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Marco Zangirolami reports in from Akihabara, Tokyo’s gaming
heartland, on how Sony has lost the support of Japanese gamers

While many here in the West will have heard nothing but good things regarding
sales data for the PS4, in Japan things are not looking so good. In fact, they are
looking quite concerning for the Japanese hardware and gaming giant. That’s
because, according to sales data reported in legendary gaming periodical Famitsu,
Sony has sold little more than 2,381,113 PlayStation 4s to date.

Worse still, most of the historical software houses related to the PlayStation brand
are miles away from the sort of massive, full-on production of games that was a
staple 10 years ago. While this sounds unbelievable in a country where Sony has
always played a major role (as Sony was born in Japan after all!), it couldn’t be more
true, with software houses like Konami and Sega not only a shadow of their former
selves, but switching increasingly to churning out mobile, free-to-play games for PCs
and handhelds.

Another contributing factor, it seems, to this downfall is the almost total lack of
console exclusives, which at one point was what PlayStation as a brand was
renowned for. Now all of those Japanese exclusives have vanished, with new
titles coming out on every possible platform available on the market - old-gen
included! For example, look at the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom
Pain. Once Metal Gear Solid was a PlayStation exclusive and a real reason to go
out and buy a Sony console, however V launched not just on PS4, but also Xbox
One, Xbox 360, PC and PS3.

The PlayStation 4's launch was delayed in Japan, despite it being Sony's native territory

And Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is not the only exception. Games such
as Phantasy Star or the crazy Sega cash cow Ryu ga Gotoku (the Yakuza franchise
in the West) are now developed for every system, with the clear target to enlarge
the developer’s financial income in any possible way. Those heyday console
exclusives are gone and, judging by the state of the Japanese games industry, gone forever.

What probably happened is that long ago Japanese software houses came to the
understanding that times had changed and, when Sony hit a financial rocky patch,
stopped pumping money into console game development. Making a big, console-
exclusive title is more expensive than ever and, at least in the minds of the software
houses, why would you risk a big loss when people are clamouring more and more
for free-to-play games. There is little risk in making them, as they cost a fraction of
the money to make, yet potentially can become insane, Candy Crush Saga-style
cash cows.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain did OK in Japan. However publisher Konami
have since dropped its maker Hideo Kojima

I was recently in Tokyo, Japan, and after talking with the Japanese gamers in
Akihabara (the famous Tokyo district known for its gamer culture) about this
issue (i.e. why Sony is not selling anywhere near as well as in the past) the typical
response was that it is not 'interesting' (literally 'tanoshii' = amusing) anymore.

Paradoxically, this is the same answer we have in Europe from the hardcore gamers
who lived in the so called "Golden Age" of game production and now criticize the nex-
gen's production for having "no creativity" in most of the AAA productions. These people,
who are now in their 30s and 40s, frequently criticize modern games makers for
delivering no new game concepts, nor experimentations as they used to see and play
in the past.

Japanese software houses are increasingly not prepared to allocate GTA V-
level budgets to make new, original games

And, the scary thing is, it is probably true. But logically rising costs to develop
new games have progressively reduced risks on investments, so few new ideas
have seen the light in the last decade in this market. Even if consoles go to 4K
definition and the upcoming VR peripherals revolutionise the games market to a
degree (such as the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR coming later this year), many
analysts still can’t see the money tap being switched back on.

Indeed, as I walked around Akihabara asking the otakus (the typical Japanese
hardcore gamer) what was their most favorite and ‘interesting’ game was that had
been released over the past five years, the answer, with no hesitation, was almost
always Gravity Daze (which is the game known in the West as 'Gravity Rush').

Gravity Daze was received well by Japanese gamers due to its "innovative"

Upon hearing this, I said to them that that the original 2012 game for PlayStation
Vita (where gravity can be controlled and manipulated by the player), had just
recently been remasted on the PS4, so they can replay the game on the new
console with better graphics and with some new content. The answer from these
guys though was alway the same, "why buy twice what I already played once?".

Now look, Sony is almost certainly aware of the problem in its native country,
and will have started to fund as many Japanese studios like Team Ico, Project
Siren as possible, but it doesn’t have infinte resources to burn, so it’s not like in
a few months the system will become awash with great, original games with
interesting concepts like Gravity Daze.

The "dead console walking" Wii U has outsold the PS4 in Japan

But what really must be most concerning for Sony about this current impasse is
how an underdog console like the Nintendo Wii U, which is considered in the
West a "dead console walking" and never had the sort of super high-end launch
that the PS4 had, is that it has managed to outsell the PlayStation 4 in Japan with
more than 3 million consoles sold to date.

So while Sony is killing it here in Europe with the PS4, generating a real stranglehold
over the console market thanks to many US developers like Rockstar, Zenimax,
Activision and EA pumping out games for the system (and their effective marketing
on TV), in Japan, despite Sony's heavy marketing campaigns (the last one was
weirdly named 'ZOINK'), Japanese hardcore gamers are just not buying it. According
to my face-to-face research in Akihabara, gamers just see the PS4 as an expensive
toy with very few interesting titles to play.

Big releases like Destiny have helped the PS4 do well in the West, but not in
Japan, with the game barely making the list of top 20 games sold

And this PlayStation 4 issue isn’t just a problem with hardware sales either.
Famitsu's software sales data shows that in almost two years of shelflife, only
two big Japanese titles came out for the PS4: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom
Pain and Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below –
and neither sold phenomenally.

Worse still, if you take a look at Famitsu’s top 20 best selling games of all time
for PS4 (source: Famitsu n.1420 3-3-2015), of the titles that sold well since the
PS4's official launch in Febrary 2014 (the japanese launch was delayed compared
to the West for the first time in history), only two games in the top five were
from US. Japanese gamers just don’t seem to buying the big Western titles that
are helping the PS4 to do so well in Europe.

Knack is the second best selling game of all time on PS4 in Japan. Oh dear!

This is demonstrated perfectly in the fact that the 2nd best selling game for PS4
since February 2014 in Japan is Knack! Now look, Knack isn’t awful or anything,
but it received mediocre scores across the board. GTA V meanwhile, a massive
western title that racked up over $1 billion dollars of sales, is down in 7th.

So, to conclude, no wonder the PS4 in February 2016 reached one of its lowest
selling moments in its entire history (only 32,181 consoles sold). Japanese
PlayStation exclusives have fallen off a cliff, Japanese software houses are turning
more and more toward free-to-play mobile games production, and the hardcore
Japanese gamers feel there are no "interesting" titles on the system and aren't that
interested in AAA western alternatives. Whether or not Sony can turn it around in
Japan remains to be seen, however unless things change soon, it looks like this
console generation will have been lost on Sony’s native teritory.

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