Experienced Points: Microsoft’s Chance in Japan

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 5, 2018

Filed under: Column 83 comments

In my column this week I make the case that I see an opportunity where Microsoft could attempt to win over Japanese consumers. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Microsoft will do this. In fact, I’d bet heavily against it. Reaching out to the consumers Nintendo has abused and taken for granted would require pretty much the opposite of the corporate culture Microsoft has now.

The problem is that in Japan, Microsoft needs to act like a hungry young startup. When you’ve got single-digit market share, you need to be willing to take risks. When you’re on top you can be aloof and interact only via PR and press releases, but when you’re on the bottom you need to adopt an approachable and human company face. Talk directly to your (potential) customers, give stuff away for free, and make jokes at your own expenseThis is how you do it in the west. I have no idea if self-deprecation is really a good strategy in Japan. to show your self-awareness. You need to be able to present yourself as an alternative to the cold corporate entities that consumers are used to. I seriously doubt anyone in Redmond has the license to do that sort of thing.

Back in 1980, IBM was a bloated, bureaucratic machine. The joke was that it would take them nine months and five million dollars to ship an empty box. Their size and ultra-conservative company culture made them slow and risk-averse. Sensing that they were arriving late to the personal computing market, they did something radical. They created a small team and cut them off from the bureaucracy, effectively giving a small group of people leeway to design whatever they wanted. This enabled them to enter the market quickly and maneuver as if they were a small company. It worked pretty well for most of the 80s, until clones choked out their hardware and feisty youngblood Microsoft punted them out of the operating system market.

So here we are about 30 years later, and now Microsoft is the staggering behemoth that wants to enter a new market but lacks the dexterity to make it happen.

I think the position of the Xbox in Japan is really interesting. Microsoft is in the position of an upstart newcomer, but they have the deep pockets and business connections of a giant. I think that’s an exciting place to be. You’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose, and you’re not under time pressure because you don’t need to penetrate this market to secure your survival. If you blow ten million bucks on a strategy that doesn’t pan out, it’s no big deal because there are literally billions more where that came from and you can always just try something else.

I didn’t want to bog down the column with too many disparate ideas, but here are some other strategies I’d try:

Brainstorming

I hear Japan has some other cities besides Tokyo? We should maybe start by looking those up.
I hear Japan has some other cities besides Tokyo? We should maybe start by looking those up.

  1. Our attempts to break into the Japanese market were troubled from the start, and often hampered by problems with the language barrier and cultural blind spots. We had a number of bad / awkward meetings with Japanese business types when we launched the original Xbox. If we really want to make a dent in Japan then we can’t just throw our goods onto the shelves and expect people to buy it. We need to spin up a proper Japanese division run by native Japanese people who understand local law, languages, politics, and culture. (And if we have one already, then we need to start listening to them.)
  2. Japanese consumers are reportedly really sensitive about space. Let’s talk to the engineers and see if we can design a version of the Xbone with a smaller footprint. This might not work out for thermal reasons, but it’s something worth exploring. Even if it doesn’t help us in Japan, a leaner and quieter version of our hardware could still be welcome as an alternative “special edition” unit in the west.
  3. If we can’t make the unit smaller, can we at least make it friendlier? Let’s market-test a white unit with rounded corners rather than a black slab with sharp edges. Let’s see if we can position ourselves between the Nintendo and the PS4, rather than as a direct PS4 competitor with fewer games.
  4. Mobiles are a big deal in Japan, and we have nothing in the mobile space. The PS Vita is dead, which means the Nintendo Switch is now king of mobile gamingOr if we go by units sold, that title belongs to the Nintendo DS. Either way, Nintendo is king of the hill.. Integrating console / PC gaming with mobile gaming is a big deal, and we should be dumping R&D into it. Whether it works in Japan or not, we need to make sure we have a solution in place. We don’t want to chase a fad the way we chased the Wii motion controller, but we also don’t want to be caught unprepared if there’s a huge demand for cross-platform play.
  5. Can we do anything to encourage more of these titles with Japanese appeal to release on the Xbone? I realize this feeds into our chicken / egg problem, and is made worse by the fact that most of the developers of these games are themselves Japanese. It’s like we need to break into Japanese gamedev culture before we can break into the Japanese gaming market. Once again, this is still a good move regardless of whether or not it’s successful in Japan. A lot of these games are also popular in the west, and offering them on Xbox would still be a win for us.
  6. Indies can provide us with rapid access to a large variety of games. Let’s make a deal with indies developing for the Xbox: “Make your game so that it works for Japanese consumersAnd if we start our own “Xbox Japan” division like I mentioned in #1, we should have people qualified to judge this. and we’ll give you a better deal on our storefront”. We can even offer to waive our cut for sales made in Japan. That money is peanuts to us, but could be alluring to indies.
  7. Since Nintendo is so dedicated to being assholes, let’s exploit that. Let’s advertise the Xbox as something free to record, stream, and publish to YouTube, without needing to ask us for permission. Let’s frame Nintendo as the miserly oppressor and ourselves as laissez-faire gaming enthusiasts who just want everyone to have fun. Our original design for the Xbox One proves that this isn’t remotely true, but since the Japanese have been ignoring us for years I don’t think the stench of that original authoritarian design will cling to us.

I’m not saying any of these ideas are 100% brilliant. As a westerner, I’m not really qualified to explain what the average Japanese consumer wants. I offer this as a list of possible low-risk moves. Given the billions of dollars at stake, I think Microsoft can afford to risk a few million looking for a break in Japan.

 

Footnotes:

[1] This is how you do it in the west. I have no idea if self-deprecation is really a good strategy in Japan.

[2] Or if we go by units sold, that title belongs to the Nintendo DS. Either way, Nintendo is king of the hill.

[3] And if we start our own “Xbox Japan” division like I mentioned in #1, we should have people qualified to judge this.



