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The sixth console generation was an interesting time in the video game industry.

Among other things, it marked the end of the bit wars, the rise of online gaming, and the

fall of SEGA from the console market.

But in SEGAs place rose Microsoft with their own Xbox.

While the behemoth of a console was unable to shake the PS2s firm hold on the market,

it still managed to edge out Nintendos GameCube with over 24 million units sold worldwide.

While this victory secured Microsofts place as a major player in the console gaming market

in the west, the same couldnt be said for Japan as, despite the companys efforts,

the Xbox barely managed to sell an estimated 450,000 units in the region throughout its


In fact, on July 18th, 2004 it was reported that even the PlayStation 1, which had been

out for almost a decade by that point, outsold the Xbox in Japan too.

Its important to note that Microsoft faced an uphill battle from the very beginning.

After all, Japanese companies had a very firm hold on the video game console market ever

since the aftermath of the video game crash of 1983.

Furthermore, Japan alone represented nearly a third of the market.

So, from the early days developing the system, the Xbox team kept Japan close in mind.

Then Xbox Director of Third Party Relations, Kevin Bachus, recalled, “We were basically

going to play in Sony, Sega and Nintendo's home stadium.

As a result, then Program Manager for Entertainment Graphics, Seamus Blackley and I and other

people from the team put a disproportionate amount of effort into trying to make Xbox

attractive in Japan, but there were a bunch of things that were lined up against us.”

The feedback the Xbox team received from Japan continually proved to be troublesome.

For example, the consoles final design was seen as bulky and inelegant in Japan.

Bachus stated, “We thought [the Xbox] would be more like what PlayStation 3 looks like

now, something sleek and sexy.

For a number of reasons, mostly related to cost, but also partly related to thermodynamics

of engineering the box - air flow and the size of components - we just weren't able

to do that.

The Japanese looked at that and it reinforced the notion [the Xbox] didn't have a Japanese


Other feedback the team received only served to baffle the crew.

Ed Fries, the then vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, said, “We were told we couldnt

call it the Xbox because X is the letter of death.

We were told we couldnt make it black because black is the color of death.

I was like, isnt the PlayStation black?

Rules that apply to you as an outsider dont necessarily apply to insider products.”

The heaviest criticism was levied against the Xboxs massiveDukecontroller


While Microsofts domestic focus testing claimed that testers loved the controllers

size, it was loathed by Japanese testers and even the staff of Microsoft of Japan.

The Dukes lead designer recalled Microsofts Japanese branch threatening to ward off Japanese

developers from making games for the Xbox entirely unless the controllers design

was seriously revised.

To quote, “They were telling us, ‘We have no choice.

We have to tell developers that this is no good.’”

She traveled to Japan to oversee Japanese testers herself in hopes of finding a way

to better adjust the controllers design, but things went nowhere fast.

Engadget reports, “Instead, she was told the testers didn't like anything about the

Duke whatsoever.

It wasn't helpful.

She described the trip as one long Lost in Translation moment, where minutes of speech

from the testers was boiled down to, ‘Oh, he doesn't like it; it's too big.’”

The controller even earned the scorn of many Japanese developers as well.

Bachus recalled, “They said, 'obviously this is going to fail.

Nobody is going to buy this.'

Then they started rethinking their commitments to the platform.

They said, 'this combined with the enormous giant console says you really don't intend

for this to be successful in Japan.’”

Seamus Blackley stated, “There was actually a petition of Japanese game developers [against

the Duke], and it had a lot of really famous names on it.”

This prompted the Xbox Team to rapidly develop a replacement controller under the codename

Akebono, a nod to the Hawaiian sumo wrestler Akebono Tarō, the first non-Japanese-born

sumo wrestler to obtain the title ofYokozuna,” the highest rank in sumo wrestling.

[4] [6]

This would ultimately become the Xbox Controller S which was finalized just in time to be packaged

with every Xbox system in Japan at launch

But Bachus claims that by then the damage had already been done, sayingIt caused

everybody in Japan to say, 'do these guys know what they're doing?

Are they going to be successful here?'

That was rough.”

This plagued the Xbox as Microsofts relations with Japanese publishers proved to be a serious

thorn in the systems side.

After Sonys original PlayStation smashed sales records in the 5th console generation,

the company practically reigned over many Japanese publishers.

Thus, fearful of offending or distancing themselves from Sony, some publishers were squeamish

to support Microsoft.

Bachus recalled a particularly telling incident at a party at E3 saying, “[The party] had

every one of the major Japanese game publishers who we'd spent a lot of time with in Japan.

I ran into one of these guys, who was standing with [then President and Chief Executive Officer

of Sony Computer Entertainment] Ken Kutaragi.

