For anyone that has been following the release of the Nintendo Switch across the world, it’s clear the console has had a very solid launch. However, its success in Japan is badly needed in order to save console gaming from oblivion.
Unlike in the West, mobile games have very clearly disrupted the console gaming market in Japan. Much of this is likely down to the convenience and low cost associated with mobile games, coupled with the fact that people in Japan have very little free time of their own.
Trying to play the latest console release requires players to be at home, this is why platforms like the PSP and now the 3DS have risen to prominence in Japan.
To give some context to all this, while the ongoing success of the PS4 has amassed around 20 million console sales in both the U.S. and Europe respectively, in Japan that figure is closer to 5 million. Whereas portable gaming on the 3DS has done very well indeed, with the handheld amassing over 20 million hardware sales in the region.
This downward console gaming trend in Japan is also something I’ve witnessed at successive Tokyo Game Shows over the past few years and it’s also backed up with gaming sales data. Specifically, in broader industry terms back in 2007 console gaming in Japan peaked at 688 billion yen (or around $6 billion). However, by 2015 it was less than half that at 321 billion yen (or approximately $2.8 billion).
Back in January, Dr. Serkan Toto collected some yearly sales data for 2016 and compared it to the previous year. Not only were the number of million selling games halved, even the 3DS had seen a drop in sales. The point there is that even the mighty PS4, with various deals and new hardware not to mention the release of Final Fantasy XV, could not revitalize console gaming in Japan.
This is where the Switch comes in and considering the current market situation in Japan; it makes sense that Nintendo has opted to tackle the mobile sector head-on in terms of the functionality its new console offers.
While the Switch is arguably bulkier and heavier than most smartphones, the local multiplayer setup facilitated by the Joy-Cons has been something welcomed by gamers here. With games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe having done very well in the Japanese charts since it was released.
What’s more, developers and publishers are now looking to console gaming again, now that both the PS4 and the upcoming Switch have clearly had some degree of success.
After all, investing in two platforms means that the investment on each game is more affordable and the combined install base gives games a chance of making a decent profit.
The Switch’s lower specifications are also encouraging publishers to invest in the platform, as the high profile big budget failures on PS4 and elsewhere have been a major deterrent.
Late last year, most people I spoke with in console game development here were rather worried about the future of the market in Japan. However, since the launch of the Switch, they are noticeably more upbeat about the future of console gaming.
These are still early days though and the Switch has a long way to go. I only hope that by the time we reach the Tokyo Game Show in September this new momentum for the Switch will have translated into something more robust.
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