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83 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Microsoft’s Chance in Japan

  1. Zaxares says:

    Um, have I missed something? Has Nintendo done something of late to earn this ire? As an exclusive PC gamer, I don’t tend to follow news about the console market much.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s linked in the article on the Escapist, but here’s part of it:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyPW4g6H66w

    2. guy says:

      Essentially Nintendo has a long history of aggressively going after fan work on copyright grounds, while other companies don’t. They seem to be concerned it’d reflect on their brand, and want to tightly control who can stream their stuff, C&D fangames, and suchlike. They’re legally able to do that*, but most companies prefer to leave it be unless it’s purporting to be official or hurts sales more than pissing off fans will.

      Nintendo is not remotely typical among Japanese companies in this regard.

      *Yes, there is Fair Use, but that’s a complex multifactor test that most fanwork doesn’t satisfy.

      1. Iunnrais says:

        That multifactor test isn’t really that complicated– of course, copyright holders want you to think it is.

        It includes some areas that are absolutely protected (parody), some areas that are STRONGLY protected (review, criticism, and collage), and beyond that, simply asks questions like “what percentage of the original are you using” and “can you use the new work to replace the old work”. Lastly, it asks if the new work is making money or not, but that’s actually a very small part of the consideration.

        Nintendo getting reviews and critiques pulled down could almost certainly be taken to court, and won.

        Romhacks (including the full rom, not just a patch) would be a dicier matter, but I’d bet that the protections for collage could arguably apply– admittedly, there’d be a risk in court. That said, the more extensive the romhack (especially including new graphcs) would make for a better argument… and you could hardly argue that “kaizo” style mario hacks are a replacement for the original Mario World.

        Fan remakes, specifically having AM2R in mind… probably not covered by fair use, given that it’s explicitly not that transformative and seeks to replace the original work. (Morally, as opposed to legally, I see nothing wrong with AM2R.)

        Let’s Play? I feel like it should be fair use, but this is another one I think the courts would have to make a specific ruling for. I’d bet, and hope, that they’d see it as a transformitive work. I could only see it being ruled the other way if the judge was woefully, almost willfully, ignorant of the nature of video games. Alas… that could be possible.

        1. guy says:

          If it’s not in the designated categories it is not ever Fair Use. If it is in the designated category, then it goes to the test. However, that test has no associated fixed numbers and it is possible to fail for quoting four hundred words from a 200,000 word book in a review.

          That is not to say that every review Nintendo pulls down is not fair use, but reviews are not automatically fair use. Romhacks would not generally fall into the category of fair use at all, though some might be in a protected category but fail the test. Lets Plays may fall under comment or criticism but would tend to include too much of the work (depending on the game). The long-form retrospectives on this site are pretty clearly fair use. A half-hour video review of a game is almost certainly fair use (unless story is a major selling point and the review includes significant selections from key cutscenes). A fangame is probably not fair use if using copyrighted material (you cannot copyright game mechanics).

          1. Steve C says:

            Guy, you are arguing as though US law applies to the world. It does not. (I also do not believe you are correct in your interpretation even when confined to the USA, but that is beside the point.) The point is Nintendo is overreaching both in terms of law and PR. It can do so only because Nintendo is big enough and powerful enough to make unreasonable demands of other companies. Those companies comply because they don’t want the hassle and there is no upside to them to fight it.

            1. guy says:

              Well, no, it doesn’t, but as Youtube is effectively based in the US that is heavily impacted by US law. Most other companies users of this site might interact with or visit websites hosted by also have enough presence in the US to be impacted by US law.

              Of course, that does not mean that Nintendo has the legal ability to go after any fanworks in Japan. However, they rather famously have successfully sued people for making unathorized fanworks in Japan.

              As for the upside to other companies, actually there’s a pretty big one. If Pokemon Essentials and fangames produced using it (including ones that had associated Patreons and therefore did make their creators money) are in fact fair use, Microsoft could make their own Pokemon game and sell it on the Xbox. It could include any number of existing pokemon. It could use specific art assets from Nintendo’s games. It could include human characters from Nintendo’s pokemon games. It could have the same item lists and the same eight-gym plot structure. It would be legal to sell it without paying Nintendo a licensing fee. Successfully fending off a lawsuit costs money, but not enough money to seriously disincentivize Microsoft from selling a Pokemon game in the style of the games Nintendo has been C&Ding if they expected victory.

        2. Decius says:

          The ROM patches, absent the original data, are a new work (not a derivative work). But in order to use the patches, the user has to apply them to the ROM, which creates a derivative work of both the patch and the ROM.

          It’s like the MST3K foreground; the original content is not very interesting without the copyrighted material it was intended to modify.

          Reviews and critiques that use incidental screenshots are a new work, period.

          Videos of someone playing the game are an interesting category. I’m not aware of any court precedent, and I can see arguments both for “Everything generated by the code compiled from the copywritten source with access to the copywritable art assets is included in the copyright for the source and art” and also for “Computer code is mere instructions and not copyrightable, and therefore a video of the output of those instructions is not a derivative work of the source” (Are the Tabletop videos owned by the people who developed the games featured? The same principles apply, even more strongly since those videos use the copyrightable instruction manual, not the uncopyrightable abstraction of the rules.)

          I don’t expect to see a good precedent any time soon, because Youtube and Twitch are just going to say “We aren’t saying it’s illegal, we’re saying you aren’t allowed to do it on our platform” when pressured.

          1. guy says:

            Computer code is subject to copyright. Computer algorithms are not. You can’t copy code, but you can write new code that does exactly the same thing.

            For videos, though, I think the main arguement would be that the art and sound assets are protected by copyright and they’re clearly in the video.

          2. Chad says:

            …and now you’re talking about contributory and vicarious infringement, which is even less clearly settled territory.

            In the meantime, the distribution channels have probably already removed your content, leaving you alone in the dark waiting for your meeting with a much better resourced legal team. Doesn’t that sound like a fun hobby? Good Luck!

  2. Ivan says:

    I think that point about making design decisions targeted at a space-poor consumer is probably a good future thinking move, regardless of aiming for Japan or not. Last I checked, the world wasn’t miraculously gaining more space, nor was it losing people. In fact, population is still growing, fast. So, it stands to reason, space concerns will become a concern everywhere sooner or later.

