Phil Spencer recently made a comment in Famitsu – which we reported on earlier – that he has not yet given up on the Japanese market for Xbox. Japan, he stated, remains an important market for the Xbox, even though it’s not the biggest, and he said, ‘I will never give up [on Japan].’ It’s an admirable sentiment, and we have to laud him for the resolve he is exhibiting in trying to make Xbox a thing in the country. Unfortunately, it’s a pointless exercise- and not necessarily for the reasons you think it is.
First, let’s have a primer- Xbox has literally never done well in Japan. Ever. The original Xbox saw a strong push in Japan, with a dedicated advertising campaign, as well as widespread support from a lot of Japanese developers and publishers. However, Microsoft had little understanding of the Japanese market, and failed to market it appropriately, which combined with the Japanese market’s natural mistrust for foreign products, led to shockingly low sales for the system- 450,000 sold lifetime.
The Xbox 360 did better- in part because of Microsoft’s push to secure some meaningful Japanese content for the system. This included anticipated games like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and of course, Tales of Vesperia. These games, combined with smaller niche Japanese games that were beginning to find a market on it, as well as a growing appreciation for western games, secured 1.6 million units sold for the Xbox 360 by the time the console was discontinued there.
The Xbox One, on the other hand, has been an utter disaster. Since its launch in Japan almost three years ago, the system has sold less than 100,000 units. Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and even the Wii U, have had weeks where they outsold the system’s entire lifetime sales in the country in one single week. It’s been a trainwreck of utter proportions.
“Since its launch in Japan almost three years ago, the Xbox One has sold less than 100,000 units.”
It is extremely easy to blame Japan for Xbox’s failure and consistent struggles in the country. However, this would be entirely missing the stark realities of the situation- the fact of the matter is, in spite of Phil Spencer’s repeated promises for the Japan market, Microsoft has very clearly given up on making any headway with Xbox in the country.
This is extremely evident in a variety of ways- there is little, if any marketing, for the Xbox in Japan, to the extent that the brand may as well not exist there. Exclusive Japanese game support, such as of the kind that Nintendo and PlayStation get easily, and of the kind that Microsoft used to fight for not so long ago with the Xbox and Xbox 360, simply is not a factor this generation. And, perhaps, most importantly, is the fact that Xbox Japan doesn’t even make an effort to ensure a stream of steady releases on the Xbox One in the country.
Major Japanese games that have Xbox versions – there are still multiplatform games, such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Valkyria Revolution, among others – only release on PlayStation in Japan, with the Xbox version not releasing at all in the country, and only releasing to have wider coverage with western sales. This is something that goes back all the way to Xbox 360’s ultimate Japan related coup – securing Final Fantasy 13, which was deemed to be PS3 exclusive, as a multiplatform game, but which did not launch on Xbox 360 in Japan until long after its initial release on PS3 – and the problem has grown worse over time.
“Not only do Japanese games skip a release on Xbox in Japan, western games do, too- games like Destiny and Batman: Arkham Knight are among two of the most prominent examples of major western games launching as PlayStation exclusives in Japan.”
In fact, the problem is now worse than ever, because not only do Japanese games skip a release on Xbox in Japan, western games do, too- games like Destiny and Batman: Arkham Knight are among two of the most prominent examples of major western games launching as PlayStation exclusives in Japan. Microsoft’s own releases are often delayed for the Xbox One in Japan as well- as an example, Gears of War 4 launched in Japan far later than it did in the rest of the world. The reason was apparently a ratings issue for the game, which is understandable- but when your release slate is already as paltry as Xbox One’s is in Japan, then every major delay or omission hurts.
So, Microsoft has minimal marketing for the Xbox One, major multiplatform games skipping Xbox One versions in the country, and often, their own games getting delayed as well. From their inability to secure much Japanese support (plus the well publicized Scalebound debacle), one can assume their developer relations in the country are not that great, either. So, we are left with a console that has no appeal in Japan to anyone– players who like handheld games can pick up a 3DS, players who like mainstream Japanese games will pick up a Switch or a PS4, and players who like western games will definitely pick up a PS4. The Xbox One has appeal for- who, exactly?
Is it any wonder that the console sells less than a thousand units a week in Japan, sometimes less than a thousand units a month? Is it any wonder that its games don’t chart, and most of the wider public probably isn’t even aware of Xbox One? Is it any wonder, when Microsoft has been unwilling to put in the effort into Japan like they once did, and squandered the momentum and goodwill they were building with the Xbox 360?
“The common refrain goes that Japan does not like foreign products- and yet, Apple products continue to outsell all competing domestic ones on a weekly basis in Japan, and Disney’s pop culture cachet in the country is immense.”
So why bother even keeping a minimal presence there? Why is Xbox even officially released or supported in the country, when Microsoft clearly does not intend to do much with it there? Presumably, for optics purposes. Japan is a major gaming market, and Xbox simply not releasing there would not be a good look for it. Add to that the fact that a major portion of the industry’s leading developers and publishers are still Japanese, and you do understand why Microsoft probably finds it necessary to keep at least a minimal presence there.
But no, in the end, the failure of Xbox in Japan is on Microsoft not willing to put in the consistent effort that would have ensured success for the brand there eventually, not on Japan. The common refrain goes that Japan does not like foreign products- and yet, Apple products continue to outsell all competing domestic ones on a weekly basis in Japan, and Disney’s pop culture cachet in the country is immense. Had Microsoft put forth the effort to market to Japan appropriately, and to keep at it once they started generating some goodwill and momentum, they might have been in a very different place- historically, Sega never did well in Japan whatsoever, with the Master System and Genesis both bombing there. Sheer persistence ensured that Sega ultimately struck gold with the Saturn in Japan- even as the Saturn bombed in the rest of the world, it went on to be a great success in the Land of the Rising Sun, outselling Nintendo’s N64, and briefly, even the PlayStation.
Microsoft could have accomplished that. But they didn’t put forth the sustained effort necessary. The result is that they are virtually non existent in an extremely major gaming market, and they are missing out on reaping the benefits that a resurgent Japan in gaming is currently leading to for Nintendo and PlayStation.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.