Friday, January 06, 2006

Meme: Xbox 360 failed in Japan due to Xenophobia

This is perhaps one of the more interesting memes in that it spread quickly through the Internet on gaming boards and often revealed stereotypical "Ugly Americanism." The meme goes like this the reason that the Xbox 360 failed in Japan was because the Japanese hate American electronics because of xenphobia, WWII, or nationalism. Other sites have torn this apart piece by piece.

The case against nationalism and xenophobia being the cause of slow Xbox 360 uptake in Japan is pretty obvious and logically sound. Despite the new sleeker design away from the rather hideous industrial shell of the original Xbox it still is pretty noisy with 2 fans in the case and 1 in the power adapter. The fact that it still overheats only hurts sales especially when a lawsuit is launched mere days before the Japanese launch. Hanging the adapter above ground so that it has airflow all around it supposedly solves the problem but I can see why some may wait for a more elegant solution.

The lack of compelling titles for the Japanese market is probably the main reason it hasn't sold well, afterall it is a game console. Gamers follow games onto new platforms very few gamers will just buy a system just because it is new. Some people bought the PS2 mainly because it had a built in DVD player and at the time it came out was about $100 cheaper than the nearest DVD player on the market. The XBox 360 as launched does not have a HD DVD or Blu-Ray drive. At any rate having more action games and RPGs would have helped the launch in Japan. The initial offerings were mostly FPS, racing and football. DOA4 should be coming out shortly so sales may pick up but there isn't a whole lot of action of RPG or fighting games after that on the horizon.

Microsoft has just announced that they will sell external HD DVD players for the XBox 360 but that will be at an additional cost above the ~US$339 that it sells for in the Japanese market and US$399 it retails for everywhere else. The new medium is virtually guranteed to only support HD DVD movies and music since gaming houses could not reasonably assume that there will be enough of penetration early on to justify limiting their potential sales by making games HD DVD only. Despite this future split in the system configuration and the minor split currently over hard drives the HD DVD game meme is already spreading. The fact that there were rumors of Microsoft planning such a move as late as last year may have put the brakes on the sales in Japan, especially when the PS3 having Blu-Ray drives into the equation.

The thing that is so fascinating about the xenophobic meme is that many ignored these real issues especially the crucial issue of games and jumped on the they hate America bandwagon. This despite the fact that iPods are even more ubiquitous in Tokyo than in New York or that Windows has over 90% market penetration in Japan just as they do here. It isn't as if they do not have other options for mp3 players or operating systems. People tend to ignore the jingoistic nature of some of Xbox 360 fandom. In essence people ignore the fact that certain types of games do really well in some countries and rather poorly everywhere else. FPS such as Halo and Half Life are huge in the US but may not get as loyal a following in Japan as such titles as Dead or Alive (DOA) or .

The question of Japan's relevance in the gaming industry is a sub-part of the xenophobic meme raising the natural corallary assuming the Japanese are nationalistic when it comes to product reviews does their opinion matter in a globalized world? Kotaku took this on but by the racist responses from some of the American readers not all are convinced that the original proposition is false and that the corrollary would necessarily be false as well.

The power of the xenophobic meme comes from an old tradition not unique to America at all of being suspicious of the "other's" motives. The "other" can be anyone from another country or culture that raises one's own xenophobia. It is partly classic transferrence of one's own prejudices onto the "other" as an explanation for why one is so xenophobic. The xenophobic argument in relation to the Japanese has a lot to do with the economic power of Japan and an uneasiness about it in the West. Similar arguments were made during the 80's when Japanese cars were starting to gain traction in the US with complaints that the Japanes would not buy American cars because they hate America.

The stated reason for the perceived xenophobia is telling, anger over Hiroshima probably enters the mind of a Japanese gamer as much as memories of Auschwitz invades the mind when thinking of the Beetle. Perhaps a desire to repeat the act if only metaphorically.

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