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Hey, Microsoft, it's time to take Xbox localization seriously

Xbox Project xCloud
Xbox Project xCloud (Image credit: Windows Central)

In recent interviews, Microsoft has talked up its intentions to reach the wider gaming market, comprised of "two billion gamers," it says, as it looks beyond its Anglocentric U.S. and UK markets. Microsoft points to platforms like Project XCloud and Windows PC for future growth in its gaming business. The company has said that selling home consoles to all two billion individuals in the current and future gaming market is impossible, and that may well be true. But one could argue Microsoft has barely even tried.

Recently, I spoke to more than a hundred Xbox fans on Twitter, after asking for opinions on how well Xbox handles localization in their region, outside of the U.S. and the UK. I expected a couple dozen responses on minor issues, and I had no idea how poorly Microsoft approaches its global product efforts, speculatively representing decades of complacency born of its Windows PC monopoly.

If Microsoft truly is serious about creating a platform where developers can access a market share comprised of billions, it needs to start accepting that there is a world beyond the United States.

Is Microsoft serious about 'two billion gamers'?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Recently, we wrote about all the successes Microsoft has seen in gaming under the leadership of Phil Spencer, rebuilding a brand that had been battered by a tone-deaf Xbox One launch campaign back in 2013. As Microsoft looks ahead to the future of its business, it will have to navigate encroaching threats from the East, from Chinese tech giants like Tencent, and the ever-present PlayStation.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2018, Phil Spencer reiterated Microsoft's goal to bring the Xbox platform to two billion gamers across the world:

Our focus is on bringing console-quality games that you see on TV or PC to any device. I want to see the creators that I have relationships with reach all two billion people who play games, and not have to turn their studio into something that makes match-3 games rather than story-driven single-player games. Because that's the only way to reach a bigger platform. That is our goal: to bring high-quality games to every device possible on the planet.

Project xCloud game streaming is indeed showing promise as a viable portable gaming companion, particularly on tablets and low-power PCs which have the screen real estate to remain ergonomic. As of today, the text is simply too small on most games to provide an enjoyable experience on mobile phone screens, not to mention the less-than-convenient reality of having to carry a video game controller around with you. Still, both of these issues are things Microsoft wants to solve, with bespoke touch controls and APIs for making Xbox games viable on mobile devices expected in 2020. xCloud game streaming is only part of the strategy.

Source: Windows Central Project XCloud could reach millions of new customers... in theory. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft is also looking to expand its aspirations on Windows PC to build its business and reach consumers. The "Game Core" developer environment will provide creators with a unified codebase for making games that run across cloud, Xbox consoles, and PC with minimal work required to cater to each platform. Microsoft has also been beefing up its own offering on PC, with Halo: Reach dominating Steam sales charts, and Xbox Game Pass for PC winning new customers for the ecosystem at large.

All of this is good, but it fails to address the hard reality that Microsoft remains an Anglocentric company that seems blind to the world outside of the U.S.

Xbox is surrendering global viability

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Gamers' habits aren't necessarily changing, but the way the industry views the market at large certainly is. Console gaming only makes up a tiny piece of the overall industry pie, with mobile and PC dominating the East.

Microsoft has long seen opportunities in these regions, but has yet to capitalize on them. Xbox effectively doesn't exist in Japan, and console gaming isn't very popular in China — which remains the world's largest gaming market. Of course, both regions sport a variety of hurdles for Xbox as a business for a range of reasons, including navigating Draconian Chinese trade rules and Japan's home-grown, wholly entrenched ecosystems. But Microsoft hasn't really bothered to capitalize on markets across Europe and parts of the Americas either.

