Video games are often the first thing people think of when hearing about Japan.
As the birthplace of video game and technology giants like SEGA, Nintendo, Neo Geo, and Sony, Japan is home to hundreds of developers, visionaries, and artists who have pushed video games further than anyone could ever imagine back in 1958, the much debated birth date of modern video games.
With a new generation of consoles almost upon us and another cycle of the console war to get underway, players are once again having to make that decision: Do I get a PS4 or an Xbox One?
In 2001, personal computer manufacturer and gigantic corporation Microsoft released the Xbox. A relatively powerful box with an oddly-shaped controller, the console was the PC manufacturer’s bid into the video gaming scene. Selling 1.5 million consoles only three months after launch helped reassure the company that they made a product that would stand the test of time.
You wouldn’t think that a console made from disassembled Dell laptops would be an instant hit, but it represents more than just a technological competition between the two countries.
The Xbox represents the West having real penetration into the video game market with a well-made console. Now that we’re entering into a new console cycle, Microsoft and Sony are both gearing up with their latest entries, but which one will ultimately win over players?
It’s certainly one thing to compare specifications, but we also have to compare how the consoles are viewed in both Japan, the United States, and Canada.
Take a look at Microsoft’s advertising campaign for the Xbox 360 in Japan:
San-Roku-Maru, literally meaning three-six-zero, was Xbox’s mascot in Japan. As a little context in the commercial, the robot they are standing on is a Virtual On mecha. An exceptionally popular game in the late 90s and early 2000s, Cyber Troopers Virtual-On still has quite a following today and the Xbox 360 wanted to capitalize on that and on their mascot.
San-Roku-Maru represents a very learned understanding of how Japanese commercials work. They never go out of their way to promote the Xbox 360 as better than the PS3, it’s competitor at the time, they simply provide Japanese consumers with a narrative about how hard working the mascot is.
Like in any market, the better the advertising the better the sales. However, since the Xbox’s debut in Japan in the console has suffered.
While some might speculate that Japan simply hates the Xbox, it’s failure has to do more with cultural differences in the way the Japanese play. In that, people in the West see themselves at the centre of the universe while everyone else is weird.
An example of this cultural difference is the way advertising is done in Japan. Did you know that Japanese companies rarely compete against one another?
Ok, so maybe this isn’t the best example, but everyone knows just how competitive the advertising is in the never-ending Coke versus Pepsi war. Japanese advertisements have dark and mysterious ways they go about effectively reaching audiences, but trashing other companies isn’t the way to go. This ad looks into – if a little farcically – the industry surrounding Japan’s ads.
In other words, those silly Japanese commercials you see are actually well thought up and created with almost formulaic methods to advertise to their target demographics. With Microsoft’s Xbox acting as a start up against a technology giant like Sony, it’s easy to see why the console might have trouble penetrating into a market that has been flushed with the PlayStation for years.
As well, game developers in Japan have worked mainly on the three major consoles in the country being: the personal computer (Microsoft OS mostly), the PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles including handheld devices, which are a major factor in how well game development companies do financially in Japan.
Without that ability to compete in an open market where dirt can be flung and then tilled into lucrative fields of cold, hard cash Microsoft hasn’t see great returns in Japan’s market. This inability and taboo on competition has made it difficult for the Xbox in Japan, but the console’s main focus has always been in its country of origin.
Over the last few years, Sony has been hit over and over again with declining sales. According to an article from Reuters, the stakes might be even higher for the PS4’s success:
The stakes are high for Sony, which last month reported worse-than-expected earnings and cut its full-year profit forecast as its consumer business sagged in the face of stiff competition. While Sony’s counting on the console to kickstart a revival, the broader video games industry has seen sluggish sales in recent years, hurt by the rise of free games on mobile devices and social networks like Facebook Inc
What this pressure has created is one of the most heated and confrontational advertising campaigns in the history of the video game industry. As someone who has lived through the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis fight, the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation battle, the Xbox, the GameCube and the PlayStation 2 debacle, and the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 rumble… it’s a little exhausting seeing how heated competition becomes between consoles.
However, the stakes have never been higher for Sony and the company has even seen some of the company CEO and Chairmen becoming involved in campaigns targeting the Xbox One. One of the flaws seen in Microsoft’s new console is the digital rights management of its games, which basically means you can’t share. Sony couldn’t resist:
Does this mean, however, that the PS4 is going to do better than its competitor in the West? With all of the dirt being thrown around, it’s easy for people to miss out on the figures that make a lot of analysts believe the Xbox One might still win this round.
In July, Microsoft had held the top spot in sales for almost 30 consecutive months. The numbers boil that to: $197 million dollars in sales in June. What surprised everyone about these figures what that the sales are still going strong even with the new console cycle approaching and a next-gen competitor – the Nintendo’s WiiU – already available was barely able to make a scratch.
What this means is that going into the next generation cycle, Microsoft has a larger base of people who will be upgrading their hardware to the Xbox One. However, Sony has been quick to remind Xbox One users of things like the console’s inability to play older generation games.
While there are predictions from analyst firm IHS that the PS4 will do better in Europe, the UK, and Japan, North American is still firmly in the hands of Microsoft’s Xbox. Arguably, North America is a larger market for games than Japan, Europe, and the UK combined, so is Sony going down a path that will see them ending up in losing territory?
While Sony’s new console has been all about the player experience, the company has largely ignored the video game industry’s shift away from gaming to living room entertainment centres. The Xbox One, though many will groan about this, is able to fully integrate with televisions giving users the ability to watch television as they play.
While this kind of mental arithmetic will result in innumerable reports of strained eyeballs, it represents an understanding of what Americans want: They want to watch the game while playing the game.
Microsoft understands the importance of services like NetFlix and how much people enjoy watching television at home. By the way, all of that cheering in the background was from public relations people at Microsoft. The journalists there weren’t that excited.
Sony’s PS4 is set to launch tomorrow and the Xbox One will be arriving in stores a week later. In the next month, we’ll be seeing the results of Sony’s worldwide penetration and the Xbox’s strength in its home market.
Until then, here are a number of other articles you might find interesting: