Double Agent
Kimono made of money - February 26, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. What did you eat for breakfast? Carnation Instant Bitch? Don't say we didn't warn you.

Before we delve into the veritable reservoir of tenderloin before us, I wanted to direct your attention this way. If you enjoyed Unlit Room, you will most assuredly like Progress Quest, which some have hastened to dub the "Unlit Room killer." Quickly climbing to the GIA staff's collective list of present favorites, you can't afford to miss this one.

With that unashamed plug out of the way, let's go....

Suddenly there shined a shiny lawyer....

Tenacious E,

The XBox's lackluster sales in Japan can be partially attributed to the launch date. Nobody buys stuff in February, anywhere. Except all those silly Americans buying Roots(TM) Olympic hats. But, I digress. February is traditionally a slow economic month. Year-end, coupled with sales of all last years' products in January and the introduction of this years' products at the same time, means that nobody has the money or inclination to buy big-ticket items for a month or two. There's also something called a recession (or depression, take your pick) going on right now. That probably doesn't help. Is it being the beginning of the end for the XBox? Well, we'll just have to wait. If Billy-boy is committed to riding it out for a couple of years (avoiding the Sega-effect), they still might be okay. It's fighting the GC to be second fiddle to the PS2 anyways. And if Nintendo continues their commitment to not releasing any games this year ...

As for DoA, the word you are looking for is "bounce". Or, possibly, "bouncy, bouncy". And, of course, all the other XBox games are crap.

Orin the Lawyer - no, not as cool as Pendy the DQ/DW guy

Certainly you're right in that this isn't the immediately pre-holiday frenzy that helped Microsoft move a million and a half consoles in its first six weeks on the American market, and it'd be unfair to stack these initial Japanese numbers against the US launch.


Alex P. Keaton to the rescue

Japan has been in an economic rut for how long now? A few good years alteast. The Xbox sold more than twice what I honestly expected it to sell, I don't call 150,000 consoles bad for something that wasn't even native to Japan, consider that months back, the gamecube luanched to somewhat lukewarm sales and it was Nintendo! Too many gamers in Japan are content with their PS2's and more of them are finally picking up gamecubes, to buy a 3rd console, or even consider Xbox, a system with 12 games over say a PS2 with its final fantasy or gamecube with Smash bros is a premade decision. Currently all 150,000 of those gamers purchased an Xbox just for DOA3, give it another few months when more titles aimed at a Japanese audience are released and more consoles may sell.

Why was DOA3 the most popular title? Simple it was the most hyped game for Xbox in Japan and DoA has a fairly hardcore fanbase over there, much of the luanch lineup consists of American games or obscure Japanese titles that most Japanese don't care about in the slightest- Im willing to bet that everyone who bought the Xbox likely has a PS2 or a GC at their home. As such they didn't feel justified in buying more than one game.

Also to pester Mr. Evil Lights pessimistic additude- The Xbox isn't going to fail anytime soon so get used to its presents, to date its not only sold more in the US than Nintendo has Gamecubes but its also selling faster currently plus its likely going to sell quite well in Europe. The Japanese market will cave soon enough

Just give it some time, if Xbox still hasn't sold much in 6 months then perhaps I'll start worrying.

The Japanese economy is in fact in a bit of a slump, yes, with the Bank of Japan scrambling to yank it out of recession and the government working on anti-deflation measures, but in all honesty, the Japanese economy has been in a bit of a slump for the past decade, and while I'm no market analyst -- or in fact even an A econ student -- I can't say I've noticed it badly hurting previous launches.

The rest of your points I pretty much agree with, so I'll leave well enough alone, but as for DoA....

It's only a toy ... a bouncy toy

"What's made DoA such a success on Rising Sun soil, while the rest of the lineup languishes on store shelves?"

How do you say "she kicks high" in Japanese?

I seriously want to inflict bodily injury on the person or persons responsible for that commercial. The gaming community little needs the stereotype of the gamer as a nerd with no social life whose only contact with females is through the TV screen plastered all over prime time. It's hard enough getting people who don't play games to understand them as is.