At first he was like, 'hey!' and his face lit up.

And then he realized he was standing next to Kutaragi.

'Oh, oh, I'm sorry, do I know you?'

He pretended he didn't because he didn't want to alienate Sony.”

However, Microsoft did manage to build relationships with at least a few companies - such as Konami

thanks to Microsoft Game Studios publishing a port of Metal Gear Solid onto the PC

And Tecmo through Blackleys close friendship with famous game designer and then leader

of Team Ninja Tomonobu Itagaki.

Microsoft also built a strong bond with SEGA after Microsoft developed a version of Windows

CE and other development tools for the Dreamcast.

With SEGA arguably giving the Xbox the most ardent support in Japan by signing on to release

11 exclusives for the system, including titles such as Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon

Orta, Gunvalkyrie, and Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller.

But it appears that this still wasnt enough as there were still too many that got away.

For instance, upon hearing that Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, was unhappy with

working on the PlayStation 2 and was considering moving the series onto another console, Microsoft

quickly set up a meeting with him.

A EuroGamer article explains: “The meeting was conducted by a member of

Microsoft Japan's staff who could speak both English and Japanese.

Things began cordially, but soon started to deteriorate.

Bachus shifted uneasily in his seat.

He could tell from Mikami's body language and tone that he wasn't happy with the answers

he was getting.

The entire meeting was conducted in Japanese.

Notes were passed to Bachus explaining what was going on but all he could do was watch

in horror, helpless, as it fell apart.

The meeting ended abruptly.

Mikami stood, bowed, and left.

Bachus was furious.

The translator explained: Mikami had confirmed what Microsoft had heard, that he was frustrated

developing for PlayStation 2, which was tough to work with.

But his team's bonuses were tied to game sales.

He needed a reason, a way to explain the shift away from the wildly successful PlayStation

2, the dominant platform of the time, to the Xbox, which had yet to launch, and which in

most Japanese eyes was doomed to failure.

What do you guys have to offer?’ he asked, bluntly.

Eventually an exasperated Mikami boiled it down: 'what is your philosophy?

Sony says games are entertainment, something larger, fueled by the Emotion Engine.

Nintendo says games are toys, created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, perhaps the greatest

game developer of all time.

What do you feel?'

Microsoft had no answer.

“‘I almost jumped out the window because we had said repeatedly over and over and over

that we aspire to enable games that could be considered to be art, much like film,’

Bachus says, ‘that because of the maturity of the development tools and the APIs and

the power of the technology, game developers on Xbox would be able to concentrate on the

finesse features that elevated games to being something more than they were otherwise.’

“‘So the guy who reported to me said, 'oh that's so great!

I wish that I had known that.'

But unfortunately it was too late.’

Bachus flagged down Pat Ohura, the head of Xbox Japan at the time, and told him to

jump on the next train to Osaka to salvage the deal.

But he was too late.

Mikami had already met with Nintendo and pledged Resident Evil to its consoles.

[Bachus concluded,] ‘That's why Resident Evil 4 was a Nintendo exclusive and it took

a while for it to come to Xbox.

That was very frustrating.’”

Ed Fries shared a similar story with the hit MMO Final Fantasy XI.

As it turned out, Square was interested in bringing the game to the Xbox, but they wanted

the game to have cross-play between both Xbox and PC players.

However, at the time leaders at Microsoft werent keen on the idea.

Fries told EuroGamer, “I was just trying to get Square to support us at all.

This was something they were willing to do on Xbox.

They weren't willing to bring their core Final Fantasy over because of their tight relationship

with Sony, but if we could get FFXI then we'd have a Final Fantasy on our platform.

That sounds great, right?”

After a lot of work, Fries managed to set up a meeting between Microsoft and Square,

but it immediately crumbled.

Fries said, “I just sat there and watched it fall apart.

There was a whole bunch of American attitude to the meeting, and the Japanese did not appreciate


It was like watching a train wreck.

It was like watching all this work I had done just fall apart.”

This clash of cultures also happened at Microsofts keynote Xbox conference at the 2001 Tokyo

Game Show headed by none other than Bill Gates himself.

The richest man on Earth had come to personally assure an audience of around 4000 people,

including executives from major Japanese publishers, including Capcom, Namco, Square, and others,

that Microsoft was serious about getting into the video game console industry and that Japan

was just as important to them as anywhere else.

However, things went south when Gates stopped talking about the industry and switched into

a full-blown sales pitch for the Xbox.

John Greiner, once president of Hudson Entertainment who spent 20 years with the company and much

of it in Japan, said: “Put it this way, CESA, the organizer of

these big events, they were pissed because of his speech and what he said.

That turned a lot of developers and publishers away.

They had a speech they vetted, and then when he gave the speech it wasn't the same speech.