    Case in point, many of my friends live in apartments, and given the current local housing situation, may well continue to do so for a long time to come. Then add new families on top of that, and suddenly space, and noise, are a real concern for them. I’m no expert in these matters, but that seems like a situation that will just become more common over time.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      People are also still migrating into cities from more rural areas (at least up here in the middle of Canada). Most of this already happened a long time ago, but there’s still a lot of people moving into bigger centers, because that’s where most of the jobs are.

  3. WarlockOfOz says:

    Regarding Mobile: looking from outside, given how close an Xbox is to a PC and that Microsoft has a fantastic tablet line in the Surface, mashing the two into a XSurface (working title) seems like an obvious response to the success of the Switch. If any Microsoft execs are reading I am happy to consult on this project.

  4. Redrock says:

    This may be a dumb question, but doesn’t IP trump hardware in this case? Especially when it comes to copyright, recording, streaming, etc. It’s not about Microsoft allowing gamers to record stuff, it’s about giving them something they want to record in the first place. And if Japanese gamers want to play Mario Kart and record Breath of the Wild, well, Microsoft first has to come up with comparable first-party exclusives, which, to me, seems unlikely. I mean, Microsoft hasn’t been able to produce decent exclusives for the Western market for a long time now. Same with the game bar scene. I got the impression that it’s mostly an issue of owning the copyritghts to the games themselves. So I don’t really get how another platform – say, Xbox, – can exploit that. Even with Kingdom Hearts or Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing, wouldn’t it be Square Enix’s and Sega’s decision whether to allow bars and recording and such, and not Microsoft’s? What am I missing here?

    1. Vinsomer says:

      I really don’t think it does, for the simple reason that IP is so much easier to come by. As Shamus noted, Japan has a thriving indie scene and it’d take practically nothing to get them. IP can be bought (practically) overnight. R&D for a new console takes time, not to mention marketing, production and release.

      1. Redrock says:

        I very much doubt indies can beat Nintendo IP. Or, indeed, replace all the nostalgic retro titles that seem to be a big part of the whole video game bar gig. And I wouldn’t say that getting IP is all that easy. Case in point – Microsoft’s painful lack of exclusives.

        1. Vinsomer says:

          MS could be making exclusives if they wanted to. They just don’t want to for some reason. And there are scores of devs MS could acquire right now. They have the money. They even reportedly flirted with buying EA, who have a treasure trove of IP.

          The retro indie bar thing is in a legal grey area (i.e a bad place to be as a business cos a DMCA could shut down your entire model) and just not that big a market.

          The thing with Nintendo is they have a few insanely strong IPs, but they can, and have, been beaten in the market by better products and diverse portfolios of IP that cater to bigger crowds – and have the weight of hundreds of millions in marketing and promotion behind them.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I dont think its much the case of “not wanting to” but rather of “not being able to”.At least,not the big ones that are worthy of being exclusive.They have poured money time and again into numerous things that were exclusive for their consoles,but other than halo,I dont think any were as big as mario,zelda,god of war,or uncharted.

  5. Asdasd says:

    Nintendo are very control freak-y about their IP. It’s confusing, because there’s not a lot to gain monetarily from randomly targeting the fans enthusiastically (if less than legally) utilising your assets for their projects, and it generates heaps of bad publicity.

    I don’t even think it’s necessarily that they’re the only ones to do it; I’m sure Sony and Microsoft’s lawyers issue plenty of cease and desists in a given year. But once you’ve gained the reputation as the bad guy, the people working in the attention economy will be only too happy to utilise that narrative to drive pageviews. So you as the embattled party have a clear incentive to review your strategy and make a change, rather than plowing ahead regardless.

    I wonder if there’s a clear rationale for the way the heavy-handed strategy they’re pursuing. Has anyone over there done a cost-benefit analysis of generating such negative headlines? Perhaps they’re not paying attention to anglophone media? Or is it that they’re trapped by that combination of self-compounding bad decisions, competing interest groups exerting pressure in an unhealthy way, and general institutional inertia that Shamus has discussed being the root of developer and publisher stupidity elsewhere in the industry?

    It’s all rather sad because I’m a big fan of their games.

    1. Redrock says:

      Unless you’ve made a very short walking simulator, I think there’s never a good rational reason to go after Youtubers and Letsplayers. Nintendo certainly stands out in that regard – from what I can gather, they’re so dismissive of the idea of fair use, that they’ll even go after review channels like ACG to the extent that ACG dropped coverage of first-party Nintendo stuff almost completely. I think it’s mostly about maintaining control at all costs.

    2. ccesarano says:

      I think Japanese companies have a very specific perspective of control that we Westerners don’t quite grasp or see. If we first look at YouTube, we can start to see how it applies to the arcade situation.

      You search for a Nintendo game on YouTube. Nintendo wants to make sure that their YouTube account is what pops up. They want to make sure you’re watching the trailer on their channel, that you’re watching the Treehouse playthrough with controlled PR messaging and positive spin on their channel, and that you’d be finding all your latest Nintendo news via their Nintendo Directs or Nintendo Minutes. An example as to why they’d want that control in messaging can be seen with the launch of the original Splatoon on WiiU. Nintendo’s strategy for the game was a global “unlocking” of content over time. So for the first few days, everyone was playing the same, single game mode. Then the next game mode unlocked. Then more content unlocked. Slowly it made sure that everyone was on the same page. “Oh, I get how this game works. I understand the mechanics.” It was a neat strategy for a game that took a bit of an adjustment to since it was so different from other team-based shooters.

      But a lot of Let’s Players paid no attention to all of Nintendo’s information about this launch leading up to the game’s release. So in those first few days you have Let’s Players talking about how barebones the game was and don’t buy it because it’s a rip-off… only for days later to see they were wrong, but rather than ask “why would Nintendo do it this way?” they dug their heels in and called Nintendo stupid. Is it true Nintendo’s strategy would have prevented some players from experiencing as much content as they would have wanted? Yes, but I got to see how a lot of new players jumping into Splatoon years after all the content was unlocked struggled with establishing a proper understanding of the game’s strategy. I think Nintendo’s choice was actually a smart one.

