PS5 and Series X Failed to Outsell Switch at Launch
Well, well, well. Wellity well indeedy. Who could have seen this coming? Who could have predicted it? November saw the Nintendo Switch become the best selling home console in the US for the 24th consecutive month (2 years!), handily eclipsing the Playstation 5 and Series X! The Series X released on November 10, and the PS5 released on November 12, leaving both consoles ample time to rack up North American sales, and yet the Switch still handily trounced them by selling more than 1.35 million units in the same timeframe according to NPD figures.
Back in November both Soyny and Microsoft claimed to have had their biggest console launches ever, but even if this were true it was still nowhere near close enough to trouble Nintendo. When the PS4 and Xbox One launched, the PS4 immediately trounced the Xbox One, which saw Sony quickly release concrete launch sales figures, while Microsoft declined to do so – which was very telling. This time around neither Sony nor Microsoft have decided to divulge concrete sales figures, which is even more telling. However many PS5 and Series X consoles have actually been sold, it kind of feels like scalpers own half of them.
Full credit to Phil Spencer, he at least addressed Microsoft’s refusal to disclose launch numbers head on:
I know it seems manipulative and I’ll apologise for that, but I don’t want my team’s focus on [console sales]. The primary outcome of all the work that we do is how many players we see, and how often they play. That is what drives Xbox. If I start to highlight something else, both publicly and internally, it changes our focus. Things that lack backwards compatibility become less interesting. Putting our games on PC becomes a reason that somebody doesn’t have to go and buy an Xbox Series X. I’ll hold fast to this. We publicly disclose player numbers. That’s the thing I want us to be driven by, not how many individual pieces of plastic did we sell.
This makes a certain kind of sense, given Microsoft’s massive commitment to backwards compatibility, coupled with their ongoing commitment to support every device capable of accessing Xbox Gamepass, including last gen Xbox consoles and the PC. That being said, if the Series X came out on top of the NPD sales then you had better believe that Microsoft would be crowing about it from the rooftops. By contrast Sony can make no such lofty claims though. Their backwards compatibility sucks, and they have no ongoing multi-platform commitments to speak of. PS5 is the only horse that Sony are running, and, given all current evidence, it would possibly be better off as glue.
Playstation Is “Slowly and Quietly Disappearing” from Japan
Such is the analysis of Hideki Yasuda and the Ace Research Institute. The PS5 is selling worse than the PS3 over the same period of time during its lifecycle within the Japanese market, and is performing about inline with the Nintendo GameCube. Yasuda feels that this is due to Playstation of California sending Japanese gamers a bunch of negative signals, both subtle and overt, which he believes will see the PS5 ultimately selling less than half that of the PS4 when all is said and done.
For the past few years, Sony (SIE) has been clearly focused on the U.S. market, and I believe that the hearts and minds of Japanese users have been steadily shifting away from PlayStation.
From this graph, can you sense Sony’s (SIE’s) intention to succeed in the Japanese market? For Ace Research Institute, it’s hard to see.
PS5’s initial response is about the same as WonderSwan. Sony has given up on the Japanese market.
In Yasuda’s view the failure of the Playstation brand to maintain its appeal in Japan can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, the relocation of Playstation headquarters to California has created so much geographic distance between the brand and the Japanese market that Playstation of California are out of touch with their Japanese customers. Secondly, Sony sees their fortunes tied to the AAA gaming market, so much so that they no longer see any strategic advantage in encouraging niche and indy game development, which is bad news for the Japanese market because niche anime games make up a huge amount of Japanese gaming consumption.
[The reason that Playstation has] become so indifferent to domestic user trends is that they have lost sight of the principles of Japanese behavior after moving their headquarters to the US.
As I mentioned in the previous article, Japanese game users don’t often express their dissatisfaction on social networking sites, so from the perspective of the staff at SIE headquarters in the U.S., Japanese users seem to be good customers who will accept them no matter how cold they are. In reality, however, this is not the case, and they are slowly and quietly disappearing.”
There are a certain number of Japanese gamers who are quietly angry with Sony (SIE).
[Playstation] seems to have decided that the high-end gaming experience is unnecessary in the moe-dominated Japanese market, and that the platformer [platform] has lost the will to fulfill its responsibilities in the Japanese market.
Some mixture of these two things is bound to factor somewhere into what is currently happening, but it never occurs to Yasuda to consider the role that plain old disdain and contempt for the Japanese market has played in Playstation’s messy divorce with Japan. Playstation certainly did not gain any sort of market advantage by reversing the functions of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ buttons, and nor are the preferences of the Japanese market some great mystery (Japanese gamers like much the same things as Western Weeb gamers) – crippling this market was something that Playstation of California chose to do out of spite for its entertainment preferences.
According to Yasuda there are five factors that have definitively driven a wedge between Japanese gamers and the Playstation brand. Firstly, there was the decision to launch the PS4 three months late in Japan. In fairness to Sony the PS4 launched late in Japan because it initially lacked software that was appropriate for that region, but in fairness to Yasuda Sony did not invest the time and money to ensure that there would be content appropriate to the Japanese market for launch – so the criticism stands. Secondly, there is the fact that the Japanese version of the PS5 introductory video lacked Japanese narration, and the subtitles were poorly translated. No doubt the PS5 introductory video was prepared by the same sort of hyper progressive Americanised Asian of dubious Japanese descent you can regularly see claiming to represent all Japanese people everywhere, when actually they cannot stand the type of entertainment that Japanese people prefer, and in fact can barely speak the language.
