Why Xbox didn’t take off in Japan: American product in a conservative land

Take a look at the Media Create sales charts, go on… and what you will see in the Xbox 360 column is a console that is completely irrelevant in the market.

There’s a reason for this, and it begins all the way back to when Microsoft’s Bill Gates started pitching the console at Tokyo Game Show 2001–a prominent industry event that brings together all the local press and developers to cover the latest and the greatest and showcase their wares.

In 2001, Bill Gates had gone there to speak about some industry issues and also officially announce the Xbox, however, it actually became something that turned into a sales pitch, a plug for the console, according to John Greiner, ex-Hudson Entertainment president, who revealed these things to Eurogamer.

When Gates turned the tone of his speech, it apparently angered the local press and developers.

“That turned a lot of developers and publishers away,” Greiner said. “He was supposed to be talking about the industry but he was really just plugging the Xbox. Of course! That’s America.”

But that shouldn’t be a reason for Xbox’ downfall in the Japanese market, right? Of course, there were more reasons for that. It has to do with competition first and foremost where you have two established local companies in Sony and Nintendo having a complete hold over the market. What was Microsoft to do?

“Of all the countries in the world, the more we understood Japan the more we understood it was going to be difficult,” Xbox co-creator Ed Fries said. “About Japan culturally, about their long history in the video game business. There’s a cultural conformity that happens in Japan. All those things conspired to make it hard for an American product to come in and compete head to head with entrenched Japanese competitors.”

Here’s what Yosuke Hayashi, lead designer of Team Ninja, had to say about the issue. He and his studio supported the Xbox with fantastic exclusives like Ninja Gaiden, so you can say that they tried but couldn’t really do anything about it.

“There’s just something about the hardware that gets made in each region that works for that particular region, and the people there just know it and they get it. It’s a natural evolution of being created there. That’s one of the things which might have hampered Microsoft or made it one of the challenges to reach the people over here.”‘

Microsoft tried to bolster the Xbox 360 with JRPGs but didn’t succeed because most people who wanted to play games from that genre already had a PS3. However, with the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII coming to Xbox 360, things started looking great, but it was actually a PS3 exclusive in Japan.