Here in the United States, we seem to think of ourselves as one of the most prosperous nations in the world. With an impressive GDP, a relatively high standard of living and undoubtedly the most obese people per capita anywhere, excess and success seem to be two of America’s strongest suits. Yet no matter how much we may succeed in such distinctive areas, there is one country that masters us in videogame technology: Japan.
You see, the Japanese can be a bit finicky when it comes to videogames – with American videogames to be exact. Oh sure, a handful of titles will become roaring successes over there, with practically everyone enjoying games that come from Sony’s Santa Monica Studios, among others, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the strength of almost any Japanese publisher. Take a glance at the shelves of your favorite videogame dispensary, and you’ll undoubtedly find that the majority of games were, at the very least, partly developed in Japan. In fact, just about every major videogame console from the past 20 years has been created in Japan, with just one glaring exception: Microsoft’s Xbox.
To say that the Xbox was a success in Japan is like saying Final Fantasy is a niche series that a few people have haphazardly picked up and enjoyed – it’s so far from the truth, it’s practically fiction. The Japanese avoided the Xbox like it was the Ebola virus, so it idly sat waiting on store shelves for unsuspecting villagers to open up its box and unleash its flesh-eating wrath. Quite frankly, the majority of Japanese gamers don’t seem to give a damn about first-person shooters – our country’s claim to fame – and considering the main attraction to the Xbox has always been its Halos and Gears of Wars, it comes as little surprise that many Eastern gamers found nothing to like in the machine.
Tastes have long varied from country to country. While Americans were enjoying computer-based Role Playing Games that focused on first-person narratives and the text-based action found in games like Ultima and Wizardry, the Japanese cut their teeth on console RPGs featuring the drawn-out novellas found in Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. While the last two have established the standard for what many players consider RPGs worldwide, the former have largely remained cult attractions that many aging Americans look back upon fondly.
Lately, Microsoft has found a bit more success in Japan with the Xbox 360 through games like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, which were both designed to appeal and cater to the Japanese RPG audience. But even with several price drops and Japan-centric titles, most Japanese gamers still don’t see much of a reason to take the plunge. With the vast majority of Microsoft’s lineup consisting of American fan favorites like first-person shooters such as Halo, traditional American RPGs like Oblivion and other poorly translated and unappealing gaming fodder, Microsoft’s ship continues to slowly sink in the far East.
While it’s easy to write off the poor sales of Microsoft’s consoles to cultural tastes, I can’t help but wonder what other factors could possibly be at work. With a launch that saw only http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4517362.stm within the first two hours, and an unprecedented second launch almost three years later, something has to be up with Microsoft’s gaming division overseas.
Will the Xbox 360 ever turn around in the land of the rising sun? It depends on how much effort the computer conglomerate wants to put in. Microsoft still has a lot of backpedaling to do to make up for the original Xbox’s mediocre ports and lacking translations that left a sour taste in Japan’s mouth, while the Japanese public needs to give more American gaming standards a fighting chance. Given the popularity of other American staples like McDonald’s, Levi’s, our popular music and – most obviously – Windows, there’s still hope yet for Microsoft’s little white box.