A surefire way for the Xbox Series X to get a strong start against PS5 is by heavily courting Japanese developers, which may already be in the works.
It’s no secret among the gaming scene: despite major changes to Xbox management and marketing strategy, PlayStation has grabbed this generation and refused to let go. The result is a less-than-favorable position for the upcoming Xbox Series X — with an entrenched PS4 ecosystem, Microsoft will have to work tooth and nail to claw back their old fanbase. Without a doubt, some of the best people in the industry are working on what Xbox’s marketing message needs to be in 2020. However, Phil Spencer’s latest messaging may indicate a winning strategy that could place the Xbox Series X in a competitive position with PS5: collaborating with Japanese developers.
Let me start with a quick disclaimer: we here at DualShockers are unabashed Japanese game and culture fans. We are one of the few places on the web that gave Final Fantasy XV, Persona 5, and Judgment Game of the Year in their respective time, and we cover localization changes more than the average outlet. With that introduction and potential bias out of the way, it is an easy case to show why Japanese developer support is one of the best ways to strengthen the Xbox brand in the console war to come.
It’s worth noting that Xbox has always been seen as an American brand — whereas both Nintendo and PlayStation have held a more dominant footing in the global marketplace. Despite making it a point to court the Japanese markets, Xbox has sold about 0.3% of its total roughly 50 million consoles in Japan. Handling the math for you, that’s about 150,000 Xbox One’s floating around Japan since the console launched in 2013.
However, this isn’t an article about targeting the Japanese gaming market, which at this moment would be a clear losing battle. Instead, it is about working to build partnerships and exclusives with Japanese developers and publishers. And it’s clear that we aren’t the only one with this idea — Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, is signaling the exact same thing.
Earlier last week, Spencer revealed that he was traveling to Japan, explicitly to reach out with developers and publishers on their 2020 plans and “beyond.” In short, to discuss arrangements for the Xbox Series X:
Great to be back in Japan with the team talking and listening to amazing studios and publishers about 2020 and beyond. Really strong energy and excitement here about gaming’s future.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) January 20, 2020
If this wasn’t explicit enough, Spencer drove the point home with a Tweet earlier in the weekend. Quoting his previous Tweet, Spencer didn’t mince words — he hints at unannounced games for E3 2020, the Xbox Series X, and everything shy of the specific developers or publishers he’s been chatting with:
Amazing week in Japan talking Xbox Series X, @XboxGamePass and Project xCloud w/ publishers and studios. Played announced and unannounced games, talked #E32020 and discussed gaming’s future. Always come away motivated by the amazing creative talent here in Japan. @Xbox_JP https://t.co/H2s67JG2Ie
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) January 25, 2020
Now make no mistake — besides being a prolific gamer, Phil Spencer is a savvy branding person for the Xbox brand. These Tweets are obviously a way to forecast significant growth, and a defined market strategy for Xbox Series X. It’s unclear what amount of support they have currently amassed from Japanese developers and publishers, but it would be crazy to believe nothing is in the works.
Some of the brightest announcements from this generation have been focused around some of the partnerships and exclusivity deals with critically acclaimed Japanese developers. Whether we are talking about Sony netting PS4 exclusivity for Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding, Nintendo saving the Bayonetta series, or Microsoft reviving Phantasy Star Online 2 in the West, there are few news announcements that turn heads like supporting Japanese developers. In fact, even the news that Xbox One owners could start picking up Yakuza games soon was a boon for their PR image in the gaming community.
On top of that, there has been a fairly stark divide between PlayStation and more niche Japanese studios. Developers and publishers haven’t been coy over the fact that Sony has been pushing their games to Westernize. This ultimately means localization changes that are anywhere from overly restrictive to entirely cutting out whole parts of the game. This has not only miffed a significant chunk of developers, but also created some real friction with anti-censorship advocates within the gaming community.
In short, this is a spot for the Xbox Series X to come in and take control of growing unrest between PlayStation and Japanese developers. While Sony is likely touting that the PS5 comes with a lot more anticipation from a global audience, Microsoft and the Xbox Series X team should be doing their best to incentivize–through creative liberties or cold hard Yen–Japanese developers to create new IP for their platforms. Even if the games are not exclusive to the Xbox Series X, having broad console support and shifting the focus from PS5 would place Xbox on a more equal footing.
Xbox has been working day and night to appeal back to the hardcore gaming scene, after spurning many of them back in 2013. Taking steps into buying and creating terrific new studios, developing Xbox Games Pass, investing in xCloud, and setting the standard for Backward Compatibility is no small feat. However, there is no more surefire way to solidify that audience by backing developers like Square Enix, FromSoftware, or Atlus to work on new projects specifically for your ecosystem. I wouldn’t be too surprised if some of these warm wishes materialize in for Xbox Series X in an aggressive E3 2020 press conference.
As one final interesting point, it looks like Doug Bowser — the President of Nintendo of America — had a Japanese trip that overlapped with Phil Spencer. Weird coincidence, right?
— Doug Bowser (@thetruebowser) January 22, 2020
But don’t quote me on that one.
The Xbox Series X is scheduled to launch sometime in Holiday 2020, alongside the PS5. As more information becomes available, we will make sure to keep you updated.