So how long do you think it will be before the non-gaming public "gets it?" When will our cherished hobby be well-enough established that it finally loses the "it's only a toy" stigma, and parents don't leap out of the woodwork to decry every game with a splash of blood in it?

Bart, whose brother applied the line "she kicks high" to Peach in SSBM, 'cause it's funny there

Quite a few letters came in citing "she kicks high" as the reason for DoA's success on the Xbox, but this one had that extra drop of self-righteous complaint to propel it to the forefront of the slushpile.

King of the hill

Maybe the Japanese really just don't get too excited about any console other than the Squaresoft/Enix cropper anymore. People camped outside for days for the PlayStation 2--lots of people. This is a title that launched with nothing notable outside of two Namco games: one a beautified port of a fighter that'd been around for six months, and the other a fifth installment in an arcadey racing series. But at least Squaresoft and and the rest of Japan's squad of major developers were going to be around to deliver SOMETHING in the future. That promise made people construct tents, brave the harsh winter weather for nights, and even gave birth to children to avoid losing their place in line (okay, so I just don't feel cool enough without spewing a few hyperboles here and there). Since then, we've had the GameCube launch, which was met with lousy enthusiasm at best (partly because it burst onto the scene from the pregnant videogame sideshops with nothing more than a vacuum sim). Now, Xbox has come to dinner with its flagship title being a slight update of a previously-seen-on-Dreamcast fighter--and not just any fighter, but the most ill-received series of the market's four big ones--and people expect it to sell well?!

For Christ's sake, the past three launches have totally SUCKED.

Sony's LUCKY that Japanese gamers at least had faith in them and Squaresoft, and decided to commit to PS2 on day one (probably helped a bit from the need of a DVD player). If I was a Japanese gamer, I would've turned my back COMPLETELY on all three of these craptastic launches.

So, no; I don't believe that Xbox's launch means anything. For a company that didn't have Squaresoft and the rest of those RPG-centric devs promising to vomit exclusive titles onto the console (master of the mental image, I am), I think it did pretty damned well. Give it some time, a major title will surface--probably that Shin Megami game--and make the rest of those folks head on over to their local game store and plunk down the yen for an Xbox, just as Smash Bros. DX sold quite a few GameCubes in Japan.

If people are counting on the Xbox having the same ability to throw its weight around in Japan as the PS2, they are, of course, wrong. If the power of Squaresoft compelled gamers nationwide (that is, the Japanese nation) to construct Ken Katuragi and Hironobu Sakaguchi statues of out the sidewalk cement outside their local game stores, while they waited in their little tents like archaeologists, hoping to unearth the prized gem inside the blue box, don't you think it's that same power that will ultimately rule the industry. Hey, you asked me if Xbox had staying power. I'm sure it does, but if you can't be king of the hill, who really cares?

-- Steve S. Freitas, who thinks the name "Cozy" calls forth images of a black, midget gangster with golden-dyed hair, pocketing about six Uzis beneath a tiny little trench coat. But that's just me.

This is one of those self-contained, complete thoughts that leave we DAs with little to say.

The fact that I agree with most of it robs me of that remaining little.

High-profile anime seiyuu can save anything

Dear Ms. Mehlos,

The XBox is selling poorly in Japan for a simple reason - it's not the PS2. The simple fact is that with the monumental success that the PS2 has experienced in the year it's had to itself (Thanks pirmarily to Sega's undying stupidity), the PS2 has become the systems where all the RPGs are, and I mean ALL of them. What MS needs to do court RPG devvers in particular. Square is clearly not possible, but GameArts/Enix is (Dr agon Quest on Xbox=Xbox dominance), as is From Software (Fing's Field on Xbox... *drool*).While MS has generally done a good job in securing Jap anese support (especially from Sega andCapcom), the only RPG coming out that isn't from the US is Shenmue 2, a port of the DC version which bare ly anyone in Japan gave a damn about. Of course, the Box needs more tha n RPGs. It needs some completely out of the box (pun inended) games that will drive the curious Japanese mind. Capcom looks to be delivering with the insane mech simulator Tekki (Have you seen the controller for that game!?), but someone else needs to step up to the bat to offer quirky Japanese experiences. This being said, I don't think the future is that dark for the Xbox in Japan. Both it and the Cube need a game or two th at can push them out from the massive PS2 shadow, and the Box looks like it'll have that (Tekki) before the Cube does. Rest easy.

