game ever has. Unfortunately, other games aren’t experiencing the same success. Capcom’s Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, while it sold over a million units in the U.S., hasn’t performed nearly as well.

Why does the 360 sell so terribly in Japan? It’s not a hardware issue. The machine performs admirably, and Xbox Live works just as well in Japan as it does elsewhere. It’s not advertising, either. Microsoft aggressively made its presence known months before release, just like everywhere else. Their ads are all over Japanese cities, encouraging gamers to “step in.”

But they can’t, and this is why.

The first problem is Microsoft’s reputation. Let’s face it, when Microsoft entered Japan with the original Xbox, they had no idea what they were doing. They gave Japanese gamers absolutely no incentive to stick with their system. Microsoft boasted an exclusive contract with Tecmo, but beyond that, every company the average Japanese gamer holds dear was firmly entrenched elsewhere. What’s worse, their internal teams, Microsoft Game Studios, weren’t ringing anyone’s bell. Rather than trying to cater to the new demographic, MGS translated the games American players loved and expected the money to roll in. It didn’t; in total, 475,000 Xboxes ended up in Japanese homes.

And then there’s the elephant in the room all too many forum denizens are willing to discuss: prejudice. Microsoft is the first American company to take a major shot in the console business, and they’re attempting to make a go of it in Japan. While a lot of Westerners love Japanese titles, Japan seems to have a much harder time appreciating some of our stuff – like shooting Nazis. An Xbox signifies American games, and even with support for Japanese gamers, it’s still an American console.

Microsoft went blindfolded into a console war in Japan. Now, they’re taking another shot, a little older and a little wiser, but with a black eye the size of a manhole cover. But it’s not all bad. Blue Dragon at least intimates Microsoft has finally gotten their act together. And they plan to keep on keepin’ on. They’ve signed on with respected RPG developers like tri-Ace and tri-Crescendo to keep luring Japanese gamers to their camp.

In the end, Microsoft has all but won the hardcore console war in Europe and North America. Japan is all that stands between them and global dominance. While that would be nice, they can afford an incomplete victory. But we’re talking about Microsoft, here; when have they ever admitted defeat?

Joe Blancato and Nova Barlow contributed to this article.

Bryce Edison is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Access Gamer.

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