Why can't Microsoft sell Xbox consoles and games in Japan?

While Microsoft has sold tens of millions of Xbox game consoles in North American and European market, the company has had little success in selling Xbox consoles and games in Japan, home to Sony and Nintendo. Indeed, a report back in 2011 stated that the Xbox 360 console had only sold 1.5 million units in Japan since its launch six years before. Today, a new and extensive article takes a look at the reasons why Microsoft has failed to break into the game console hotbed of Japan.

Eurogamer's feature features a number of people who worked at Microsoft in 2001 for the launch of the original Xbox, including former third party developer head Kevin Bachus and former head of Microsoft Game Studios Ed Fries. They tell stories of Japanese developers who were afraid of upsetting Sony and Nintendo. Fries also indicated there were cultural differences. He said:

We were told we couldn't call it the Xbox because X is the letter of death. We were told we couldn't make it black because black is the color of death. I was like, isn't the PlayStation black? Rules that apply to you as an outsider don't necessarily apply to insider products.

This year, Microsoft decided not to attend the annual Tokyo Game Show for the first time since the original Xbox launched. However, Fries believes that Microsoft should continue to try to break into the Japanese market for the next version of the console. He believes Sony is weaker than it has been in the past and that Nintendo is sticking with low powered hardware for its Wii U. He added: "There's room for it to be the biggest, most powerful machine. With the Japanese game market not as strong, maybe Japanese gamers are more open to western content."

Source: Eurogamer | Image via Eurogamer

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Ofc. they can't sell when using a picture with Bill Gates as above, most boys and men would feel gay buying such a box, and most girls/women don't exactly see the man as a "sex symbol" either.

Who cares about Japan. Sell to China and India with downloadable titles so piracy isn't an issue.

There is huge money in China and India to be made. Japan is all about mobiles and who cares, it's Japan.

Even Sony is going to be suffering in Japan next year when they launch the PS4, it's Japan.

We were told we couldn't call it the Xbox because X is the letter of death.

Are those people for real? It's almost 2013 for heaven's sake. I'm glad the Dutch culture doesn't suffer from that degree of superstition...

If more japanese game developers bring popular series onto the Xbox then maybe theres a chance.
Maybe they need to research the japanese market more to see what most gamers there want.

Somehow if I want a console I would buy a PS3 and not a Xbox
It all about the games not so much about the console.

why don't Microsoft just create a Japanese company to sell the product? let 100% Japanese run the company.

call it ChiisanaSoft or something. and make some crazy Japanese commercials.

The Japanese know great consoles
Rofl @ the Bill Gates pic with cheeseburger and original Xbox -- errr, DeathBox controller.
edit: can anyone translate what the top right of the picture says?

Edited by Tha Bloo Monkee, Dec 14 2012, 11:39pm :

Tha Bloo Monkee said,
edit: can anyone translate what the top right of the picture says?

The literal translation is "We met at a rare place."

I've never been terribly good at understanding Japanese slogans (and I work in the marketing section of a Japanese company...), however I expect the suggestion is that you can meet Bill Gates eating a burger and playing Xbox.

Just to follow-up:

I asked one of my Japanese colleagues if he could understand the meaning of the caption:

"It's unlikely that we would ever meet Bill Gates at a burger shop, but we could meet at a rare place. Also, the shape of Xbox controller looks a little bit like a hamburger."

Then he said this:

"To be honest, I also don't really understand what the caption means".

Terrific marketing!

I think Japanese are not interested to see an US company succeeding, and especially
Microsoft, while they have been the leaders in video games for many years.
All the remaining: X letter, black color, cultural difference are pretext, or even lies.

S7R1K3R said,
Apple does very well in Japan so there goes your theory.

Apple doesn't offer a video gaming console, and I don't think the games on the ipad could be considered as serious.
EDIT: For a long time, Video Game has been considered as a part of "Japanese culture". That's why an outside company is perceived as an intruder.

bigmehdi said,
I think Japanese are not interested to see an US company succeeding,

If you were strictly talking about gaming consoles then be more descriptive, Although I do agree with you in that the "culture" over there is being prejudice towards an outside gaming manufacturer.

