Microsoft hopes the imminent launch of an eagerly awaited title for its Xbox 360 games console will give the platform a boost in Japan.
Blue Dragon is one of several games in which Microsoft has invested with a view to boosting its sales in the Japan market, a tough nut to crack because it's the home turf of the XBox's two biggest rivals: Sony and Nintendo.
The Xbox 360 has been on sale in Japan for almost ten months, but unlike its success in the US and Europe, it has struggled in Japan against Sony's six-year old PlayStation 2. In the first full week of September, Xbox 360 sales nationwide totalled 1,094 consoles against 19,882 PlayStation 2s, according to Media Create.
Darren Huston, president and CEO of Microsoft's Japan unit, said earlier this year that the market was proving tough. "We launched early and with not enough Japan-specific content," he said.
Prior to the console's launch, Microsoft already understood the importance of delivering attractive content to Japanese audiences. The company's original Xbox suffered badly in Japan from a software line-up that was too heavily focused on the first-person shooter games and sports games that are best-sellers in the US and Europe, but that don't do so well here.
Ahead of the Xbox 360 launch it commissioned several well-known developers to create games for its new machine but they were slow coming to market and that combined with the previous console's image might have affected consumer reaction to the Xbox 360. But things are now turning around, Takashi Sensui, general manager of Microsoft's Xbox division in Japan, said in an interview on Wednesday.
"We did have some delays in releases of titles in the past, and because of the track record people may feel a little uncomfortable joining the platform in the first place. But now we have great games available in the market already, and in addition we are releasing these great games in the coming months. I believe people will come over the fence and join the platform," he said.
The upcoming games include two of the latest from Japanese developers: Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Blue Dragon will launch on December 7 and lead Microsoft's push in the end-of-year sales season. In addition to the game, it will also offer a version of the Xbox 360 Core system, the recently announced lower price version of the console, bundled with the game as an easy way for new gamers to get onto the system.
"The more gamers get their hands on titles like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, the more optimistic I am about the progress we are making in Japan -- one of the most critical regions for our business," said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, Entertainment and Devices Division, at a news conference.
Gamers will get their first chance to try out Blue Dragon at the Tokyo Game Show, which starts on Friday near Tokyo. Microsoft is making a big push at this year's show and will showcase 110 games to visitors.
"There's never been a more important TGS (Tokyo Game Show) for Microsoft because this year we are finally in a position to deliver on those promises we've made to Japan," Moore said. "This TGS you'll see more Japanese content by Japanese developers for Japanese gamers than we've ever shown before."
Looking ahead to next year, Sensui is optimistic.
"We do have a good inventory of titles for next year. We have all those major publishers in Japan working on Xbox 360 and we will have some great titles from Microsoft game studio, so I feel very confident about our portfolio in 2007."
Microsoft will also continue to update the online gaming and community part of the platform, Xbox Live, adding new features during the year. It also plans to launch an HD DVD drive add-on for the console on November 22 for ¥19,800 (US$168).
That is expected to appeal to both existing and new Xbox 360 owners, said Sensui. "For those who already own the Xbox 360 system it'll cost only ¥19,800 to enjoy HD DVD. That's by far the most affordable solution for those people," he said.