Speaking to scores of Xbox fans on Twitter, I received a small glimpse at the quality of the Xbox ecosystem outside of English-speaking nations. I have written articles previously complaining about not having enough 4K movies on the UK Xbox media store, for example, but these sorts of problems are tiny in comparison to some of the things I've been hearing about various markets across Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One user pointed to the fact the Xbox dashboard isn't offered in Greek, whereas the PlayStation 4 dashboard is. Another noted that the Xbox doesn't seem to understand that half of Belgium speaks Flemish/Dutch, often offering parts of the dashboard in French, which many Belgians don't speak fluently. Meanwhile, Android and iOS handle these distinctions with ease.

It may come as no surprise to hear that Xbox's support in Japan is atrocious.

It may come as no surprise to hear that Xbox's support in Japan is atrocious as well, with games like Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 straight up being unavailable, while games like Gears 5 only get subtitle support, without any form of voice acting. Xbox games in Japan also suffer from terrible matchmaking times, due to the platform's dismal market share in the region. I've been told recently that Xbox in Japan now falls under a general "Microsoft hardware" team that also incorporates Surface, and suffers from absolute bare-minimum support from Microsoft's flagship operation in the U.S. How Microsoft expects to gain the support of Japanese developers without any form of investment in the Japanese market is truly mind-blowing.

Source: Windows CentralA small sample of the complaints I received on Twitter. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Xbox hasn't bothered to enter many markets in South America, conceding the console markets in their entirety to Sony's PlayStation, which often enjoys full support. This leaves Xbox fans in many countries to the mercy of "grey market" scalpers, who charge far beyond the normal price. Many "supported" Arabic users in countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE report to me that PlayStation enjoys far better support, offers, and localization than Xbox. Users in Australia, New Zealand, and Africa also spoke to me about terrible pings, poor regional pricing, and non-existent marketing.

When it comes to subscription services, geoblocking also prevents Xbox 360 games on Xbox One from being downloaded in many countries. I've heard reports that Xbox "Games with Gold" is abysmal in many other countries, with the mediocre platformer Cobalt (opens in new tab) being offered repeatedly, several times per year. It's as though Microsoft is simply asleep at the wheel in many of these regions, with nobody actively promoting or supporting customers.

Microsoft could hand-wave many of these complaints away, noting that the users are playing from unsupported regions, but the truth is that users in "supported" regions are suffering from sub-par experiences, too, based on Microsoft's apathy. The South Korean Xbox community reached out to voice their frustration that the Xbox Store doesn't display which games support Korean languages, and they took it upon themselves to produce this massive spreadsheet to inform Koreans which games are actually localized. This is basic stuff, that no company of Microsoft's size and value should screw up.

PlayStation Network is officially supported in no less than 73 countries, whereas Xbox is supported in a measly 42, and many of those regions seem to only enjoy halfhearted support.

So, are you serious or not, Microsoft?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I won't pretend to understand the myriad issues Microsoft potentially faces when it comes to entering other markets, especially when it pertains to trade wars and sanctions as a U.S.-based company. It was heart-breaking to hear from Iranian Xbox fans, for example, who cannot access Xbox Live via IP due to on-going U.S. sanctions against Iran's dictatorial government.

Shout out to everyone who in Xbox support who has to see these sorts of complaints every day.

Sanctions aside, neither Apple nor Google seem to have issues localizing their digital offerings for many of Xbox's unsupported countries, so why does Microsoft?

Microsoft can hide behind Steam on PC, but Project xCloud is based on Xbox One, so how does Microsoft hope to reach two billion gamers if it can't even nail the bare minimum basics of decent localization?

I used to get frustrated that Cortana and Bing had poor features in the UK compared to the U.S., but the reality for users outside of English-speaking countries is often far worse. Going through scores of complaints made it clear how much of a sub-par experience many users around the world are getting. Shout out to everyone who works in community support and customer service, and has to experience these sorts of complaints on a daily basis.

Microsoft might be one of the most valuable companies on earth, but it seems that it is also one of the most inward-facing. For Xbox, that may not a viable long-term position.

