The Xbox One’s woes in the East are hampering its chances in the West and Microsoft need to do something about it if they want to stay competitive.
What do Zakuza 0, Nioh, Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue, Dragon Quest Builders II, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, Ni No Kuni II, Danganronpa V3, Yakuza Kiwami and Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix all have in common? They’re all created by third-party Japanese studios. They’ve all released in the past 18 months. They’re all very good (some of them are excellent even). Not a single one of them has released on the Xbox One.
There’s a very obvious reason why these games haven’t landed on the Xbox One. Sales of Microsoft’s console are dire in Japan with less than 100k consoles being sold in the region to date. It’s no wonder that Japanese developers and publishers are giving the console a hard pass. It’s hardly worth porting a game for that small an install base.
Unfortunately, much of the blame for this situation lies at the feet of Microsoft themselves. History has shown that if a tech product is marketed well and is of a high quality, it’ll sell in Japan, regardless of where in the world the creators are based – various versions of the iPhone have hogged up to 75% of the mobile phone market share in Japan for years now. The old adage of “Japanese people won’t buy American products” no longer rings true. Case and point – there are more KFC restaurants per capita in Japan than compared to America.
Xbox’s woes in the East are its own making. Unlike Microsoft’s exclusive efforts with the Xbox 360 with the likes of Blue Dragon, Tenchu Z, Ninja Faiden II and Lost Odyssey, they’ve not really tried with the Xbox One. This is in stark contrast to how both the PS4 and Switch have approached this generation by catering to both Eastern and Western audiences (more on that in a second). Scalebound was obviously Microsoft’s attempt at writing that wrong but the cancellation of Platinum’s project means that the Xbox One has virtually no appeal in Japan. This has become a perpetual cycle of decline – Microsoft don’t green light products that might have appeal in Japan, the Xbox One fails to sell well in that territory, third party publishers don’t see it as a viable platform to release their games on so the console continues to sell poorly. If you look at the prospects of Sony and Nintendo, they’re exactly the opposite – they publish (and continue to green light) projects which will sell in Japan. The consoles sell well which encourage more third party publishers to bring their games to those platforms.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue for Microsoft if it wasn’t for the converging tastes of the Eastern and Western gamers. Games that have traditionally only appealed in one of the territories are now selling like hot cakes all over the globe. Monster Hunter, a series which has served as a niche for the better part of a decade, broke into the mainstream gaming subconscious with World which has now sold more than 7.5 million units worldwide. The Yazkuza series has never been more popular, not just in Japan but in the US and in Europe too. Physical stock for Yakuza 0 has been sparse meaning the game sold better than expected. NieR: Automata has officially surpassed 2.5 million sales, blowing away Squares sales expectations. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age broke its sales goals by selling more than 1 million copies on PS4. The Souls series is massive across the globe while featuring traditional Japanese game design elements.
The fact that so many Japanese publishers are passing on releasing their games on the Xbox One grants the PS4 and Switch de facto exclusives without the Japanese console manufacturers having to do anything other than support the games. The Xbox One release schedule looks barren in comparison to that of its competitors but wouldn’t if they could convince Japanese publishers to start investing in the Xbox One and releasing their games in both the East and the West.
To do that, Microsoft need to start investing themselves. Phil Spencer stated in May 2017 that “many Japanese developers are interested in developing for the Xbox One X” but as of yet, we’ve yet to see if this interest translate into actual games. By this point, Microsoft might consider Japan a lost cause for the Xbox One but their lack of investment in Japan is inadvertently costing them sales across the globe as the tastes of gamers on both sides of the Pacific continue to merge. The likes of Yakuza, Nioh, Dragons Quest, Street Fighter etc might not sell consoles in the West alone, but their collective absence on the Xbox One is enough to dissuade many from picking one up. The times, they are a-changing and if Microsoft don’t address this problem, they’ll never be truly competitive in the console market again.