The Tokyo Game Show, which took place over the weekend, was Microsoft’s coming-out party for its Xbox console. Taking the bull by the horns, Microsoft made a brave decision in doing this.
Japan, one of the most important gaming territories in terms of sales and street-cred, did not like the look of the Xbox right from the start. Many Japanese gamers, in a survey conducted by Famitsu magazine, said that they saw the Xbox as nothing more than a next generation 3DO machine and were not at all interested in buying it. This was not what Microsoft had planned, or hoped for.
The first concern was the sheer size of the console. It is massive, there is no question, but this is forgivable by American and European gamers. In Japan, technology has to be petite. There has always been a tradition of making things as small and functional as possible. PDA’s mobile phones, Walkmans are all better when they are as small as possible. The PlayStation 2 isn’t exactly tiny, but it is an acceptable size. There was even talk that the PS2’s discrete looks were implemented by Sony because the company couldn’t make the machine any smaller.
After the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the Japanese saw the Xbox as a big ugly lump. There was also a certain amount of resentment aimed at the company as a whole. Why should the PC giants try to force a desktop PC sized games machine into the home console market?
Microsoft also had one other big problem. It is Microsoft. It is not Nintendo or Sega or Sony or Bandai, it is Microsoft. Even with every developer under the sun pledging allegiance to Xbox, many of which make up the mainstay of Japanese hardcore gaming, the games mad Japanese remained unconvinced.
The show has been a success for the Xbox, with Microsoft dominating the headlines and holding on to massive interest throughout the event.
The announcement regarding Sega kicked off the weekend nicely. Signing up one of the worlds most respected “proper” game development companies will have instilled confidence in the company. Any number of American development companies is not worth the credibility that signing Sega brings.
All the games shown running on Xbox were well received, for the simple fact that they look great, better than anything else at the moment. The redesign of the pad has also brought Microsoft more favour with the Japanese. The handles have been elongated and the cramped button layout has been squared off, with the two function buttons dropping to the bottom, next to the second analogue sticklet. The start and back buttons have also been shifted across to the far left, giving the controller a more considered look and feel. It should also fit into the smaller hands of the Japanese a little easier.
Microsoft went all out to make the TGS a success. Kicking off the event with a speech from Gates, was a good move though his “I know everything about games and the games industry” tone raised a few eyebrows. The games on show were impressive and the hardware, survived the prying eyes of multitudes of onlookers, protected in large glass cabinets. Most important to Microsoft will be the feeling that they have begun to erode the ambivalence of the Japanese media and public towards the Xbox. They must surely consider this a job well done.