Xbox (opens in new tab)

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Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

37 Comments
  • i hope someone from ms reads this.....i am from india and india is a value driven country !!
    if ms just advertises xbox &xbox game pass via tv ads......xbox can be a huge hit in india.
  • Localization? As a Bulgarian I'd be happy if Xbox Live was available in Bulgaria. I literally have to lie to Microsoft that I live in the UK so I can get them to take my money. I get it that we're tiny and unimportant market but we're not some country under sanctions, we're in the EU common market it shouldn't be that hard.
  • Yea there are also other countries in Europe where Xbox store is not available at all. Forget about localization, that's a distant dream. At the same time Playstation is alive and kicking and most people buy PS since they can actually use the store. Sure these markets are no US, UK, Germany etc but you can still make pretty good sales.
  • Suprised (in a good way) to see another fellow countryman. suffering the same problems. There was an IdeaBox on Uservoice forums, for more than an year, suggesting adding SOME support for local ccs, currency, etc.,. It sprung into a. massive thread, with people all over the world adding their own countries in the list - like Romania, Latvia, Estonia, just to name a few. I've even tweeted a few times directly Phil Spencer (no any real response, expectedly)), but more to the point the problem is big and real. I think at the least all EU27 must be included and under the same measures, as the likes of DE, UK, NL, etc. Ffs, it's a single market, whatever difference in vat laws, currencies, taxation imperatives, it shouldn't be a problem for MS to match it. I don't care about localisation per se, so, much, but blocking my CCs, PayPal acc, and on top of that applying rigorous geofencing IP based is too much of a nonsense
  • Same here. I live in Romania (hey, neighbours) and it seems you have to have a PhD in Computer Science just to buy something from the Xbox Store. Xbox Live Gold/Xbox game pass? Forget about it.
    Now, according to our unofficial community there is a way, but it's just PLAN LUCK if it works after you've bashed your head against the desk configuring VPN hell. The only way is through gray market codes, which might work, but what's to say no-one has stolen your credit card info when you bought that code. Oh, and sometimes the store throws an error but IT GETS THE MONEY without giving you the product
    If MS let us use the store(no matter if it doesn't have our language or currency), the Xbox would be (at least for me) the perfect game box
  • Xbox live support in Latin America is abysmal also. Specifically here in Trinidad and Tobago. None of Microsoft's consumer facing products have proper support for that matter.
  • About Japanese localization, MS once did excellent work. But suddenly they minimized it. Even their biggest IP like "Gears" got the least localization Since "Gears of War 4". I really hope they mend their way before the next "Halo". If they continue to skimp even for "Halo", it would be definitive symbol of their neglect on us. Even the most enthusiastic Xbox supporter could abandon MS.
  • Like many services on Spain... Is not so bad like another countries but is not so good as EEUU or UK... Cortana out of that places is... The worstest feature like many others... Microsoft must change that way.
  • I agree wholeheartedly Microsoft across the board is far too US-focused.
  • Every house in Kuwait has at least one PS4. Xbox needs to step up.
  • Thank you very much for writing about this issue. Microsoft really needs to acknowledge it.
  • Thank you so much for writing this. I hope other sites write about this as well and Microsoft starts to feel pressure from this.
    I'm from Iceland and their support on xbox is literally nonexistent, and yet they wonder why playstation is ahead of them?
  • Technical support is practically unavailable in Poland. Scandal!!! I have never seen a client hinder contact with the technical department. For a year and a half I have a problem that I can't solve because I can't contact the Xbox Poland technical department. 5 years ago I got a ban on my account wrongly, I sent an explanation with confirmation from the police that I was the victim of a crime and no one for 5 years that Microsoft had not contacted me. The scandal of such a company and has its clients in the ass
  • I live in a county that's not in NA or UK and I agree with the article. I think many people in the US can't understand how poorly visible the XB brand is outside the US.
    Yes, it's about support, yes, it's about marketing... And often it's little things that build the frustration.
    Like posting a tweet about the timing of a XB press conference taking place in Europe and posting only about the US time zones.
    When people ask about it, often we have people who looks like company fan, replying saying things like US is their biggest market that's why. Most of the time these people are from the US.
