Sony vs. Nintendo (feat. Microsoft)

If you look at this week's top 10 software sales chart, as reported on Gamasutra, you might be shocked to find all positions taken by DS games. Especially the much anticipated Final Fantasy III remake sold a staggering half a million units in its first week. Indeed, on its launch day there were queues at many stores reminiscent of new hardware releases.

So it would seem, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Nintendo has the Japanese market in its pocket. But does that mean the assured success of the Wii when it is released? Well, no. The proposed price point of the PS3 does that.

The Japanese market is notoriously difficult to fathom for us Western observers, so all the insight I can offer here is from personal observation and conversations with my colleagues and friends. This is not by any means a representative sample of the population, but could offer some insights nonetheless.

The PS3 is simply too expensive. Japan does have its fair share of gadgets and new technology, but at the same time it isn't a very cheap place to live. The bubble burst quite a while back and the economy remains in a slump. No one with kids, who are expensive to feed, clothe and school, and a wife and possibly older relatives to support, a mortgage and insurance to pay is going to be happy to slap down 60,000 Yen for a games console, even if it is supposed to turn into a media center. Ok, so they release is roundabout the time when Japanese companies pay their end of year bonuses, which will mean a lot of people will have some spare cash in their pockets. They may pull off a few sales in that period, but it looks a bit bleaker for the months after that when 60k is a big lump of any family's monthly income.

Nintendo, on the other hand, appears to be successful in its approach of offering novelty and innovation, rather than power. Japanese games sell well with a particular graphical style, rather than by being able to push a billion polys a second. Normalmaps, HDR, high definition don't really mean hat much to the local markets as they may do in the West.

The main reason the DS has triumphed over here is due o the fact Nintendo are offering the kinds of games the consumers actually want. I am reminded of the new year period earlier this year. In stead of Christmas Japanese kids get some money to spend in the new year, so this is an important period for retailers. Around that time Nintendo had the still new DS, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Nintendogs and many more games. Sony was pushing its PSP with its new title: Talkman. It was a sorry sight to see the PSP stand empty and forlorn as hundreds of kids were clambering over themselves to get their DS kicks at our nearest Toys'r'us.

You may think everyone in Japan plays games all the time; this is a popular misconception. I only see a DS whipped out on the train about twice a week, usually by middle-aged salary-men. PSPs, on the other hand, I only spot about once a month.

So, Nintendo has "won" the mobile market. I'm loathe to make predictions on the next generation consoles, but if I have to hazard a guess, my money is firmly on the Wii. I don't think the PS3 will be an outright failure though; I'm sure it'll still have respectable sales in Japan but probably not as many to make Sony an undisputed victor.

And what about Microsoft in all of this? Ah, bless, poor old Microsoft. They are trying, really trying. They have made a much better effort with the XBox360 in Japan than they ever did with the XBox, and still it is right at the bottom of the sales charts there. To date I know of one colleague who bought one, only recently. When I ask others if they plan to buy one they don't say "it's too expensive" or "God no", they just sort of shrug and go "nah..."
Currently Microsoft are working closely with some Japanese developers to create some titles that will hopefully lure a few more consumers to its admittedly worthy console. Seeing as most of its library consists of Western games the XBox360 is losing out on a lot of draw due to the lack of interest in Western games in Japan at the moment. Should this ever change in the short term Microsoft will probably find themselves in a better position than Sony does right now. At the very least they seem to have a healthier attitude towards fixing the problems as opposed to Sony's tactic of sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "it will sell, it will sell!".

Only time will tell. I do predict that the end of the year will be a very interesting period for all three major players, as well as the consumers.

1 comment:

  1. I'll also put in my 2 cents worth about the PS3 (as another foreigner working in a game company in Japan) about people thinking it to be too expensive in Japan even for the cheap version (the expensive version is open priced, and it's widely speculated to be priced at 80,000yen or more). None of my collegues will go and buy the PS3 and are taking the wait and see approach, keep in mind that we are talking about a gaming company where you randomly point a finger at someone and you will very likely be pointing at a hardcore gamer in the traditional sense - th people who would take paid leave just so they can sit at home to finish a RPG or come in late on a Thursday morning because they were lining up to get a game. You would think that the amount of disinterest in this core group of potential purchasers should be flashing code reds to the people of Sony, yet somehow they just don't seem to care.

    I really feel sorry for Microsoft because the lack of Japanese titles is really not their fault as many outsiders would like to claim, it's the classic Catch-22 situation, Japanese developers unwilling to develop games for it because they don't see the market (because they actually do think that the tune Sony is singing, that the PS3 will win regardless, again, is going to come true), yet that's the exact reason why there is no market for the 360 because they're not developing for it! And it's not like Microsoft is trying to shove Western games down the throats of the Japanese, rather it's just that they have to release something, and Western games is all they have to release in their Library. I really hope that this would change, but I'm not optimistic.