Japanese gamers feeling left out in the cold as new consoles launch elsewhere

By Philip Kendall

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

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Sony explains decision to delay PlayStation 4 in its homeland -- Sony Unveils its Vision for the Future of Video Games -- Microsoft does complete U-turn on Xbox One used game restrictions

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Well... I Japan at all cared about the Xbox 360 this wouldn't happen. Japan will only buy Japanese things. BUT competition runs the market. Numbers have to be met, so all alaviabled units are being sent to markets where competition actually matters. In the USA the 360 out the PS3 3:2. Only because of Japan which sold nearly 23 million ps3 and only 2 million xbox 360 did Ps3 tie the 360 in total world sales. Japan needs to get over its "We only buy Japanese stuff". They were late accepting apple products into their market. Samasung is the fastest growing TV company in the world. Making the some of the best and cheapest stuff in the world .NOT SOLD HERE. Hyndai cars is growing like wild fire as well. Not sold here at all. Western Digital harddrives took AGES to come over here. Creative still doesn't sell products here. You have 3 choices for MPS3 players. Sony. big surprise. Apple, So expensive. or Cheap Chinese junk. I am sorry. I say Japan brought this on them selves. If they had a less racist and more open markert they would have ps4 all the same as everyone else, if not even earlier!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Why would Sony even try in Japan? It's a guaranteed captured market and not a battleground. Wise decision to fight it out vs Xbox in the US/Europe/parts of Asia.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

This is how I look at this: You can get almost anything in English. If it exists, there's most likely somebody with the talent and knowledge to release an English version of it. The sheer volume of people in the world that are fluent in English and with "enough" of whatever native language to make translations is staggering. (Legal releases or not)

Not so much in translating to Japanese.

It used to be most of the old consoles (SNES/Sega/etc) and games came out in Japan first. Some games never even made it over to the states. This was of course because those games were made in Japanese and then translated to English (or whatever) after if it was deemed A) easy or B) cheap or C) profitable.

Now gaming has become mainsteam, more game companies exist outside Japan. Add that to the fact that many games now have significantly more complex stories and dialog, much of which is spoken/recorded and the A) B) and C) just aren't as simple as they used to be.

It could also be due to factors inakaRob said, but I think it's much more due to the infrastructure and migration process to Japanese from English.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yeah, its ironic how in the dark Japan seems to be when it comes to gaming nowadays. Mentioning World of Warcraft or anything at all made by Blizzard is met with blank stares. And of course the Halo series, another iconic franchise that nobody knows about. But I suppose it's no surprise, just another example of how closed the country still is.

I know you can't tell people what to like, but in a country where people arguably have gaming in their DNA, literally and figuratively, and who love RPGs and Monster Hunter types, why aren't other MMO's, especially the most successful one in history, big here?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Completely agree that Sony has to put its resources into fighting the Xbox in the larger western markets, since Japan is already won.

I'm visiting relatives in Japan for New Year and will be taking a PS4 over for them as a surprise present, can't wait to see their reaction!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps it's a strategy to counter effects of tax hike in April since less people might be buying it thereafter?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I knew this would happen eventually, if I was living in Japan and I heard that Sony delayed PS4 release in Japan, I would feel the same rage as other Japanese gamers are feeling right now.

The new console is already won by many Japanese gamers hearts. I don't see the reason to delay it till next February. Sales would skyrocket there on launch date.

I feel for you Japanese Gamers, its a shame that Sony decided to give you something that was made in your country to Western market first.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I feel I've barely got ANY use out of my PS3 and now the PS4 is here. If I wanted it bad enough I could get it from Amazon USA or eBay as others could as well.

There aren't any games that are must haves or exclusive to make me go camping outside for one.

Don't get me wrong, I DO want one but I have a huge backlog of games and I7m still getting all kinds of use out of my 360 and PS3.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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