    How often I see these people disregard other markets...
    Ok fine the US may be the biggest market for MS, but it doesn't mean others don't exist and are not important.
    Sony is a Japanese company but it doesn't care only about Japan. And yes, other company like Nintendo and Sony also gives a lot of importance to the US but they just don't disregard the rest as much as MS.
  • Honestly, in some aspects I was one of these people you speak of. It wasn't because of blind fanboyship though, it was just ignorance of how wide spread the problem really is. When people would complain of something at the time I felt kind of trivial like concerns of the opening markets of new product lines or Cortana locations, I would just the defense of "they are a US based company, what do you expect?". While I can see some small truths to that line of reasoning at least at first, when you do end up opening that product to that market, you need to give it your full support and not the half-assed attempts that they usually do. It is really sad to see the comments that some of you are making, and I really hope that someone at MS isat least attempting to address this issue.
  • Hopefully Microsoft allows us to use Xbox legally in Croatia. No, it's not a joke.
  • I have to ask, why is it illegal to play Xbox in your country?
  • Localization is an issue always has part of the problem is that it seems Microsoft only implements a small part of it's resources to the Xbox team or even Windows for localization. Frankly, this is a 4 years too late article and it seems with the latest updates Microsoft is taking this more serious. Maybe there Global Publishing efforts and recent restructuring in Asia in particular can help. I did not know it was this bad I knew it was for retail infrastructures but I did not know that services and localization was this bad!
  • I really hope someone from MS reads this topic. If it's Aaron Greenberg it would be great. I've read some topics about why MS caters much less to other market and why Europe still prefer PS4 over XB1 by a large majority.
    And many of the answers was something like "everyone other country hates the U.S. so that's why" "MS should cater to their biggest fans", or 'yeah that's because of the poor reveal by Mattrick'.
    Not many are talking about the real issues.
    I find these arguments really silly. 1) PS3 did better than X360 in Europe too, 2) Loads of US companies does very well in Europe. People buy products very few buy a product just because it's made company of a certain country.
    And MS should cater to whoever buys their product.
  • Well written Jez and it's all true. This is isn't a problem exclusive to Xbox within Microsoft, it's also on Windows and many other MS services. It seems like MS only cares about the US. Say what you will about Google, but their services have full support for our country, the Dominican Republic.
  • Thanks for writing this article, I'm glad to see about English article talking about Xbox game experience for non-English gamer.
    I want to add some points.
    1. The missing language information is not limited to Korea, but more universal. It's far from just a list, but is just universally messed up. Some games have more languages on other platforms than Xbox; sometimes the description in store page localized but not the game (thus extremely misleading). Very common that digital version and physical version have different languages, games bought from regions have different versions, games downloaded from different regions have different languages. There are 3 KH3 if you check HK, TW or KR store with different languages, and it happened that a game version has one specific language that is not available in corresponding market, but in a totally unrelated very small market (so maybe someone tried to download same game tens or hundreds times to find it).
    2. Since there are still many games that don't have in-game language settings, but depends on system language, it's a nightmare for some gamers in countries without full language support. One example is China. There are "2 languages" (simplified and traditional), and many games only support one, but gamers can play both. Switch would just fallback to another if necessary, but Xbox fallback to English. Actually this limitation make the feature that Xbox series X can switch between multiple games useless.
    3. How hard is it to support multiple input methods at same time without restart? Windows can, smartphones can, even Switch can. It's pretty common for non-English speaker to type different languages.
    4. I must admit that Microsoft used to be in leading position when localizing first party games to multiple languages, but Sony caught up and also worked for 3rd party games exclusively this century, and Nintendo caught up with Switch. Besides availability, I feel Xbox has worst quality, so in general Xbox just fall behind.