I always wondered why Microsoft didn't open a Japanese game division where the essentially gave them seed money, the japanese run studio hire who they wanted, and made any game they wanted without having to get US Microsoft approval, and the only right MS would have is the ability to import it in to the united states.

As long it start's turning a profit, have a hands off / import option.

Samsumg had to pull out of Japan as well. This is not something particular to MS. It's simply hard for a foreign company to break into Japan.

I general think that because Sony and Nintendo are Japanese companies and are very similar to the Xbox that developers don't want a US company taking over the market in Japan. Its a racial/county bride.

ACTIONpack said,
I general think that because Sony and Nintendo are Japanese companies and are very similar to the Xbox that developers don't want a US company taking over the market in Japan. Its a racial/county bride.

Japenese aren't that xenophobic, seems that quite a few people think that.
The Xbox doesn't sell because it doesn't have any of the major Japanese gaming titles.
Sony's main market is Japan.
Microsoft's main market is US. (not even EU -.- fu MS)
Go to a japense gaming store, and you will find titles you have NEVER heard of, nor ever will.

Microsoft should have bought Sega... Their games library alone would have been a great asset (For the US too)...

But in all seriousness, as much as I would love for Microsoft to keep Sega going, I can't really picture the Japanese market supporting a non Japanese company. I guess maybe if an acquisition like Sega had occurred, but I honestly don't know. They're very committed to home grown brands...

Blackhearted said,
I wouldn't want that to happen. Microsoft would end up completely ruining sega like they did rare.

You can ruin sega? I thought they already did this

Nah Sega shot themselves in the foot, too many consoles too fast...
Also lets not forget, the original Playstation was intended to be a cd drive addon for the SNES, like the mega cd was for Sega, NOW HURRY UP AND MAKE THE BAYONETTA SEQUEL!

nub said,

You can ruin sega? I thought they already did this

Nah, they haven't quite done that. Unlike rare, sega has still managed to release some good games over the past 10 years.

MS has never been really serious about securing big japanese exclusive titles.

Of course people in japan will support local products first. You need to give them reasons to buy your product over Sony and Nintendo.

I loved my XBox. I kinda liked my 360s. But the lack of original console type titles really bothers me. Most 360 games are avalaible on PC and are your typical american action/war game.

I wish the 360 would have more games like Journey and Little Big planet.

LaP said,
MS has never been really serious about securing big japanese exclusive titles.

Of course people in japan will support local products first. You need to give them reasons to buy your product over Sony and Nintendo.

I loved my XBox. I kinda liked my 360s. But the lack of original console type titles really bothers me. Most 360 games are avalaible on PC and are your typical american action/war game.

I wish the 360 would have more games like Journey and Little Big planet.


^this.
My reason for sticking with Sony for my gaming console/handheld needs is exactly this.
The weird fun games you will never see on xbox or PC's here in Europe or in the US.
Just because these are games primarily developed for the Japanese/Asian market and we're basically handed a simple translated copy of their game.

Another nice and recent released game like that Eador Genesis was Korean(I think) only for many many years and thanks to GOG.com translated to English (funny tho, multiplayer is 'several player' and other little funny translations)

But indeed, 'our' western games like far cry, CoD, GoW... its all the same bogus
just shooting people, some gore. different set of weapons/cameo's/models and its an entirely new game millions of people will buy and be hooked onto.

Where I still come across south-east Asian games every now and then (when they are translated, I don't speak any Asian language ) and I must say, some of the most unique and challenging games where from Japan.
Western platform games, shooters etc.
its all the same, same idea, same style. just a new coat and people will buy, this has been going on for years now. As the "Casual Gamer" ruined gaming. (stop buying junk people, please start with that yearly release of CoD that has gone quite unchanged for years now, except that it became easier and easier every release for noobs and skilless 10 year olds to have killing sprees and have the occasional match they totally own in.
Go back 1,5 decades. give them UT and no way that without skills you could EVER be in the first 3 of the game when it comes to score.
I never really play CoD (nor any shooter on a frigging console) but when I do, it often happens i'm in the top 3.
Its not worth anything to 'win' in CoD. But for allot of people they want simple gameplay, no skills involved and just want to feel like they are owning other people, to increase their selfreflection.