      Now, that’s divorced from them being so tyrannical with YouTube content control, but anyone that’s worked in web analytics knows that consumers aren’t always the most savvy researchers. If someone searches Splatoon on YouTube and find these Let’s Players with headlines saying “A SPLATTING BAD TIME” or something – or if they already follow that Let’s Player – then that video and recommendation is going to immediately turn them off from buying the game. Nintendo doesn’t want that. Nintendo ALSO doesn’t want nine year old Jenny searching for Super Mario Odyssey on her mom’s phone only to stumble upon, say, Angry Joe or Yahtzee Croshaw cussing up a storm about Mario and his inability to make a jump. Even if that has nothing to do with Nintendo’s image, Nintendo considers it a part of their image.

      And other Japanese companies think like this. If you think Nintendo is bad, look into the crazy world of the Anime industry and how crazy those takedowns can get.

      Now then, winding this back to the Game Bars: the problem with Shamus’ note of these games being old and not impacting the bottom line is that Nintendo still wants to resell you these games on their virtual console. Or, in the case of the Nintendo Switch, wants you to subscribe to their online service in order to play these games. If Nintendo wants you playing one of their games, it will be on a platform they have full control over.

      This is not a Nintendo-specific problem, but because Sony is a much, much more global company it’s Nintendo that we are most exposed to making these decisions. Because Sony works in so much more than video games they’ve already adapted better to a worldly perspective of doing business. They’ll still make mistakes, but they seem more typical to us Americans. Nintendo is gradually learning, but they’re still a Japanese company at heart, and there’s a lot of Japanese companies that are still trying to understand how American culture and business work (see: Atlus and the archaic streaming restrictions on Persona 5).

      That said, I think Shamus’ recommendation in his blog is a good one. Either Microsoft opens their own game bar or starts franchising/licensing to these business owners. They’d have no competition and could rake in a bunch of cash that way, and also serve as a method to see 1) perhaps which pre-release demos players are most excited to get their hands on, thus helping understand what could establish a market in Japan, and 2) get your face in with the crowd and establish a rapport. Now, that would work differently between cultures, but it would still allow an opportunity to get to know the consumer better rather than working off stereotypes and assumptions. Plus, Microsoft could work with other PR industries, so even if you had a third-party game also releasing on a Sony platform, you could perhaps have Japanese voice actors doing handshake events at these Microsoft sponsored Game Bars, having them give your games a try, etc. Imagine if Yoko Taro or Hideki Kamiya premiered their next cross-platform game at one of these bars (though Kamiya may not be so easy, given his experience with Scalebound was… unpleasant).

      Even if Nintendo’s first step would be their own personally owned Game Bars, it could open up a change a decade or so later in Nintendo’s business mentality.

      1. guy says:

        I do not think it is a general Japanese corporate cultural issue; there’s a thriving self-published fanworks industry where people go to conventions and sell fanfic in Japan and it is largely overlooked. Nintendo is famously less tolerant of it than many competitors.

        The most common anime takedowns are of fan translated versions of things that have official translations out or planned (sometimes they’ll hit fan-translated light novels when there’s an official anime coming out), or could plausibly be watched by the Japanese audience. Buisness logic there is fairly clear though not necessarily correct. The takedowns of stuff not in those categories that I’m aware of actually originated from American distributors.

        1. Sarah says:

          True. The fanworks (like doujinshi (fan comics)) are technically illegal to sell. However, most (but not all) manga artists and their publishers generally turn a blind eye to it and pretend it doesn’t happen, as long as it is not officially brought to their attention. Once it has, there have been cases where they’ve gone after specific artists legally.

          Of course, there are some manga authors that have in the past and continue to go after doujinshi creators of their works. The original authors want to keep their story pure (and/or don’t want anyone to make money off of their IP). They have their publishers (or they themselves) issue C&Ds to people for writing and comics.

          I think it all basically boils down to the people in charge of the IP (either a company like Nintendo or an individual creator).

          1. guy says:

            Pretty much. Generally companies have no obligation to enforce their copyright. In the US they do have to enforce trademarks in some cases if they want to keep them but I don’t think fanworks would tend to be an issue. So companies don’t have to sue fanworks even though generally they can.

            Also technically “doujin” just means “self-published”. They can be original works or authorized fanworks (Touhou’s creator has specifically approved of people making fanworks and has made arrangements to help get some fangames officially translated and sold in the US) and not copyright infringement.

    3. guy says:

      Nintendo is concerned that people will associate the fanwork with the brand and that will produce bad publicity. It is also worth remembering that a lot more people buy games than follow gaming news, and Nintendo in particular leans towards that demographic. So they’re not necessarily taking any publicity hit with most of their customers.

  6. dogbeard says:

    but they might dig Kingdom Hearts,

    Did you misspell something or get some games mixed up? I’m pretty sure no KH game has ever released on any microsoft console. Or is it just about the new one that’s going to be multiplatform? (also I don’t think KH or any rpg really would exactly be a hit as a game to play with your friends at the bar but hell maybe it could work)

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes, I was talking about the upcoming one.

  7. Ander says:

    The Vita is not dead in Japan; seen it with my own eyes. It’s remarkable, in fact, because it’s the one place on Earth where the poor thing isn’t dead (note that physical game copy production is being shut down in US and Europe; not Japan). As the linked article mentions, Visual Novels and various oddball games have kept it going.

  8. ElementalAlchemist says:

    Can we do anything to encourage more of these titles with Japanese appeal to release on the Xbone?

    They already tried that with both the original Xbox and the 360, both cross-platform and exclusives. It didn’t work. Although some good games did come out of it for those that like JRPGs.

  9. Joshua says:

    “It worked pretty well for most of the 80s, until clones choked out their hardware and feisty youngblood Microsoft punted them out of the operating system market. ”

    Off-topic, but having grown up in the 80s, I remember thinking of the two main computer rivals (plus Amiga, I guess) as IBM and Apple. At some point that was refined into Microsoft vs. MacIntosh, but I’m not sure when the changeover occurred.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s a very blurry line when the IBM / Microsoft handoff took place.

