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Author Topic: Xbox 360 Turns Japanese (interview)  (Read 86 times)


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Xbox 360 Turns Japanese (interview)
« on: June 01, 2005, 03:54:01 PM »



Xbox's Japanese bosses tell us that the 360 is all about the games in the Land of the Rising Sun

17:55 After a fizzy, celeb-stuffed unveiling on MTV and a pre-E3 press conference featuring music from the Chemical Brothers and more rock-and-roll soundbites than you could waggle an S-Pad at, it's easy to assume Xbox 360 will be the most Western-centric console ever.

But that would discount the hard work MS execs have been putting in to ensure the Xbox is on the up in Japan. With a plethora of big name Japanese developers signed on and a sleeker, more Eastern market-friendly design wrapped around the hardware, 360 is determined to take on the might of Nintendo and Sony in Japan.

So it was a special pleasure to be able to speak about Xbox 360's Japanese launch with Yoshihiro Maruyama, general manager for Xbox Japan, and Mike Fischer, marketing manager for Xbox Japan. Both have extensive experience in the Japanese videogames market (Maruyama was previously CEO of SquareSoft, while Fischer was vice president of marketing for Sega of America) and understand the subtle difference between East and West.

Interestingly, as we discussed the poor reception of Xbox 1 in Japan and how 360 would signal a new dawn for MS in the Land of the Rising Sun, it became clear that Xbox 360 is all about the games. Now where have we heard that before?

Do you feel there is a cynicism towards Xbox in Japan, and if so how can you overcome it?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: I don't think there is. Yes, so PlayStation and Nintendo sell more consoles than us in Japan, but I don't think that's necessarily because Japanese gamers are suspicious of MS as a company. There are many factors, including the fact that our share of retail space in Japanese game stores is very small. Another problem for us is that most Japanese households will only have one game console, and that makes it difficult for us to penetrate these households.

So the real problem is that most Japanese gamers haven't even touched an Xbox! It's not that they're cynical about us, they just haven't noted that we're in the marketplace. With Xbox 360 we're looking hard at how we can overcome that and make Japanese gamers sit up and take notice - with our marketing and our partnerships with Japanese developers we're really making an impact.

Mike Fischer: The interesting thing about the Japanese market is that Japanese gamers are quite immune to what we view as successful marketing methods in the West. They don't choose a games console in the same way that some people choose to wear a pair of Adidas or Nikes. When we asked Japanese gamers what informed their choice of console they told us they would choose whichever one had the games they wanted to play. So that boils down to what console has Final Fantasy. If two consoles have Final Fantasy, they'll choose the one with the greatest variety of Final Fantasy games.

The Japanese gamer is very sophisticated. They understand the console is a means for delivering videogame entertainment, and they'll choose the one that delivers the videogame entertainment they want. We didn't have that with Xbox 1, but with Xbox 360 we're addressing that from the very beginning.

So that's why you've been so active in signing up big name Japanese developers?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: Indeed. We can't have a successful piece of hardware if the software isn't there. That's why we have Okamoto, Mizuguchi and Sakaguchi involved. That's why we have Square Enix involved. These are the type of game developers the Japanese consumer knows and admires, so we have been very active in ensuring that they want to create games for Xbox 360. The wonderful thing about this approach is that these names are also very well respected around the world, so their involvement also benefits the console in other territories.

How do you view the strengths of the different console brand names in Japan?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: Well, I think Sony has done the best job of establishing a brand and bringing it to the attention of the Japanese public. Everything is PlayStation. Playstation 2 powered the brand forward, and also took the brand to new consumers by playing DVDs. You know, the PS2 sold better as a DVD player than a games console when it came out in Japan, and that really helped to spread the brand name. Now we have PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable. That's something we lacked with Xbox, because it was a new brand. Now we're coming from a stronger position, and we've strengthened the brand by calling our new machine Xbox 360. You'll notice MS is not mentioned any more. It's Xbox. That's the brand.

Nintendo, on the other hand... well, Nintendo will always be Nintendo. It's a historic brand not only in Japan but also around the world. But I think we established a strong brand two years ago and we'll continue to keep pushing that forward in Japan.

Do you think The Nintendo Revolution can compete in the next phase of the console wars?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: I think Nintendo is a very unique company. It has a very strong, successful history and a special place in the hearts of Japanese gamers. [Laughs] They can easily afford to launch a new console in Japan!

We are coming from a slightly different position. We have to prove ourselves to the Japanese gamer. That's a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge.

And is it important that you beat Sony to market?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: It's one element of what will make Xbox 360 successful in Japan. On a pure numerical level, PlayStation 2 had already sold 1.5 million units in Japan before we came to market with Xbox 1 - as well as all the PlayStation 1s that were out there - so that was a very difficult lead for us to claw back. We won't have that disadvantage this time, and that is important.

How do you think the Xbox 360 design will affect sales in Japan?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: It's hard to say because design is such a subjective thing. Some people will say it's great. Others won't. But hopefully more will say it's great! Ultimately, for Japan this design is much better. It was designed in consultation with Japanese designers and consumers and it fits the Japanese household far better.

Mike Fischer: Personally I think it's going to be very interesting to see how the whole customisation thing plays in Japan. And I'm not just talking about the faceplates. The whole console has been designed to suit your style of play. If you want to play aggressively you can choose to play with aggressive players. If you want to play only with players from Japan, you can. It's a totally integrated approach to gaming, from inside to outside - we didn't just throw a bunch of components together. I think the Japanese gamer will really appreciate that.

Yoshihiro Maruyama: Ultimately this is an entertainment business. While the design of the box is important, it's the software that will make or break a console. That's why, alongside everything else, we are so focussed on the software for Xbox 360.

Is multifunctionality an important selling point for Japanese consumers?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: Well, I think everyone likes one machine that can do everything. If you can keep all your entertainment in one place life is much easier - and it saves you money on DVD players, stereos and the rest! But again, for Japanese gamers buying a games console, it is the games that are most important. We can't rely on the PS2 DVD effect any more. So we have to give people the games they want, and then the console becomes a multimedia machine once it's in their living room.

Mike Fischer: To go back to a good point Maruyama-san has already made, the PS2 sold better as a DVD player when it came out in Japan. The Matrix DVD was the best selling PS2 product for months! Now, that's great for Sony, but bad for the videogame industry. In fact, the videogame industry has not grown in the PS2 era. So while multifunctionality can definitely help in the Japanese market it should not and will not be the primary motivator for Xbox 360 in Japan.

Why has the Japanese game market stagnated, and what can Xbox 360 do to stir it up?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: There are two reasons for the stagnation. Once is that Japanese consumers are trading games through game shops more now than ever. So they may still be buying as many games as before, but they are not buying new games off the shelf. That in turn harms new game sales. The other reason is that development costs have risen steeply, so while gamers are still spending money developers are struggling to make profitable projects. That's why we're doing our best to facilitate Xbox 360 development in Japan and around the world, because without games we have nothing.

Mike Fischer: The best thing for the Japanese games industry right now is competition between console manufacturers. Competition means innovation, and innovation gets more people interested in gaming again. I think it's fair to say the competition in Japan has been fairly stagnant over the last few years. Our arrival on the scene with Xbox 360 will shake things up and make things better for all gamers.

Yoshihiro Maruyama: Our ultimate goal with to bring the Japanese consumer back to gaming, back to the gaming experience. By doing that I think Xbox 360 will open up the Japanese gaming market for the better.


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