That's our gaming market

Now look at the Japanese gaming market, many 'simple' games for them, are hard for us.

Western games, for years now, with every game as standard, I set difficulty to hard or whatever its called, as long as it isn't easy/medium or that. And gone through the GoW campaign on hard the first time together with a friend who plays console shooters all day, who played it on normal -.-
anywho, many Japanese games I really have to start on easy/medium, just because they are actually allot harder to understand or figure out. Puzzles can be a pain.
Not the big giant f*ing arrow on your head telling you exactly where to go.
Or icons appearing over clickable/moveable objects.
Or the checkpoints every 10 seconds.

Ah well, our western gamer market sucks anyways to much brainless 'for the masses' games that don't require any skill, knowledge or tactical thinking NONE WHAT SO EVER ~.~

Japan is about the most xenophobic culture on Earth. It's expected that they won't accept anything that doesn't fall into their long-running Japanese Video Game company paradigm.

Also got to take into account that if your friends all have Nintendo's or PS3's then you will probably get the same thing.

I think the problem stemmed from the advertisement piece shown in the article with Bill Gates. They are used to cute anime characters, not scary men in their adverts.

maybe if the box had 30 red / pink / white / purple colors on it in anime fashion and had sayings like "play fast good time game fun fun yes?" written on it it might of sold better... I don't know how many Japanese things I've seen done exactly like that...

neufuse said,
maybe if the box had 30 red / pink / white / purple colors on it in anime fashion and had sayings like "play fast good time game fun fun yes?" written on it it might of sold better... I don't know how many Japanese things I've seen done exactly like that...

So Windows 8 packaging?

Because asian tend to be true to their home brands. But the hypocrisy is staggering. Black is the color of death? Death has no color you ignorant morons. And yes the PS3 is black too.

X is the letter if death? Really? I thought it was just another letter in the English alphabet. Out of all the words I can think of that start with X, none have death as their definition.

The Japan language doesn't have letters, like the ABC that we know, so for them X doesn't mean it's a random letter from the alphabet, it could actually have a meaning. So therefore all the words you thought about that start with an X that have no meaning to the Death really doesn't have any fundamentals (to them).

Love how you call the Japanese ignorant morons, when just because black may not represent death in YOUR country, don't mean everywhere else is like that. Most countries have black for death, why do you think people wear black to funerals? Because it's a slimming colour?

But it's a stupid thing to allow people in your own home country to make black consoles, and not outsiders. But if anyone is an ignorant moron it's you.

1Pixel said,
Love how you call the Japanese ignorant morons, when just because black may not represent death in YOUR country, don't mean everywhere else is like that. Most countries have black for death, why do you think people wear black to funerals? Because it's a slimming colour?

But it's a stupid thing to allow people in your own home country to make black consoles, and not outsiders. But if anyone is an ignorant moron it's you.

So what, is a [black] [X]box going to bring death upon a family?
+1 on the ignorant morons. I'm sure it's not ALL of them, but those who believe this are.

MidTxWRX said,

So what, is a [black] [X]box going to bring death upon a family?
+1 on the ignorant morons. I'm sure it's not ALL of them, but those who believe this are.


So people in a different country think different then you. So they are the ignorant morons?

People are different, and every person believes in something that will not make any sense to someone else. You have beliefs and views that will sound hilarious to me and many others.
Keep it to yourself man. In Japan common believe is still strong. But here in 'our' _normal_ western world we will look just as sily and ignorant as those Japanese do to you.

Just because a belief in a country differs from yours, doesn't make them ignorant idiots. You thinking they are ignorant idiots for their belief, makes you an ignorant idiot.

Besides the fact that you shouldn't even be judging a different culture to begin with.

Shadowzz said,

So people in a different country think different then you. So they are the ignorant morons?