      Part of the problem was that the term “IBM” was used very sloppily. Saying a computer is “IBM compatible” is a bit cumbersome, so it was often shortened to “IBM”. As In “This is an IBM [compatible] machine.” I suspect this made it look like IBM was more ubiquitous than it really was. I think the last model offered by IBM was in 1987-ish, but the name IBM clung to the market for years after that as the clones lived on.

      Taking a guess, I think maybe the transition began with the arrival of Windows. That was a real attention-getter. Instead of typing cryptic nonsense into a command line, you’re clicking on windows and such. So instead of thinking, “I’m using an IBM [compatible] machine” you start thinking, “I’m using Windows”.

      1. Joshua says:

        Talking out my butt a bit here, but I think maybe specifically Windows 95? I think the nomenclature was still mostly “IBM” under Windows 3.1, and the Windows 95 product launch was a Big Thing from what I recall, which might have prompted the terminology change.

        Oh, and my first computer was an “IBM-Compatible” Tandy 1000SL. In Turbo mode, it went up to 8 mHz and capped out at an amazing 640k RAM!

      2. Abnaxis says:

        … Which you launch by typing something cryptic in the command line, but never use for anything other than file management because all the games and word processor use DOS.

        At least, that was my experience with 3.1. Shiny, but not all that useful. Then things changed …

        1. Decius says:

          You typed “Win” in the command line, provided you had C:\Windows\ defined as a $path in your autoexec.bat.

          If you wanted to install windows on a different hard drive or in a different directory, you were gonna have a pretty bad time about configuring it. That feature continues to this day, where it is impossible to configure the user directories to anywhere but their default.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            I vaguely remember needing arcane command line options to make it do what I actually wanted, but it’s been a really long time so I might be remembering wrong. It’s only been damn near 25 years or smth…

      3. Nick says:

        IBM kept manufacturing laptops and PCs under the Lenovo brand up until 2005, when they sold their manufacturing to Lenovo. They were branded a ThinkPads rather than IBM though.

        1. Blackbird71 says:

          We had some of those machines where I work; they were branded as “IBM ThinkPads”, so they still carried the IBM logo and label.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    I wouldn’t call the Wii motion controller a “fad”, more like a wasted opportunity. They really had something there that could have easily changed gaming much earlier (evidenced by the fact that the tech is being used with VR), but they completely and utterly botched it by not taking advantage of it when it was new. Yeah, a few first party Nintendo games did a good job of it, but most other companies simply took already established games and changed the controls to “waggle wiimote”.

    There were really very few examples of the technology being properly used (such as Resident Evil 4, which was stupidly fun to play with the wiimote, yet when the PS3 started using similar tech, they didn’t bother to allow those controls in their port), so people simply stopped caring.

    Of course, this is all part of the very same problem you mention here: companies failing to take advantage of opportunities. Then people see this happening and reason that the opportunities must not have been real, otherwise these billion-dollar companies would have pursued them. The fact that people still believe companies don’t make irritatingly stupid mistakes (despite overwhelming evidence that they do) gets on my nerves.

    1. Joshua says:

      Having worked Accounting in the corporate world for about a dozen years now, I can easily believe that companies make irritatingly stupid mistakes.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      I thought Metroid Prime did a decent job with Wiimote controls

      1. Viktor says:

        Shamus, I don’t know what code you’re using to determine which colors end up next to each other, but Dreadjaws>Abnaxis seems like it shouldn’t happen.

        And yeah, the Wiimote absolutely had potential. The problem, of course, is that Nintendo has always had a terrible relationship with 3rd party developers. As a company porting to the Wii there’s no incentive to develop something unique to take advantage of the motion controls, so why put forth the effort? If companies had been developing exclusives or treating the Wii as the main console that they port away from, then I’d have expected to see something unique that only the motion controls could bring us.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          I think the color scheme just looks at immediately adjacent comments, without necessarily looking at nesting. I’m guessing trying to add separation more than that winds up with “Technicolor fruit salad” issues

          TBH the whole “third parties can’t compete with Nintendo’s first party games” always seemed like one of those things companies say that aren’t necessarily correct, similar to “80% of our sales are list to pirates”. Yeah, if you want to make a platformer starring an affable cartoon character you might have issues sitting beside the newest Mario hotness on the store shelf, but Nintendo isn’t going to compete with you if you’re making military shooters for the Wii. You just need to make something worth buying.

          1. Phill says:

            Nintendo’s third party problem has several reasons behind it.

            Nintendo are an absolute arse to work with in comparison to Sony and Microsoft. It is much more of a “well, we’ll let you put your game on our console if you can convince us, but don’t expect us to do anything to make it easy for you.” Whereas Microsoft will pay to send devs to work on your site to help solve technical problems. (For Windows 8 surface laptops, they entirely funded adding touchscreen support to s error range of third party software, including indie games).

            It is also true that Nintendo console owners tend to have a higher proportion of Nintendo titles and fewer third party titles per console. It is not absolute, but overall you *will* sell fewer copies of your game per thousand consoles than on other platforms. Partly this comes from Nintendo brand loyalty, partly from a tendency to have a Nintendo for platform exclusives and another have device for other games (so multi platform games sell proportionally worse on Nintendo platforms), partly because Nintendo tend to lower spec consoles that don’t support some of the latest games, and no doubt other reasons too.

            Basically, Nintendo is a much less attractive dev platform than the alternatives, have been for a very long time, and don’t seem at all bothered by it.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              I would definitely agree that the lack of third party software is a result of multiple issues. The go-to excuse I usually see, though, is that nobody wants to compete with first-party titles so they avoid Nintendo consoles.

              Hogwash, I say. To me, the real issue is that you would have to commit massive number of resources to a venture that could pay off big in the long run (there are entire genres that are very much neglected on Nintendo consoles) but are much more likely to not return because breaking into a new market is hard–much harder than the challenges posed by technical barriers or “too much first-party competition.” Frankly, AAA publishers aren’t savvy enough to pull something like that off.

