Musings about Sony's TGS Press Conference / Japan by Pete Dodd


There is a pretty major problem with the Tokyo Game Show, and Sony in particular, that doesn't quite mesh together. The Tokyo Game Show is by and large a show aimed squarely at Japan. While this was a no-brainer years ago, shows like E3, Gamescom, GDC, etc, have all become global shows due to streaming, social media, and other wonders of the internet. TGS has not adapted to that. The press conferences are always what we in the west consider to be too long, filled with too much talk about sales, and other auxiliary things. As an American we don't really seem to see that much, unless you're Apple, and we tend to find it boring. It's almost like we are different cultures. 

The problem that Sony has is that it is pretty much a western game company at this point in time...  it just happens to be based in Japan. The Japanese market is dominated by phone games, a dwindling handheld market, and a moribund console market. The 3DS has cleaned the Vita's clock in Japan (though it puts up a better fight there than it does overseas). After a big launch the PS4 is routinely outsold by the Wii U, sometimes by as much as 2:1. The numbers for the Wii U and PS4 are awful, so it's not much to brag about, but the truth is that Sony is dominating this generation so far with very little help coming from Japan.

So why is that? I mean, beyond just the "consoles are dying in Japan" line of thinking that seems to be somewhat true. The answer, to me, lies in the exclusives, which is exactly the opposite of what I'm seeing in the rest of the world. I personally believe the PS4 to be selling at a record setting pace worldwide on the backs of third party games. Killzone has its moments and inFamous was pretty strong, but those games aren't the reason the PS4 is selling like it is. The PS4 is selling like it is because it had the better looking versions of multiplatform titles. COD at 1080p vs 720p on the XB1. BF4 at 900p vs 720p on the XB1. Watch Dogs, with exclusive content, and better performance. It's been these games that have driven the sales of the PS4, in my opinion. 

That doesn't work so much in Japan. If you look at the Media Create or Famitsu sales charts each week what you will find is mostly exclusive content. When it comes to first party studios, Sony's talent has shifted big time. That's not to say that Japan Studio is bad - they aren't, but the best Sony studios are all western.  Naughty Dog, Media Molecule, Santa Monica... I can go on. Japan Studio thus far this gen has given us Knack. I loved Knack but let's not pretend it's a big deal. Nintendo, likewise, has first party games that do well in the west and the east. Mario/Zelda/etc do well all around the world. In a shrinking console market it makes sense Nintendo would be doing better in Japan, even with "inferior" hardware. The wave of the third party games Sony has ridden to ten million sold does not do much in Japan. Even publishers that do ok in the west, like Capcom, have deals with everyone. Nintendo gets Monster Hunter, Sony gets Deep Down, Microsoft gets Dead Rising 3. It's just a different way of approaching the market than the west.

So that brings us to TGS. Sony is aware that this is now a worldwide showing, but it also knows it needs to appease a very particular Japanese audience. In the end I'm not sure it did either. The end result of the show was definitely some interesting games that I'm looking forward to playing, but there was nothing that jumped out at me as changing the trajectory in Japan. It's funny, the "PS4 + Vita" in the US has Vita enthusiasts mad because they aren't getting exclusive content... in Japan the "PS4 + Vita" has PS4 enthusiasts going "why would anything buy this thing if you put games on other platforms!?!" Same issue, in reverse. I'm excited for Y's. Im REALLY excited for a PS4 version of Persona 5. I'm super-duper excited for more Hot Shots Golf. It was not a bad show by any stretch of the imagination. But much like Microsoft at E3 and Gamescom in the west, I feel like Sony showed enough to make fans happy but not enough to change the course the system is currently on in Japan.

As someone who enjoys a good number of Japanese games I came out of TGS excited. Getting a date for Bloodborne was nice as well. There is plenty of good stuff coming. If I cared how well the PS4 is going to sell in Japan I would be worried. I don't care, particularly...  I mean I want it, and everything, to do well enough to exist but at the end of the day whether the PS4 sells more units than the Wii U means absolutely nothing to me. I still feel like everything in this industry is cyclical and by the end of the generation we can be seeing a resurgence of Japanese games... but it certainly hasn't started yet.  Us niche fans have plenty to be happy about but Sony hasn't done much to prove it has what it takes to turn things around in Japan. In fact, they may not care, they seem to be doing fine without that market. 

That wouldn't be good for the industry though. Japan, even in a down cycle like they have been for a while now, produce some amazing games. If it all goes to phones who is going to come up with the next Demon's Souls? 




Comments:

#1
DrDamn
I agree with the general conclusion, but I think there were a few important extras missed. Dragon Quest Heroes - even if it's a spin off - is an important announcement. I think Japan Studio also have had a decent shake up since the wilderness years of the PS3 era and there is some thing big and potentially special there too. We just haven't seen it yet. In sales terms I do want the PS4 to sell reasonably well in Japan. It matters to me because that means more Japanese games for the system, and that is something I want from it.
#2
Pete Dodd
Yeah, I want it to do well. I just meant whether it outsold the Wii U doesn't matter in the slightest to me. I'd prefer if the xbox did well there also. I, like you, want a healthy japanese gaming market. Dragon Quest Heroes is a nice grab as well, I just don't see it changing the trajectory all that much. I'd love to be wrong though.
#3
Suzushiiro
Yeah, pushing developers to make PS4 versions of their PS3/Vita games should help, but I think the biggest thing Sony should do right now is punch Squeenix in the face (and/or throw money at them) until they get FFXV out the door. If anything has a shot at turning things around for the PS4, it's that.
#4
Kurichan
We*
#5
Pete Dodd
Is that an extremely vague correction? More help would be appreciated :)
#6AnthonyUK
Won't change the trajectory? did you not see the Morpheus Waifu demo? Japan console market = saved
#7
Corleth the Fey
Nice article Pete, but I think third party games DO sell consoles in Japan - just not the same third party games we buy in the west. Third party games that never get localised. Third party games that are either transferring to phone or have yet to leave last gen consoles/handhelds.
#8
Kurichan
[quote="Pete Dodd"]Is that an extremely vague correction? More help would be appreciated :)[/quote] Lol, yeah, I am sometimes a grammar nazi. Sorry :( But I am in the SS so I can't reveal my complaint.
#9
RasAlGhoul
Japan will buy the PS4, hell they bought half a million day one. Most will just wait on games. They aren't ass big on early adoption anymore like we are here. Personally I'm just happy Persona 5 is hitting PS4. I can fully retire the PS3 now.
#10
Pete Dodd
Nice article Pete, but I think third party games DO sell consoles in Japan - just not the same third party games we buy in the west. Third party games that never get localised. Third party games that are either transferring to phone or have yet to leave last gen consoles/handhelds.
Yeah, I guess I could have been clearer about that. I meant that multiplatform games are less prevalent, not third party. What I was trying to say is that most of the third party games tend to pick a system and stick with it. You will see games on 3DS and Wii U, but it's much more rare to see Wii U and PS4. So Nintendo already has the advantage in terms of first party games still being huge in Japan, and then it's a race to scoop up exclusives from third parties. Sony has an uphill climb since their first party efforts are mostly western offerings.
#11
Corleth the Fey
Yep, that makes much more sense. Third parties making games exclusively for one console. I'm guessing it's still a throwback to the old days, though we in the west moved away from that starting with the SNES / Genesis(Megadrive).
#12superjp
nice article, it would be nice if someone gave an explanation on why the home console market is dead there. I have been to japan and still dont get why they only look at the handheld market. second thing is, why they made a presser 2 weeks before the show ? it was the same last year, did they give any explanation ?

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