People are different, and every person believes in something that will not make any sense to someone else. You have beliefs and views that will sound hilarious to me and many others.
Keep it to yourself man. In Japan common believe is still strong. But here in 'our' _normal_ western world we will look just as sily and ignorant as those Japanese do to you.

Just because a belief in a country differs from yours, doesn't make them ignorant idiots. You thinking they are ignorant idiots for their belief, makes you an ignorant idiot.

Besides the fact that you shouldn't even be judging a different culture to begin with.

I can see what you mean but I still think they're ignorant. Maybe calling them morons was out of line, but they fit the bill of being ignorant.

Ignorant: Lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.

It's the same as someone claiming that the sun coming up each day is the work of the sun god. We're intelligent enough these days to know that its earth's rotation that makes it seem like the sun is moving. If someone believes otherwise, they can be seen as ignorant.

freedonX said,
The Japan language doesn't have letters, like the ABC that we know, so for them X doesn't mean it's a random letter from the alphabet, it could actually have a meaning. So therefore all the words you thought about that start with an X that have no meaning to the Death really doesn't have any fundamentals (to them).

The Japanese do have an alphabet as they have to have a basis for their lettering. I believe they dont have an equal to X as we know it to be, but that doesnt make it any less relevant.

Its moronic thinking based on my opinion. Its a sad excuse not to buy an Xbox.

While I agree that Japanese favor their own, and who can blame them, they also have very eclectic tastes in games as well as some unacceptably erotic tastes in games that wouldn't play well in the States at all. It's complicated I'm sure.

MorganX said,
While I agree that Japanese favor their own, and who can blame them, they also have very eclectic tastes in games as well as some unacceptably erotic tastes in games that wouldn't play well in the States at all. It's complicated I'm sure.

meh, their taste is fine.
All Microsoft would have to do is allow them to produce it and sell it.
People can stuff their narrow-mindedness elsewhere and accept that choice is good.

Sony has those games, no reason for Microsoft to play a different game.

Also, mostly those titles wouldn't make it to the prude States, so who cares anyways.

Open up Microsoft, don't underestimate that quirky sh** is big in Japan.

Btw: I'm like that myself and would love to play it on my Xbox 360, guess my next console (if there will be one) will be a Playstation again.

GS:mac

If you've been in Japan you know that they don't respect foreigners, they won't tell your nor show but every Japanese has some degree of xenophobia.

The word Gaijin has many contexts although it is more commonly used to refer to someone not native to the country you can surprise many native residents by talking native Japanese properly. Gaijin may also refer to someone who is not part of a group or is otherwise unwelcome.

[quote[If you've been in Japan you know that they don't respect foreigners, they won't tell your nor show but every Japanese has some degree of xenophobia.[/quote]
That's very American of them.

KSib said,
Don't act like you don't know that ~50% of release date XBox consoles failed.

Quoted for truth. Just about most people I know have gone through three 360s on average before having switched to PS3 or PC gaming. (and no, I don't hate the 360, I'm just being honest here)

Agree on the article, they should keep trying in the Japanese market, though I figure, having xboxes boxed up in a foreign country is bad as they're just sitting assets?

Draconian Guppy said,
Agree on the article, they should keep trying in the Japanese market, though I figure, having xboxes boxed up in a foreign country is bad as they're just sitting assets?

Except that Sony is a well established player there.
Sony offers countless and countless of Japanese only games for the PS2/PS3/PSP/Vita which Xbox does NOT.
MS just jealous, considering the Japanese (include korea/china and other parts of Asia too) market is large enough for Sony to keep running their Playstation division on, without the desperate need of the western market. Gaming is so incredibly huge in south-eastern asia compared to here
Ah well, besides that Sony is an Asian company, and its not the easiest task for a Western company to penetrate the Japanese market.
But of course MS wants a piece of this markets pie. But will they get it? Doubt it tho. Maybe in a few generations. But not any time soon

How well could sony be doing if the 3DS has already surpassed the PS3 in lifetime sales and the Vita has been sluggish at best. I think if Microsoft starts getting solid Japan only games it could take 2nd place.