It’s been a few months now since gamers in Japan learned that, unlike the majority of the developed world, they would not be enjoying next-gen consoles at home this Christmas. While both North and South America, the UK, Europe and Australia will be stroking their shiny new hardware, video game fans in Japan will be left to either play with their existing consoles or try to import.
Sony and Microsoft’s decisions to focus on Western territories for the launch of their respective new consoles certainly makes good business sense – after all, the Christmas period accounts for between 30 and 40% of annual video game sales, and the West is by far the more lucrative market – but reports here in Japan suggest that some gamers’ perception of Sony in particular has been harmed by the move, with some once loyal fans saying that they feel the company is simply “not taking things seriously” anymore.
Heal and grow
When Sony broke the news that Japan would be one of the last territories to get its new wunderbox, gamers here were understandably miffed. This is after all the land that made the PlayStation brand what it is today, embracing Sony’s original 32-bit slab when it was still very much considered the outsider and millions were swearing allegiance to Sega and Nintendo. To many, the delayed launch of PlayStation 4 until Feb 22, 2014, felt like a betrayal, and a move that told Japanese gamers exactly where they ranked in Sony’s estimations.
But with Nintendo seemingly happy to stroll lackadaisically through a fire flower-filled field of its own imagination and shrug off concerns that it is steadily losing the plot when it comes to the home console market, and Xbox One showing no signs of coming to Japan any time soon, they had no choice but to wait until Sony decided to let them join in the fun. Well, that or throw their hands up and buy a decent gaming PC.
The feeling among some gamers in Japan right now, though, is that Sony is simply not giving Japanese consumers the respect they feel they deserve, and this could harm the company’s reputation in its homeland.
In a report in Sankei Business, discussing Sony’s decision to delay the Japanese launch of PlayStation 4, one 35-year-old gamer and once ardent PlayStation fan said that when he heard that Sony wasn’t releasing the console in Japan at the same time as, well, pretty much everywhere else, he “felt like they just weren’t taking things seriously.”
It’s a curious statement to make, especially when one considers that Sony is pumping hardware into Western territories and launching a larger assault on Microsoft’s home turf than ever before, but it’s hard not to sympathise with gamers like these, who feel decidedly left out in the cold. PlayStation launch day 2013 is one big party and everyone’s invited – everyone, that is, except Japan. And when there don’t seem to be many other parties to crash since Microsoft, too, has barely shrugged in Japan’s general direction as far as Xbox One is concerned, gamers here are left to twiddle their thumbs and make do with the gear they’ve owned for the best part of 10 years.
The official line
When explaining the delay, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew House cited a desire to provide a lineup of software that would befit the Japanese market, saying: ”We need to make sure we have great games for Japanese consumers in place,” after the “February 22″ date appeared on big screens before dejected conference attendees’ eyes. It definitely makes sense to tailor software to particular markets – one only has to look at how well the PlayStation Portable, backed by a plethora of distinctly Japanese titles, fared in Japan compared to the West – but as far as hardcore Japanese gamers are concerned, this lack of Eastern titles at launch is far from important, and many have stated time and time again that they were both looking forward and perfectly happy to pick up the latest instalments of existing franchises on PS4, and didn’t mind whatsoever if they had to wait a little longer for the “Japanese” content to arrive.
Released last month in the West but only arriving in Japan a couple of weeks ago, Rockstar Games’ hugely popular "Grand Theft Auto V" has already sold a hefty 360,115 copies on PlayStation 3 alone – a franchise record – and currently sits in the number two spot in the country’s video game sales charts behind Nintendo’s mighty Pokemon X & Y, which let’s be honest would take a small miracle to dethrone right now. For a game with its roots so deep in American culture and only available with subtitles rather than a full Japanese voice track, "Grand Theft Auto V" is performing remarkably well.
It’s not just Rockstar’s car-jacking, strip joint-visiting sandbox adventure that is winning the hearts and minds of Japanese video game fans, either. Considered very much the genre of choice for many Western gamers, first-person shooters such as "Call of Duty" and "DICE’s Battlefield" games have won legions of Japanese fans over the years, performing better with each successive release. Log in to an online match in either game during Japan’s peak gaming hours and you’ll find whole lobbies full of Japanese gamers – skilled gamers – chatting it up and smack talking.
"Titanfall," the upcoming multiplayer-focused first-person shooter for PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, may well include mech-style walkers familiar to Japanese manga and anime lovers, but the gameplay is instantly familiar to Western gamers, and yet the game, along with the aforementioned "GTA V," had some of the longest lines at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, proving that games of their kind are more than welcome in Japan among the dozens of JRPGs, real-time strategy games and "Monster Hunter" titles.
PlayStation 4′s somewhat limited launch lineup may well lack any real Japanese flavor, but the majority of hardcore gamers in Japan – the kind of people most likely to be day-one adopters – would be perfectly happy to grab the latest "Call of Duty," "Battlefield" or "Assassin’s Creed" title alongside their new PS4 this December rather than be told to wait until February when the games that are supposed to appeal to them will be ready.
But of course there’s often a big difference between the official line a company gives and the cold, hard truth. That Sony simply wants to secure as much control of the U.S. and European markets as possible, not to mention the fact that it has little to fear from competitors in its native Japan where PlayStation rules the home console roost, is news to no one. Christmas is the season in which the video game industry makes its money, and Sony would be mad to miss this opportunity to capitalise and steal some gamers away from its main competitor Microsoft by getting some PlayStation 4s under Christmas trees this year, but all the while its fans back home are still feeling decidedly unhappy about being left out in the cold this festive season.
Perhaps when the PlayStation 4 finally launches in Japan next February, Sony should do something to sweeten the deal a little, or at the very least do something to make Christmas 2014 a bumper year for Japanese gamers.
Reference: Sankei Business
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