Microsoft Corp. will launch its Xbox 360 game console in Japan on Saturday, completing a three-continent launch that began in North America on Nov. 22 and continued in Europe on Dec. 2.
The launch is important for the software maker as its previous Xbox console never gained much traction in Japan despite doing well in the U.S. and European markets. Not only does success in Japan mean higher sales for Microsoft, but it also gives the console a better image among Japanese software developers, and that could mean more and better games on sale everywhere.
Microsoft began its Japan market push early. In May, when the rest of the world was learning about the Xbox 360 through a 30-minute sponsored program on MTV, Japanese media and retailers heard details direct from the company and game developers at an event in Tokyo. Japan was the only place where Microsoft held a live event that day.
The game console even has its own building in Japan: the Xbox 360 Lounge, a purpose-built structure in Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando district where people can walk in and try out the console. The facility opened on Nov. 2, three weeks ahead of the U.S. Xbox 360 launch, giving Japanese users an early taste of the machine.
One of the criticisms that local gamers had of the original Xbox was that its software line-up was heavy on first-person shooting games, which are popular in the U.S. and Europe but not so popular in Japan. Microsoft has commissioned three well-known Japanese game developers to produce titles that are more appealing to the Japanese audience. The games include “N3 Ninety Nine Nights,” by Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Q Entertainment Inc. and “Every Party” by Yoshiki Okamoto of Game Republic Inc. Developer Hironobu Sakaguchi is also working on a game for the console.
More than elsewhere, Microsoft faces significant competition in Japan from both Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Nintendo Co. Ltd. Both companies plan to launch new consoles in 2006, so some local gamers may hold off on choosing a next-generation console. Sony and Nintendo have yet to demonstrate prototype systems, so it’s so far impossible to tell just how well the three consoles will compare with each other.
Microsoft’s wish for strong sales has already given Japanese users one reason to smile. The company is making just one version of the console available here, but it is broadly similar to the higher-spec version available overseas and costs less. The console will cost ¥37,900 (US$320) compared to U.S. prices of $300 for the basic system and $400 for the higher-spec system.
Sales are set to begin in Tokyo at 7 a.m. local time on Saturday morning (10 p.m. GMT Friday).