Third, is Playstation of California’s spiteful decision to reverse the meaning of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ buttons on the PS5’s controller. This decision confers no market advantage to Playstation, so the only intelligible explanation is that it was done for personal reasons. Fourthly, is the fact that a proportionally large quantity of PS5s were defective at launch, and apparently Japanese consumers are less forgiving of low quality products than their Western counterparts. Fifth, finally, and most importantly is the fact that Playstation has imposed some starkly arbitrary censorship specifically on Japanese made games within the Japanese market, with the presumed arrogant intention of ultimately snuffing them out. Now it is forbidden to depict a cute anime waifu in a swimsuit, while at the same time it is just fine by Sony for Naughty Dog to depict a transexual muscle monster having anal sex in The Last of Us 2.
[Playstation has placed] restrictions on expression and suppressed the release of titles for Japanese users.
Doing this will only increase the distrust of the users. This should be stopped immediately. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be a taboo subject in Sony’s upper management, so I expect that the Ace Research Institute’s opinion will be completely ignored. I’m sure Sony will regret this.
The fall of the PlayStation brand in the Japanese market has become definitive, and we at Ace Research Institute cannot help but feel deeply disappointed. Again, we are sure that Sony will regret this.
Hideki Yasuda also brings up the hyprocrisy of Sony owned Aniplex selling gacha swimsuit constumes in their mobile phone games, while Sony owned Playstation of California is busy banning all such depictions – yet this behaviour only seems schizophrenic if one believes that it is the same corporate overlords controlling both entities. The reality is that Aniplex is being run by the Japanese, and is dedicated to serving the tastes of the Japanese people; whereas Playstation of California is being run by Californians, and the tastes they promote are not even compatible with most other Americans. Playstation of California is being run for the specific benefit of the microscopic part of the venn diagram where gamers and Marxism overlaps, and no one else.
Microsoft Tried to Buy Square and Nintendo
Two refrains that we are terribly fond of here at TDT are the unassailable facts that Microsoft will always reach for the chequebook before ever attempting to accomplish something through their own hard work, and that Microsoft absolutely obliterated the seventh console generation because of this. It turns out that Microsoft could have actually done far greater damage to the Japanese gaming industry if everything had gone their way. To mark the twenty year aniversary of Microsoft’s entry into the console gaming market, Bloomberg sat down with Head of Business Development Bob McBreen, Director of Third-Party Relations Kevin Bachus, and former President and CEO Steve Ballmer in order to discuss the negotiations they had in place when getting ready to launch the Xbox.
It will surprise precisely no one to hear that Microsoft attempted to buy out EA and Midway, after all they are (or were, in the case of Midway) very Microsoft-style developers. However, it might be a tad more eye opening to hear that Microsoft was in talks to purchase Nintendo and Squaresoft, which would have shattered the Japanese game industry to pieces if they had been allowed to go through. That being said, in the case of Nintendo calling these ‘talks’ or ‘negotiations’ might be being a bit too generous, as Nintendo basically just laughed in Microsoft’s face for an hour, before leaving:
Steve [Ballmer] made us go meet with Nintendo to see if they would consider being acquired. They just laughed their asses off. Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you. That was kind of how that meeting went.
One of our personal favourite anecdotes about Microsoft arrogance, stupidity, and obliviousness was the executive who famously thought that they owned Donkey Kong after buying Rare – but this week’s 20th anniversary revelations actually puts this into context. If Microsoft were having internal conversations about buying Nintendo at the same time as they were in the process of buying Rare, then Donkey Kong (along with numerous other Nintendo properties) would be featuring heavily in boardroom conversations, so it probably would have been quite easy for one of their execs to get their wires crossed, given that both companies have a connection to the Donkey Kong franchise.
As a sort of postcript to this interview, Nintendo of America’s chairman at the time, Howard Lincoln, was contacted to provide a response to this Microsoft anecdote, to which he provided Microsoft a curt rap across the knuckles, stating:
Nintendo does not talk about confidential discussions with other companies. In any event, nothing came of these discussions.
Good day to you sir, I said good day!
Squaresoft were actually a tad more receptive to Microsoft’s advances, but ultimately Microsoft were unable to offer them a good enough deal. For context this negotiation occured within a very similar timeframe to the Squaresoft merger with Enix, which was necessited by Squaresoft sinking a ton of money into The Spirits Within, although for what it is worth negotiations were initiated before The Spirits Within had a chance to flop. Let that sink in for a moment: we are actually living in a timeline where Square’s merger with Enix was the lesser of two evils!
We had a letter of intent to buy Square. In early November 1999, we went to Japan. We had one of those big dinners with their CEO and Steve Ballmer. The next day, we’re sitting in their boardroom, and they said, “Our banker would like to make a statement.” And basically, the banker said, “Square cannot go through with this deal because the price is too low.” We packed up, we went home, and that was the end of Square.
And that was the end of Microsoft’s relevance to Japan – at least until present. Who knows what will happen to the Japanese market for AAA games now that Playstation is as much an outsider as Microsoft, only much more agressively anti-Japanese.