            2. Shamus says:

              While I’ve never seen the Nintendo toolchain for myself, I’ve heard people say that Nintendo consoles are an absolute pain to work with. Claims: Enormous five-minute compile times for even trivial changes, difficulty in finding English documentation, and Byzantine systems that are alien to people used to PlayStation / Xbox / PC development.

              No idea how true that is, but make of that what you will.

          2. guy says:

            You need to make something people who buy Nintendo consoles consider worth buying. Which is difficult because Nintendo titles mostly drive sales of Nintendo consoles. And they tend to have lower technical specs, so generally if people own two platforms they’ll prefer the one that’s not Nintendo for any given game on both.

            To make matters worse, every Nintendo offering since the Gamecube had some form of esoteric input. Except I guess the Switch, but then you want the game to work on the Switch and on the TV. So you have to account for that while porting. I’ve had fun with games that make good use of each, but that takes actual thought and work. So there’s an extra hurdle for porting.

            Also Nintendo appears to think that a good chunk of their customer base considers “a Nintendo game” and “a game on a Nintendo console” basically synonyms, so they’re picky about what they let on.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              I’m not talking about porting, I’m talking about exclusives. You need a game that either encourages loyal customers to buy it for the Wii or encourages Wii owners to try something new. Multi platform titles accomplish neither goal on the face of them.

              This is a massive risk that requires huge commitment, with the remote possibility of opening a new, untapped market. This is why nobody has done it. It’s not because Nintendo has entirely poisoned their console by having a strong first party library, it’s because trying to get new people to buy your product takes extreme levels of investment that nobody is willing to put up given the likelihood of failure.

              1. guy says:

                It’s not quite true that nobody does it. Fire Emblem isn’t in-house, for instance. Plus it seems less common in the US because Nintendo helps localize sometimes.

                But I don’t think there’s a huge market on Nintendo consoles for things that don’t compete with their first-party offerings. The market consists only of people who buy Nintendo consoles, usually for their first-party offerings. That doesn’t mean they only like the genres Nintendo covers, but it does make it somewhat less likely. So the market for third-party exclusives isn’t great. There’s not much competition if you’re not up against Nintendo, but it’s a smaller market.

    3. Asdasd says:

      Some great wii-mote compatible games, as you say. Art of Balance was a standout, and I remember an obscure game about controlling water called Hydroventure that was good. Capcom did good work with Zack and Wiki and Okami, and Resi 4 of course. Nintendo had the New Play Control series – I defy anyone to tell me that the reworked Wii mote controls aren’t the definitive way to play Pikmin 1 and 2. But you’re right, third parties in general really didn’t make the most of it.

    4. default_ex says:

      A big part of what cause the Wii Remote to fail was the way it was marketed and implemented were so very different. In the commercials we see people making nice arcing swinging motions like they are holding the tools present in the game. In reality you use little carpel tunnel inducing flicks of the wrist, try to replicate the motions of your character and it’s a disaster.

      Spent a good chunk of a year working with Wii Remote on PC. Wrote my own drivers. Began to write software to utilize it. When it came to tracking motion of the Wii Remote through the air I didn’t find any help at all in anything gaming related. No I had to gather that data from NASA’s public archive and at the time fresh understanding of several curve algorithms.

      1. guy says:

        I’m pretty sure if you ask Nintendo executives they’d tell you the Wiimote was a huge success. It’s not hugely popular on internet gaming sites, but the Wii sold like crazy, and that’s what Nintendo cares about. And they’ve certainly been acting like it; they haven’t switched back to gamecube style controllers as standard, and instead have stuck with innovating with the WiiU and Switch. Usually if they change course and stick with it that means the first attempt worked.

  11. Wiseman says:

    The XBOX isn’t doing that well in Europe either. It seems like Americans are attracted to the thing for whatever reason. Maybe the console being American helps. The first XBOX had titles that you’d imagine the Japanese audience would like such as mascot platformers. No RPGs though. The 360 still has exclusivity over Lost Odyssey. It was one of the best selling games in Japan for that console, and still didn’t sell a million copies. Being on the machine was probably detrimental to the game as it put it behing a paywall of a console filled with games they don’t care about to the Japanese consumer. I still haven’t played it.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      Lost Odyssey was actually pretty good. Great soundtrack, as you’d expect from Nobuo Uematsu.

      1. dr134 says:

        I really enjoyed Lost Odyssey.

        The stories you found and could read were very touching, and the way they handled the immortals and mortals was interesting. Definitely one of my favorite games on the 360.

    2. Lisa says:

      I’ve been talking to a few friends who work in Games shops (Australia) and they’ve been directed to shrink the XBOX section, and promote the Switch over it. I’d be interested to see where XBOX goes from here.

  12. ElementalAlchemist says:

    I think it might take something far more radical for MS to have success in Japan. They have to exit the market. For the Xbox 4 (Two?) they should license it to an existing Japanese company. Either a game publisher like Sega, or perhaps an electronics manufacturer like Panasonic. They would release a rebadged version of the console under their own banner that would be completely divorced of all MS and Xbox references (that includes the dashboard software). MS could be funding/directing it all under the table, but they can’t be seen to have any direct overt link by the general Japanese consumer.

    1. Solism says:

      I currently live in Japan, and did some research into UX (though for online games) as my thesis here.

      The general Japanese consumer is risk-averse and likes to have A LOT of information before deciding to take the plunge, especially with more expensive electronic items. This is rooted in chirashi, which is the Japanese word for brochure or flyer…and has a ridiculous amount of text for reasons. Once you do mind-share though, brand loyalty can weather you from the most terrible storms (ask Toshiba and Mitsubishi).

      MS made some serious missteps here, and it would be difficult to pinpoint the failure to any number of factors. What makes it even more interesting (and anomalous) is that Western products generally do well here: provided they are marketed well. Marketing campaigns need to develop a relationship and not be one-shot deals….sustained hype. In addition, “X” is seen as bad luck, and it’s hard to overcome (but not difficult) to overcome several entrenched cultural mindsets.