The Master Chief.

PS:It may also help if high-profile anime seiyuu are hired to voice the Japanese version of Halo and that fact is heavily advertised. Megumi Ha yashibara as Foe Hammer anyone?

The only hitch I see in your logic is a classic Catch 22 -- unless the Xbox can first land a substantial user base, then manifest itself as some kind of RPG haven, I don't really see Enix showing up at Bill's tea party with Dragon Quest tucked under its arm.

Watch and learn, Colonel

Erin -

I wish I knew enough economics to figure out why the X Box really sold so horribly, but since I don't I'm just gonna guess, like everyone else out there that "knows" why Microsoft sucks so much.

You really can't say DoA was a real sucess, BTW. It sold at almost a 1:1 because it was the only thing worth playing on the console.

Seriously though, I don't think the X Box appeals to the demographic over there MegaTen 9 will probably sell strong, but that's because in Japan they'd rather be raising hamspters then playing Oddworld.

Toss in the complete lack of Japanese third party support. Microsoft is an American company trying to hack it in a foreign land. I hate Gates just as much as anyone, but he's a shrewd business man. He's gonna see his low sales, he's gonna see how Pikmin and such are selling like hotcakes, and he's gonna do what he's already started doing, and that's get games that the Japanese people will like.

If anything, I think the lackluster sales will motivate Microsoft. I mean, I've never seen a Microsoft product truly fail. It either gets beat over the head till it's the best, or its positives get incorparated into a bigger, better project.

So as much as I hate to admit it, I see the X Box in for a long haul.


Ray Stryker...who finds something close and personal about curling up with a 2 liter of Pepsi and the latest Game Informer...

Level with me, Stryker. You think McNamara's sexy, don't you?

Your comment about Gates sitting back and watching Nintendo move the likes of Pikmin is key here, I think. The philosophy that's governed the Xbox since its conception has more or less been "watch and learn." Microsoft has expressed a willingness to stick by its console through whatever initial rough waters it may face, and the software giant can certainly afford to stick by its guns in this regard. The console war is hardly a sudden death situation for the Xbox.

Can't get no appreciation


In all fairness, X-box is not the first console to stumble out the gate saleswise. Gamecube also had a pretty underwhelming launch. As for why DOA3 is X-box's best selling game, I think it benefited from a lack of competion. Throughout history, on both sides of the Pacific, DOA has always been outsold by whatever else is on offer (Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn, Tekken 3 on the PS, Soul Caliber on the DC, Tekken Tag Tournament on the PS2). However, despite consistent gameplay problems (overly powerful counters) it has a fanbase due to the fact it boasts impressive graphics and gravity defying girls. For a franchise like the DOA, the X-box, a barren landscape devoid of any direct competion except (giggle) Kabuki Warriors, must seem like a dream, which touches upon my next point.

Ignoring PC adaptations like Halo and Max Payne (the Japanese certainly do), the X-box has precious little exclusive content. All the exclusives seem to be games that in past have been overshadowed on the sales charts by the likes of Tekken, Final Fantasy and Gran Turismo. Not recieving chart topping games can translate into only two things, underappreciated gems or mediocre crap. The problem with developers adopting such a stance is that a library of little appreciated games translate into a little appreciated console.

