What you need to know
- Microsoft has a new exec in charge of Japanese gaming partnerships for Xbox.
- Mena Kato, former PlayStation exec, described in a new interview how Japanese publishers "need" Xbox to grow their businesses.
- Xbox has secured the support of Sega, Capcom, and more recently Square Enix in its battle for relevancy in one of gaming's most vibrant markets.
It's no secret that Xbox has struggled in Japan, which remains one of the gmae industry's most important markets. A hot bed of creativity, talent, and consumer activity, Japan's gaming industry has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with publishers like Capcom returning to the top of the pack. Microsoft enjoys a strong presence overall in Japan, particularly after acquiring Activision-Blizzard. Minecraft is one of the most popular games in the country, and other properties within the Microsoft Gaming ecosystem also perform well. However, one aspect of Microsoft's gaming business that still has a long way to go is the Xbox console hardware business, which has a virtually non-existent footprint in the region.
It's no secret that PlayStation and Nintendo dominate the hardware sphere in Japan, but Microsoft has seen shoots of growth. The Xbox Series S has managed to shift units in the region, and Xbox Game Pass has become an important tool for acquiring new users. And now, Microsoft has another trick up its sleeve.
In an interview with Bloomberg, former PlayStation exec Mena Kato offered some details on her strategy, which she now brings to Xbox as Director of Japanese partnerships.
"Japanese publishers will definitely need [Xbox] in expanding their business. It would be difficult to do that just with the PlayStation," Kato is reported to have said, "We face a challenge and that means there are still a lot of things we can and should change."
Indeed, one of the biggest issues Xbox has faced not just in Japan but also the West in general is the lack of support from Japanese publishers. Notoriously, Square-Enix has abstained from supporting Xbox in recent years, meaning iconic franchises like Final Fantasy have skipped the platform. I reported a while ago that something was functionally wrong between Xbox and Square-Enix under the previous regime, but a change in CEO and consistent outreach from Microsoft seems to have changed Xbox's fortunes. Xbox lead Phil Spencer appeared on stage at Square-Enix's Final Fantasy Festival over the summer to reveal Final Fantasy 14 will finally head to Xbox, as Square Enix pledged increased support for the Xbox platform. Visions of Mana, another legendary Square Enix franchise, was also confirmed for Xbox during this year's Game Awards show.
Xbox is taking Japan very seriously
Microsoft has been taking Japan far more seriously in recent years. Microsoft made real progress in the Xbox 360 generation with exclusives like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, and even an oft-forgotten title from Elden Ring developer From Software on Ninja Blade. Microsoft threw it all away at the start of the Xbox One generation, however, with its hubris-flooded pitch for a console that was more expensive, more confusing, and less powerful than Sony's razor-sharp delivery of the PlayStation 4. Microsoft is still, 10 years later, repairing the damage of the Xbox One, and fixing the console's image in Japan is a big part of that.
Xbox execs like Phil Spencer and Sarah Bond have spent an increased amount of time in Japan in recent years, attending big events like the Tokyo Game Show and others. Xbox Game Pass is being used to powerful effect in grabbing strong deals with publishers like Sega, who have pledged franchises like Persona and Yakuza into the subscription service.
PC Game Pass and gaming handhelds like the ASUS ROG Ally undoubtedly will have a strong role to play in Japan too in the coming years, as well as Xbox Cloud Gaming. It all boils down to games, at the end of the day. Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame is building an exclusive for Xbox called OD, and Microsoft has hinted that other Japanese exclusives may be in the works too. It'll be interesting to see what the future holds.
What would you like to see from Xbox on its Japanese efforts? Hit the comments.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at 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!