There were parts that were different.

He was supposed to be talking about the industry but he was really just plugging the Xbox.

Of course!

That's America.

That was a big deal, and people were pissed.

The whole Xbox introduction into the Japanese market was not done correctly.

They lost the faith of the people who they really needed.

I'm not saying they went out of bounds, but it was a bad start.”

This bad start continued following the Xboxs official Japanese release the following year

when the company was slammed by angry Japanese consumers after it turned out that the system

left scratches on game discs.

While this issue wasnt exclusive to Japan, it reportedly caused much more of an uproar

there due to the countrys strong second-hand market where scratches could lower a games


Fries explained, “As [discs] spun in the [Xboxs] carrier it could leave a rotary

scratch on the outside of the disc, which doesn't interfere with gameplay at all, but

interfered with the re-sell value in Japan.”

This, alongside a general lack of Japanese style games on the Xbox due to the companys

aforementioned difficulties securing ties to Japanese publishers and developers, arguably

contributed to the systems poor sales numbers.

In face of this, Microsoft responded with a round of layoffs at Microsoft of Japan,

but this only made things worse.

Bachus called the layoffs, “very, very not Japanese.

[Microsoft] handled it in a very American way and it made national headlines, so it

again reinforced the notion that [the Xbox] wasn't a console for Japanese gamers.

This was a console that was for western gamers and was being made available in Japan.”

This view has been supported by others such as Yosuke Hayashi, the current head of Team

Ninja who answered a question regarding Microsofts woes in Japan compared to Nintendo and Sonys

success by saying

Microsoft is an American company.

That's where it has come from

“…There's just something about the hardware that gets made in each region that works for

that particular region, and the people there just know it and they get it.

It's a natural evolution of being created there.

That's one of the things which might have hampered Microsoft or made it one of the challenges

to reach the people over here.

It's just not from here.

It just doesn't feel like it came from here.”

Long time Capcom producer, Keiji Inafune, shared similar sentiments despite his support

for Xbox consoles by saying, “As a Japanese [person], I think its

only natural you feel closer or attached more to domestic products and I find myself being

that way too.

When you see two products with similar features and one is from your own country and the other

is from foreign countries, its easy to pick the one from your own country.

From this perspective, Xbox is made by Microsoft in the US, so its not a domestic


Its only natural that you want to support your domestic products.

If there were more Xbox-exclusive games out there, things may have been different, but

usually a title is developed for multiple platforms so thats not the case.”

On the other hand, Rob Fahey, former editor of who spent several years

living in Japan, disagrees calling these views, To quote, “Utter nonsense, as anyone who

witnessed the enormous queues and boundless enthusiasm for the launch of iPhone 6 in Japan

a couple of weeks ago can testify.

Apple's smartphones utterly dominate the market here, much to the detriment of local companies

like Sony and Sharp; their laptops and tablets do extremely well too.

In plenty of other consumer product categories, from luxury cars (BMW and Mercedes) through

to coffee makers (DeLonghi) and personal care products (Philips), western companies do remarkably


If anything, overseas products carry a certain cachet among Japanese consumers.”

He went on to say,

To quote, “The Xbox did not fail in Japan, is not continuing to fail in Japan, because

people here don't want to buy a product from a foreign company.

It is failing because of something intrinsic to the product in question - something that

simply doesn't appeal to Japanese consumers.”

Microsoft certainly has continued to fail in Japan.

While the Xbox 360 performed much better than its predecessor, selling over 1.6 million

units in Japan, this still accounts for less than 2% of the 360s lifetime sales worldwide

and pales in comparison to the Wiis and PS3s numbers.

To add to this, the Xbox One has so far faired even worse.

VGChartzs lead analyst, William D'Angelo, reports that as of October 2017 the Xbox One

has only sold a mere 84,659 units in Japan since its release there in September 2014.

Compare this to the PS4s Japanese sales of over 5.5 million units since February 2014

and the Nintendo Switchs over 2.4 million units since March 2017.

In fact, according to Famitsu, the Xbox One X only sold 1,344 units in Japan over its

launch week, just over half as many units as the PlayStation VITA sold that very same


Even Phil Spencer, the current head executive of Microsoft's Xbox division, admitted in

an interview with Famitsu that, to quoteSadly the Xbox One is not living up to the amount

of sales I originally thought [Japan] would put out.”

With every single Xbox consoles failure in Japan since the brands inception its

a wonder if Microsoft will ever get its chance to shine in the land of the rising sun.

What do you think about the Xboxs troubles in Japan?

And what do you think Microsoft should do to help improve the situation?

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below and consider subscribing if videos on

regional and cultural differences like this are something that you are interested in.

Until next time, thank you for watching!

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