- Mark

I can get down with most of your logic, but the GCN's initial lineup didn't exactly slake fan thirst, either. There was no Mario, no StarFox, no Zelda; just a game about chucking sprouts at mutant ladybugs. True, the game about chucking sprouts at mutant ladybugs turned out to be the greatest piece of interactive entertainment in human history (possibly barring Progress Quest), but the fact remains that it was not what people wanted from the GCN's launch. So what did that leave potential GCN fans? The same thing Xbox buyers now face -- a bunch of mediocrity sprinkled with a pinch of ports from other platforms. And Super Monkey Ball. But my underlying point survives this labrynthine and largely unsuccessful attempt at drawing parallels intact: with time, the Xbox may deliver what the Japanese consumer wants. This initial fizzle is only the beginning; hardly telling of what's to come.

Got piss?

Erin: Warrior Princess,

While it would just be fun to giggle at Mr. Gates' expense and go on with my life, I know better than to ever kick a man when he's down. Especially when he's the guy who's made a living (and enough money to buy several third-world nations) making inferior products and then forcing developers and consumers to buy them somehow. Granted, the strong-arm tactics Microshaft has used in the past won't work in this realm. However, I make it a habit never to poke fun at a man who could buy and sell my ass. I also never doubt his ability to succeed in business situations. On a somewhat related note, I'd like to go on a little tirade:

I'm getting a little tired of people kissing the collective ass of the Japanese gaming community. Let's get one thing straight: Americans may buy wretched sports sims and professional wrestling abominations by the millions, but the Japanese are far from perfect. Not only do they buy pro wrestling games (though not nearly as many... and theirs are better), they still have the curse of horse racing sims, hamster-based games, and Let's Make a Pro "____" games. Let's not also forget that we have them to thank (Nintendo in particular) for the monster collecting scourge of the past couple of years. The Japanese aren't immune from buying crap. They just buy different crap. (I'd add dating sims to the list, but I'd rather not raise the ire of THAT particular group of vocal anti-socialites)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not "hatin'" on our brothers and sisters across the Pacific who've blessed us with so many wonderful games and single-handedly revived the hobby we love. I'm a big fan of Japanese culture and cinema, not to mention I speak the language (I know, "Whoop dee shit".. I'm merely qualifying my statement). I'm just a little weary of American "otaku" (a word taken completely out of context) who have a totally unrealistic vision of the Land of the Rising Sun and its people. Ever been there? It's a psychologist's dream and an economist's nightmare.

[steps off soapbox]

On a somewhat more civil and less off-topic note, I would like to announce that the intro for Xenosaga is very pretty.

Griffin, who apparently had his Wheaties pissed in this morning.

I think I've made my own flat-footed stance on this particular landmine clear in the past through my ritual attacking of the "otaku" view of Japan as the sacred cow central to all that is holy. As an addict, I have nothing but love for the country that churns out my fixes, but Japan -- let's face it, folks -- is home to a formidable shitpile in terms of games: a shitpile as prodigious as our own domestic quagmire ... if not more so.

It is, however, a distinctly different shitpile, as Griffin says. And that very difference is the crux of my concerns for Xbox's Japanese future.

On behalf of the Fool


Why is the Xbox selling like crap in Japan? Simple. Japanese gaming consumers are, collectively, about as savvy as a chimp on heroin. Does that mean there aren't legitimate reasons for the Xbox to sink? No, it just means all of those reasons are secondary.

Simply put, the Xbox is not Japanese, so it will fail. The Japanese are historic for not exactly liking anything foreign, save for the occasional pop trend, and there's plenty of evidence to suggest the gaming market falls prey to this more than nearly anything else. People will say the launch lineup is merely decent, but they will fail to remember that the PS2 sold nearly a million units on launch despite having RRV, and some mahjong game, more or less. People will say the thing is too big for a small Japanese apartment. To this, I ask "would a small apartment keep you from buying something?" As a gamer, I'm not going to pass up an entire system because I can't stack anything on top of it. Running out of room? Put it on top of your PS2, and be done with it. Price point? Yeah, that's a valid concern, but anyone that would buy it already owns a PS2 anyway, so the comparision isn't valid. Not to mention Sony can't even keep the as-yet completely worthless hard drives in stock, despite the $150 price tag. People will spend 400+ on their PS2, and lauch at the Xbox for its more expensive base price.