    I feel that if competitors could caught up and do much better with short amount of time, it shouldn't be that difficult for Microsoft who handles localization problems for many products for decades. It's all about investment, and I hope with XCloud and series X, the story could be different.
  • Agree with Jez on this brave article on how the "other world" is now using Xbox service. In Asia things might work differently but seemed Microsoft is not trying hard. GwG poor offer is one thing, Xbox Store poor product description is frustrating. We see other platforms like PSN, Switch eShop, Steam, Uplay, GOG, EA Origin, Epic, all had a nice little list of the games supported languages, here, the Xbox store is falling far behind....globally. English is not the only language gamers using. Some times we tried to feedback, we heard there is ideadrive Xbox offered to fill in there and the wait to other readers to vote it to be next to be considered feature...this is too slow and inefficient. Sometimes we heard language option is a thing MS can not control over the publishers but I reckon, this is exactly MS can show how much they care about its consumers....at least you can list in your product fact datasheet for your store right?
  • I think this problem is not only about Xbox, but whole Microsoft in general. Microsoft acts like US is most important and diminishes the role of global market. What's the point of having a good product, if you don't want to sell it to the customers? Windows Phone's never even tried to be competitive on global market, leaving whole billions of users around the world at the mercy of Android, at the same time scrambling about few percents of US market share.
  • I worked at MS. There is an internal joke: we support whole world - from Seattle to Miami. This says a lot. Localization is difficult, but MS team can do this job in small steps. For example, enable all keyboards. UI supports it, for example I can write in any language through Xbox app on PC, but not on Xbox. Store availability is also a problem. Without proper localization xCloud will definitely have a huge problem. This will negatively impact not only sales, but the brand itself as well.
  • This is really sad to read. I was one of the core engineers on XP back in 2001. During testing we were expected to run our tests in languages other than English on the assumption that most dev work was being done in English so we should hit other languages during testing. My fav was doing Arabic or Japanese as right to left languages were most likely to break UI's. It's disappointing to hear this mentality of treating every locale as a first class citizen has gone by the wayside.
  • I was helping with localization of many different products: SharePoint, Office, Windows. Arabic and Japanese will always be a challenge, however Latin scripts are already implemented in Windows, Xbox as I understand, uses the same base, many languages have new tablet style keyboards implemented, so "comparatively" supporting Latin based scripts should not be a unbeatable challenge. Depends on priorioties. Joke I mentioned was told by CVP (or similar do not remember) - everybody understands the challenge.
    Regarding store and support most of gamers will accept English as standard. Every country represented by local sub could be supported IMHO by support. Store can be supported by all countries where Windows Store is available.
    So small steps:
    Local sub = available English support
    Windows Store available = Xbox store available, enable region
    Enabled region = add locale
  • Problem with regions is the biggest issue with Xbox (but I'm pretty sure it is very similar with PS as well) for me and why I don't really want to buy it. There are no Baltic countries there whatsoever, as somebody that live in there, in order to be able to play you have to sign in any of supported regions with fake address (which is mostly UK) and even than you face many issues, like not being able to play most X360 games that come with Gold subscription etc. It is sad that they don't care abut regions with small player base (I mean, statistically speaking there are exactly 0 players in Baltic region since it doesn't exist). Pretty much all other Microsoft mainstream products are supported on localized widely here, just not Xbox. And it's been almost 20 years. I really hope with Series X we will finally get long awaited support and local languages in Baltic and other regions but I guess that's a wishful thinking.
  • Great article and some really valid points. Ms take note, listen to Jez.
  • Seeing pretty much every Xbox service works in Turkey I can't understand why Europe does not have every feature
  • Hi, im from Argentina. I had no technical issues regarding the Xbox, so I can't tell if the support team in Argentina is good. But I can say that we have the local store on the Xbox and is, surprisingly, GREAT. It has the same titles as the US, but they are way more cheaper than in US, ex: A game that is 50 u$d in the US, here in the store that is in the Xbox console we can find it at 15 u$d. For an economy as the Argentinean this is very strange, as in many cases, we depend on buying things in the US, as they are much cheaper, so it is strange to find the Xbox store, with the same catalog as US, but much more cheaper. Another thing is Xbox Live Gold, as the games, buying the whole year subscription is 30 u$d here in Argentina, while it is 60 in the US.