      With regards to using the SEGA name…their consoles never performed well in Japan except one. The Saturn.

  13. Angie says:

    I’ve never owned or played on a gaming console, but is there a headphone jack? If not, there should be. That’d take care of your noise-in-a-tiny-apartment problem right there.

    I played games (on my laptop) while we were living in hotels for eight weeks during a move. With my husband in bed a few yards away, and having to get up to go to work in the morning, headphones was the obvious solution. It’s not optimal — I’d rather not wear them, for comfort reasons — but it doesn’t suck and it solves the primary problem.

    Angie

    1. default_ex says:

      Typically to use headphones on a console you either have to modify the console to include one (trivial for electronic inclined) or use an adapter on the output to split the signal out into a headphone jack. Such adapters are often sold by Chinese companies that don’t give a damn about quality. Xbox (any gen) video output is incredibly sensitive to noise, so a bottom dollar cable will have hv-sync issues, color channels damaged in transit as well as random static from any nearby sources (semi-trucks with CB radios for example). Learned all about how picky the Xbox consoles are when I decided to remove the proprietary adapter and replace it with VGA, Composite, RCA and a stereo jack.

      1. Phill says:

        Latest generation consoles support Bluetooth headsets which is far more convenient than wired ones anyway.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Holy shit I hate battery-powered headphones

          1. Mephane says:

            Then you haven’t used good ones yet. The better models have uptimes of 10 hours and more, and charge pretty fast. I have bluetooth headphones, though not for gaming, but for listening to music, with nominal 16 hours uptime, charged in ~1 hour, using regular smartphone chargers.

            1. Shamus says:

              Interesting. About 3 years ago I was tired of getting tangled up in cables all the time so I tried a bluetooth headset. I didn’t buy a high-end pair, but I wasn’t scraping the bottom of the bargain bin, either. The set I picked up was somewhere in the $40 – $50 range. (Got them off Amazon. They must have had a decent user rating or I wouldn’t have bought them.)

              They were atrocious. I’m normally not picky about sound quality, but these were bad even to my ears. They sounded like an AM radio from the 1950s. Tinny. Distorted. Over-compressed. On top of this was a nasty 1/2 second of latency, which made them useless for gaming or watching movies.

              At the time I just assumed this was normal for bluetooth headsets. But I have no idea. That’s my only point of reference. Now I’m curious: Is this abnormal? Did I just happen to buy the worst headphones in the world, or is compression and latency inherent to these devices?

              1. Lanthanide says:

                You bought the worst headphones in the world.

                1. Phill says:

                  Yup. I got a cheap bluetooth pair for the gym for around $20, and they have pretty good sound quality (by the standards of in-ear bud headphones). Bluetooth is more than capable of keeping up with uncompressed CD quality.

                  CDs are about 1.4 Mbits/s. (MP3s compressed audio is far less obviously) Bluetooth 2.0 could manage 2.1 Mbit/s back in 2004. Bluetooth 3.0 in 2009 could get up to 24 Mbit/s. More modern devices using the “Bluetooth Low Energy” protocol can still manage around 2 MBit/s, which is enough for streaming CD quality.

                  Also, the PS4 controller at least has a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can plug a headphone set in to each controller anyway without the trouble of having wires all across the room. (Bonus note: the controller communicates with the console via bluetooth, so you are really getting bluetooth audio anyway :) )

              2. Phill says:

                As an aside, bluetooth uses the 2.4 GHz frequency range, which is the same as most wifi routers. And a lot of other things. And some microwave oven emissions. If you have a lot of environmental noise in the 2.4Ghz band, that can have a serious impact on your data transmission rates. And likewise on your 2.4 GHz wifi – so switch to the 5 GHz band if you have the option (most routers these days do).

            2. Abnaxis says:

              I use headphones while I work and/or play, which means 10 hour up-time is a minimum of 1 charge a day, at which point I’m just using bulkier wired headphones with a thicker cable that never attaches anywhere comfortable for actual wearing.

              Very much not a fan.

    2. Theminimanx says:

      The PS4 controller has a headphone jack, and I assume the same is true for the XBox. But that only solves the noise problems for single-player games. The shouting you’ll want to do during couch multiplayer still isn’t possible.

    3. Karma The Alligator says:

      Weren’t they talking about the noise the console makes rather than the noise from the games? Because you can’t headphone that.

  14. Paul Spooner says:

    You make such a good case for this! Now I just want to start a company that sells video-games to Japanese arcades.

  15. guy says:

    A good chunk of why Nintendo is on the offensive lately is that they’re planning to bring out a virtual console for the Switch. So they’ll be selling popular old games again soon. On, as it happens, a device with a headphone jack you can hold in your hands. So yes, emulators and game bars actually are competing with a product they intend to be selling fairly directly. Getting rid of them this way won’t necessarily actually increase sales, but it’s not an insane theory. It’s basically in the same boat as any anti-piracy move or crackdown on second-hand sales. And probably not as bad for PR as installing a rootkit.

    1. guy says:

      Also Japanese companies do make and sell games for arcades, so game bars are competing with other establishments that pay the companies on some sort of continuing basis. I don’t know the exact business model, but sending more traffic their way can’t be a negative.

  16. Solism says:

    Shamus, wouldn’t Microsoft offering consoles and games to bar owners still get the latter group in trouble?

    MS might not want to enforce copyright, but the government and law-abiding citizens certainly will at some point. That could be even more harmful to the company as a whole in the country.

    1. Shamus says:

      Like I said in the article, Microsoft could offer the bar a “license” to exhibit the device. (According to the source, Nintendo could do this too if they cared. Bar owners are like, “Please! We’ll give you money! Just allow us to do this.” And Nintendo ignores them.)