As for the games themselves, and why DoA is selling and nothing else is? Easy; DoA squirms its way into the realm of what Japanese gamers will buy. They will buy Square stuff, Enix stuff, countless Gundam games, mahjong, 3d fighters, and other things that contain large anime influences. Almost nothing else will sell. Don't believe me? Look at the sales charts. Then look out how most Japanese developers are putting more focus on the North American market, where they have a better chance of selling some copies. People deride the American game buying public for how much we buy stuff based on hype, and how that keeps more "Japanese" games away from our shores, but look at the Japanese market. Do they buy anything that's decidedly American? Hell no. FFXI is drawing lukewarm interest because it looks "to American"--and its even made by a Japanese company!

Whats the worst part about all of this? Fanboys will look at the Japanese Xbox sales and declare that they were "right" all along, and that the infinetely superior Japanese market has prooved their point.

Are there reasons to not buy an Xbox? Of course, but anyone that thought the thing would have a chance in Japan at all (no matter what games were available) was just fooling themselves.

-Justin Freeman

I'm gonna quietly sidestep a lot of the incendiary devices in your letter, sir, and politely note that, while I don't feel the Xbox's future abroad is in any way assured, for a lot of the reasons we've gone into tonight I do feel that it does have, at the very least, a chance. Beyond my fool's imaginings.

High hopes


I'm a fairly new reader of the GIA, and I've been quite pleased with the site and, in particular, your column. It's a real treat to read witty, well-written articles about gaming that have no corporate shilling at all behind them! Y'all rock.

Anyway, I have a topic to suggest for DA, inspired by State of Emergency. recently had an interesting article about it (, focusing largely on the game's treatment of anti-globalization/fair trade political ideas, but also branching out a bit into the underlying politics of other games as well.

That Salon article made me think: I'd love to see a discussion on the politics inside videogames. While it's difficult to find other mainstream games who play with political ideas as explicitly as SoE, many games' underlying premises are inherently political. Anyone remember the NES snoozer Wall Street Kid, a piece of capitalist gaming rhetoric so boring that one suspects it was secretly designed by Marxists to make kids think capitalism was yucky? Or think about all of the countless games centered around military/special ops, glamorizing the Tom Clancy way of life, and by extension, the military-industrial complex. On the other hand, The Evil Corporation is now a stock villain, and has been since Shinra reared its ugly Mako-reactin' head. And how many games focus on breaking some evil ruler's tyrannical sway over some oppressed nation?

To add some more ideas into the hopper, consider the enormous bowdlerization that videogames have endured because they've been viewed, historically, as kid's stuff. Sex, religion, and alcohol are three things that spring immediately to mind. Of course,now that some games are trying to be "edgy" and "adult", these topics can be dealt with in the most gratuitous manner possible: look at Grand Theft Auto III, for starters... and religion seems to be fundamental (pun fully intended) to many RPG plots (thanks a LOT, Xenogears). Usually, such elements have been put in for shock value and call attention to themselves. But sex, religion, and alcohol use as normal, everyday parts of life for many people seem to be completely left out of the picture. It seems as if game worlds vacillate between the squeaky clean and the luridly decadent, with not much room in the middle for the way people REALLY act.

Or what about portrayals of gay characters? As a gay gamer (yes, we do exist), it's something I pay pretty close attention to. Can anyone think of a lesbian character in a game whose sexuality doesn't seem to be predicated entirely on titillating adolescent males? (Fear Effect, anyone?) Can anyone think of a gay male character, like, *ever*? Seymour Guado does NOT count.

I know this is a lot to chew on, but I think it's a rich field for discussion. So, whaddaya think?


I think I can't resist biting off more than what the readership is probably in the mood to chew....

Closing Comments:

Well, guys. We've tackled religious material as it relates to games -- let's live our lives to the fullest and hunt the political animal. Anti-globalization, anti-capitalist, anti-IRS (though I doubt many of you remember Tax Avoiders): it's all the same to me. Pick apart subtle rhetoric wherever you find it, and leave no man behind....

- Erin Mehlos

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