|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
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....
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
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
-- 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
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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
[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.
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.
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. Salon.com 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
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
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....
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