    So that is strange, but something that they do to compete against PlayStation that is the main console by far here. A criticism will be the apps available, there are almost none apps, rather than Netflix and Spotify. I think that they should encourage local developers to develop more apps for the store, as we have many streaming services that are not available in other countries.
    But overall I think that Microsoft in Argentina is doing good. Making suscrptions or games cheaper than in the US, is great, as a marketing campaign against Play Station, but also understanding the various changes in our problematic economy. Regarding the PlayStation dominance here, I think that Microsoft should make a massive campaign since day one for the Xbox Series X and promoting the much cheaper games and suscrptions, and make it available to buy in the first months of release, because it always start selling a new console, officially, 1 to 2 years after the release in the US.
    Argentina is a great market that, can be exploited really good, with the next console
  • "One user pointed to the fact the Xbox dashboard isn't offered in Greek, whereas the PlayStation 4 dashboard is" Not only this is tottally accurate but also, Sony's exclusives have full Greek Audio and Subtitle support! I have personally created posts in UserVoice, Xbox Ideas and even the weekly requests thread on Reddit for this language to be supported. Users have voted, in UserVoice we had more than 800 votes if I am not mistaken. We also had many votes in Xbox Ideas, and the idea has been voted in the Top 3 at least 3 times in weekly requests. An Xbox official (no need to mention their name) replied to Reddit that they are planning to support this language two (2) years ago and yet nothing has been done. Whenever I post about it, US people say that "our country is small and it can't help economically" but I keep asking myself how a company like Sony is able to afford localizing games and dashboard and a rich company like Microsoft isn't? How can someone say that it is a small country when Sony keeps on adding localized support for the same country? And not only Sony but also Steam and other companies. And Greece is a supported region, let alone the unsupported ones! How is it possible that most of the Xbox dashboard elements are already translated and imported on PC (Xbox Console Companion and Xbox beta, the Microsoft Store) and not in the 400$ console? How is it that the Xbox App for Android/iOS has so much less available languages than the PlayStation/Steam apps? Either US likes it or not, Xbox and Microsoft is doing terrible in localisation and this doesn't seem to change. And it hurts so much seeing how Google, Sony, and other large companies are doing a great job, while Microsoft seems incapable of it. Thanks Windows Central for pointing this out, and I hope that this gets to some Microsoft official and they finally listen.
  • Well this seems to explain why Sony is still kicking there asses worldwide.
  • Croatia as a EU country is not supported in any way. I also twited Phill with no response. Microsoft CEO for Croatia was manager of the year here. And market is abandoned to PS who localise recent games with croatian language. I just don't understand a lack of iniciative from Microsoft. They must act now, start fresh for next generation. Especially for Xcloud. You must cheat them to spend mony to their products. And what about rewards program? We even don't have live. Unbelievable! Thanks for this article.
  • No Hungarian language in Xbox but PS4 know this language. This is shame because this was a big X360 market but without Hungarian support no chance to be the main console here again.
  • I live in Hungary, we have Xbox Store with prices in our currency, but we don't have localized (hungarian) on screen keyboard, nor system menu. Maybe it's not a big deal, but we don't have OneGuide either, so I had to switch my console's country settings to Austria to use my TV Tuner, and watch free-to-air channels on my Xbox. We don't need EPG, just the ability to use all features, like the TV one, on our consoles without having settings switched to another country. And a little bit more localisation, because we have translated Windows 10 too, so an on screen keyboard, or settings in our language may be not a big deal I think.
  • Micro$oft services in Czech are a pain in the a**e too. Half of them is unavailable, the other half is half-baked.
  • It's funny that you speak about Microsoft that doesn't seem to understand about Dutch/French in Belgium because I'm a French speaker in Belgium and can only have the Xbox game pass notifications (in the Android app) in Dutch -_-'