Continuing Coverage: XBOX Japan Launch

Continuing Coverage: XBOX Japan Launch

by February 22, 2002

From Japan Today:

Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates took to the streets of Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya area on Friday to make sure that the U.S. software giant’s Xbox game machine got off to a strong start in Japan’s tough gaming market.

At 7 a.m., Gates handed over the Xbox package to Atsushi Ishizaka, a 22-year-old student who was the first to purchase the Xbox at a Tsutaya video rental chain store in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Ishizaka, from Yokohama, said, “I am so honored” as he was handed the console by Gates.

“I have been waiting for the debut of the Xbox for a very long period,” Ishizaka said. More than 300 video game buffs had lined up to buy the console by 6:30 a.m. The line had begun forming the preceding night.

In a similar event last November, Gates handed the Xbox to the first North American purchaser of the console.

Japanese rock star Yoshiki also took part in the event in Tokyo. Yoshiki was the leader of the now-disbanded rock group X Japan, so Microsoft invited him to join the event to capitalize on the coincidence of the name of the console and his group.

Yoshiki, who took the stage after Gates, told the audience, “I was so absorbed by the games on the Xbox which I received a week ago, I had to delay a recording schedule.”

“The music which it played was so cool,” he said, to the cheers of the audience.

Microsoft said it was ready to ship 250,000 of the plastic rectangular boxes built around a big “X” logo and convince Japan’s gamers and powerful game publishing community that the Xbox is here to stay.

The goal, Gates said, was not to try to beat its better-than-expected U.S. launch in November, but to win the hearts of hard-core gamers and prove that the Xbox can compete with Sony Corp’s best-selling PlayStation 2 console.

Atsushi Ishizaka, 22, showed up 12 hours before the launch to be first in line to buy the first machine in Japan from Gates.

“I felt that this was a really impressive machine,” he said just before midnight, as Microsoft employees handed out green gloves and Xbox logo hats to keep the gathering crowd warm.

Ishizaka is a hard-core gamer who said was in Times Square on Nov 15 for the initial Xbox launch, making Friday’s purchase his second machine.

At 34,800 yen, the Xbox costs 5,000 yen more than the PlayStation 2 and 9,800 yen more than Nintendo Co Ltd’s Game Cube.

Asked if Microsoft could stage a repeat of its strong U.S. debut, which resulted in sales of 1.5 million units in just six weeks, Gates said: “This is not the Christmas season. You shouldn’t compare us to numbers like that.

“As we get into next December we should be able to deliver good numbers,” he added.

“Our goal in our launches is to have the really dedicated gamers get the machine and tell their friends, ‘Look, this is the next generation’,” Gates said. “It’s not as much about numbers as word of mouth.”

To make sure it can claim a piece of the $20 billion global video game industry, Microsoft has invested more than $1 billion in the machine and promised to spend a further $500 million into promoting the Xbox.

Microsoft has stressed that it is easier for game developers to write software for the Xbox than the PlayStation 2 and that its high-capacity 8-gigabyte hard drive and high-speed Internet-ready Ethernet port will help makers develop more interactive and appealing games.

Gates said such features has “allowed them (the game makers) to bring down their lead time and focus on the creative aspects of the game.”

Game consoles live and die by software sales because they generate lucrative royalties for the hardware makers.

Xbox’s fast computer and video chips will allow users to combat each other and virtual opponents in games such as “Genma Onimusha” and “Halo” with fluid movements that match the PlayStation 2 along with the standard assortment of role-playing, airplane-flying and sports games.

Asked if Microsoft was willing to buy a stake in a Japanese game maker to clinch key game titles, Gates said: “We’re Microsoft — we’re open to any sort of relationship. We haven’t done any minority investment at this point but we’re always open-minded to do something like that if it would help somebody do a breakthrough game for the Xbox.”