      Now, it gets a little blurry here. I’m not clear if you need the license from the device manufacturer or the game developer. (Or even both.) For Nintendo they’re one in the same. For Xbox, maybe you’d technically need permission from (say) Epic before people could play Gears of War in your bar. Still, Microsoft could smooth this out. “Hey, when you put a game on our console you’re also giving rights to publicly exhibit the game in Japan.” It’s a little more complicated, but should be straightforward. It’s not like Epic would actually want to discourage people playing their games in Japanese bars.

      In any case, all the bar owner needs is reassurance that the company is NOT going to go after them. These bars exhibited Nintendo consoles for years and nobody batted an eye. It wasn’t until Nintendo made a fuss that the authorities took interest. If a bar owner could feel safe that Microsoft was going to leave them alone, that would give them the peace of mind they’re looking for.

      1. Wiseman says:

        But will this be perceived as a worthwhile by those bars? Their clientele probably has no interest in the XBOX titles to begin with. They’ll have to select those games carefully. At least it has a good selection of SEGA games. Though SEGA wasn’t that popular in the Japanese home console business.

        Dreamcast could be a good option for those bar owners too. SEGA is pretty lenient after all, and there were many titles in Japan after the discontinuation of the platform in 2001. Up until 2007 I believe.

        1. Shamus says:

          Like I said in the article, Xbox vs. Nintendo is a losing battle if they go head-to-head, but since Nintendo is running the bars out of business the choice actually comes down to “Offer an Xbox” and “Offer Nothing”. This plan is only possible because of Nintendo’s behavior.

          Sega would also be a good choice. I’ve never used a Sega machine and I don’t know how big their libraries are or how much weight they have in Japan. (I imagine it’s popular.) Still, if I was Microsoft I’d be trying to get in there.

  17. The rift between Japanese gaming culture (to say nothing of the culture at large) and the XBox brand is located at such a foundational level as to make the issue moot. Nothing will work short of completely rebranding the product.

    Just look at the name: The “X” Box. That was seen as so cartoonishly ‘x’treme as to border on parody even for the time! Moreso actually, when you consider the all-black look w/ Mountain Dew trim! The size…the look…the name…everything about what this brand is specifically American and is in service to an American perspective. It’s aggressive, it’s imposing, damn near hostile, but most importantly…it’s exclusionary.

    A ‘Play Station’ sounds like a toy that has a demographic age range in the single digits, but that didn’t keep Sony from spinning their consoles as a sleek, hip and modern and one of the things everyone knows about the Wii – aside from how absurdly successful it was – was about how silly it’s name was. The point is, when porting their consoles over here, they understood how to rebrand their products appropriately, but I think that’s because foundationally, their brand was culturally flexible enough to allow it.

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      I’m not sure that’s the case. Japan loves the letter X and will stuff it in anywhere they can reasonably get away with it. Sometimes several at once (Recent Switch Monster Hunter rerelease is Mosnter Hunter XX there).

      The Xbox actually did manage to build a niche in Japan, it was the console for the nerdcore gamer, and that’s why it got a lot of SHMUP releases and games like Steel Batallion and Metal Wolf Chaos (From Software released quite a lot of Xbox exclusives back in the day).

      But they didn’t sustain that beyond the 360 generation.

      And there’s really no niche the Xbox can fill now. Neither in Japan or elsewhere. They don’t have exclusives other than Forza because Halo is called Destiny now and it’s multiplatform, Sea of Thieves has less content than No Man’s Sky and they keep cancelling all the others, Nintendo has successfully wooed the indie scene everywhere (recent Indie darling Dead Cells’ switch version outsold the PS4 version 4 to 1, and there are loads of Japanese indies on the eshop, often released worldwide with no localisation.)

      It’s not doing badly enough for Microsoft to kill it off, and Sony are being sufficiently arrogant in a way people actually care about by blocking cross platform (and Microsoft can actually exploit, as they have by doing joint adverts with Nintendo about cross play on Minecraft).

      Really, I think the answer for “how do Microsoft break into Japan” is counterintuitive. It’s “Make more Switch software”. If they made Forza, Halo, and the rest for switch with cross play with the Xbox/PC versions like they do with Minecraft (even if they didn’t have cross buy, letting you play Forza Horizon on a switch with PC and Xbox players would be a start), they would have something nobody else has or can have.

      They already do it with Minecraft, they have the technology, they just need the will.

      1. Well to be fair – and I didn’t even dawn on me until I posted it – my post wasn’t really responding to Shamus’ article so much as the video he linked to of the original XBox’s woes in Japan. I still think there’s a culture barrier they need to deal with, but I imagine the years of internet have done a lot grease them wheels.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But arent there already things that fill that void in bars?Arcade machines of various sorts and karaoke machines.

  19. Niriel says:

    I remember my IBM PS/1 I got in 1991. It came with two megabytes of RAM so I could use Windows 3.1 but not with its virtual memory swap-to-disk feature, which required four megabytes. I did use MS Works a lot, but that’s about all Windows was good for.

    My favorite memory is that, because the disk had only 85 megabytes of space (and I was using Stacker to ‘double’ it), I would uninstall Windows to install Lands of Lore and vice versa, on a daily basis. Strange times.

  20. Crimson Dragoon says:

    I can get why Microsoft would be hesitant to get into that market. They’ve legitimately tried to catch the interest of Japan before, and it didn’t work out.

    Back in the mid 00’s, they backed Japanese developer Mistwalker. Considering Mistwalker was founded by the creator of Final Fantasy, it was a good shot. They released a couple of XBox 360 exclusive games which did alright, sales-wise. Mistwalker seemed happy with the sales, and Microsoft sold a bunch of 360s in Japan.

    A few years later, they got to release Final Fantasy 13 on the 360, which was also a big deal considering the main series had been Playstation exclusive for over a decade at that point.

    But here we are, almost 10 years later and nothing changed. Clearly the push was there, but Microsoft never got the foothold they wanted. So yeah, in their eyes it might not be worth trying again.

  21. hoder says:

    I like to read these during breaks at work but my company has blocked the Escapist website (and a lot of others. Hoping they don’t see my visits here)
    Any chance you can post the content of the articles here or is that not allowed?

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