Something About Japan: Microsoft’s Xbox One gameplan

Microsoft Japan held a press briefing this week on its plans for fiscal 2014, and game news site 4gamer.net took the opportunity to question three key execs on the company’s policy here for Xbox One – which was barely mentioned in the strategy presentation itself.

First to be grilled was Yasuyuki Higuchi, president and CEO of Microsoft Japan, who explained that Japan is a “Tier 2” country and will therefore get the Xbox One later than “Tier 1” regions such as the US and Europe.

“(Xbox One) is geared towards a Western lifestyle, and we’re looking at whether or not to launch it ‘as is’ in Japan,” said Higuchi. “We’re still figuring out how to deal with things like music and video services in each country. To be honest, (releasing it in Japan) as is would be difficult.”

When pressed, Higuchi later said that the Japan release will not come in 2013, “but it will not be delayed very much behind the US,” suggesting an early 2014 release.

The article points out that while Xbox One has been created around the concept of the Xbox as the centre of the living room, 360 owners in Japan tend to be hardcore gamers only, and they are more likely to have their console in their bedroom rather than the living room. Indeed, many people in Japan live at home until marriage, and spiralling wedlock rates mean that many do not get a living room of their own until they are much older.

“More than that, in Japan it is the case that gamers are stepping away from their consoles and using tablets and smartphones to play games instead,” said Higuchi. “It will be difficult to expand the volume of consoles in the living room. I’m also looking at Sony’s movements, but Nintendo and so on must be finding things rather difficult.”

Higuchi listed Xbox One’s improved Kinect, designed to work more accurately and in tighter confines and to better recognise voice commands, as a key differentiator for the console, and praised the concept of seamless integration on one TV screen, though he said that personally he hopes for killer content or apps to really sell it. He said that Microsoft Japan has yet to decide how to deal with things like entertainment content delivery; it is taking its lead from the US head office and deciding how best to adapt policies for Japan.

Microsoft has been confirmed to appear at Tokyo Game Show, despite sitting out 2012’s event. Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business general manager Takashi Izumi promised that its booth will have “something for everyone” and said that last year’s no-show was an exception that should not be repeated. “As a platform holder, we should be there every year.”

Izumi went on to explain that Microsoft Japan’s game business is in a transition period, as is the industry on the whole.

“With developments in things like mobile systems and free-to-play, there have been a lot of changes over the last two or three years,” he said. “Our users have responded to these changes, and so have the game makers. So this period of transition has had a deep impact on the market.”

When asked how the deployment of Windows 8 and its Modern UI will affect Microsoft’s approach to Windows games, Izumi replied, “It will take a little time for these changes to reach people who play games, though the time is becoming ripe. We just made an announcement regarding Konami (classic games Gradius, Super Star Soldier and TwinBee will be available on the Windows Store from this month), and it will not just be leading companies; titles by small and medium Japanese game makers will also continue to be added to the line-up. I think the number of games by independent developers will increase too.”

Haruaki Kayama, head of Microsoft Japan’s Consumer & Partner Group, admitted that adapting the US-centric live sports TV elements of Xbox One’s offering will need to be tailored for Japan: “It’s a matter of how much we can do before the timing of Xbox One’s (release),” he said.

“We have to prepare content that is relevant to Japan. ‘What is the best, what will today’s consumers in Japan respond to? What content is in demand?’ We’re considering these questions now. There’s no point in a solution that does not match the market. Even if we bring NFL (on board for Japan), haha… Japan is difficult. I’m almost tempted to ask for ideas.”

Kayama ended by asking the 4gamer reporter to not “write too negatively” about the conference – which in itself seems to convey what must be an uncomfortable climate within Microsoft’s Japan HQ in regards to Xbox One.

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