With word that both of these new consoles will miss E3 and likely make their first showing at TGS, here’s my two cents.
On the surface, having both the Nintendo NX and the Sony PlayStation Neo miss E3 is quite a shocking turn of events.
Admittedly, the XBox One and the PlayStation 4 were showcased prior to their respective E3 showings, to build up hype and to reveal features and ideas on their own terms. But considering how unbelievably important E3 is in the annual gaming calendar, not even having the faintest whiff of this new hardware is at least surprising, if not outright galling for many who have long considered the four-day period the gaming equivalent of Christmas. And yet, the Nintendo NX won’t be at E3 – and it seems neither will the PlayStation Neo. Rather, discussion and rumour suggests strongly that we won’t see anything from these new machines until Tokyo Game Show, starting this year on the 15th September.
Then I thought about it and realised; actually, this makes a lot of sense.
To appreciate why both Nintendo and Sony are favouring the smaller event in Japan this year, one needs to take a casual look at the state of home console gaming in Japan. Back during the early part of the 2000’s, Japan was a keystone of the launch day sell-through; eager fans would queue for days and weeks, and a boatload of games and software could be shifting in a few scant hours in ways that the Western markets simply weren’t able to match. I vividly remember the furore around the launch of the PlayStation 2; it was an event of unparalleled importance!
Today, however, home consoles are not the in thing; smartphone gaming has taken grip in a country where space is at a premium, where handheld consoles are generally more favoured and where even by notional standards, the PlayStation 4 bombed on launch in comparison to its launch in more Western territories. Japan, for whatever reason you can name – and there’ll be a few reasons we can think of, like the gradual Westernisation of gaming sensibilities and genres – just had a spectacular falling out with home console gaming.
But the appetite for gaming in Japan did not dull; it simply shifted elsewhere. As I mentioned, smartphone gaming has exploded in the country and for handheld games, they’re avid devotees of numerous handheld titles – from Pokémon to Yo-Kai Watch and Monster Hunter, these games crush sales expectations when they hit the market. Japan even continues to have a strong Arcade Gaming scene, long after we in the West have moved on from the propensity of dumping change into these hungry machines.
What seems to be happening, with the transfer of some bigger announcements towards Tokyo Game Show, is a shift in marketing tact.
Sony and Nintendo both know that after a few years of relative struggle in the West – for varying reasons – that the prospect of selling both the Neo and the NX is going to be a tough nut to crack. After the unbridled success of Gen-7, with incredible sell-through, Nintendo fell flat on their faces with the Wii U and Sony squandered their advantageous position of the PS4 lately with some really nonsensical ideas that ultimately never quite took off. They have burned through the eagerness of the Western audience, and we’re just a little jaded and cynical about the prospect of a new PlayStation console not even three years after the release of the PlayStation 4; at least Nintendo can claim to have weathered a good four years, and even then Nintendo hasn’t been entirely clear on much lately. Announcing these consoles at E3 could and maybe would generate considerable excitement; but it could and likely would also generate some resentment from those who haven’t long bought into this generation, seeing the prospect of new hardware they could have waited for.
By contrast, the Japanese gaming market is a potential goldmine waiting to be harvested. Our friends in the Land of the Rising Sun still spend obscene amounts of money on video games; they still make sure their favourite games break sales records and make incredible profits. But they need to be marketed to; they need to be made to feel special, targeted, appreciated. And therein lies the core of it all – Tokyo Game Show might be small by E3 standards, but to the Japanese, it’s likely everything. To target it, to make their game show the focus of the worlds attention, is to aim to capture their imaginations and ultimately convince a market that largely abandoned the home console en-masse to rediscover the joys of the home console once again.
Nintendo is perhaps better poised here; a company which retains a distinctly Japanese sensibility for the most part, there are a number of franchise reveals that could be made during this period that would really snatch their attention. With a new Pokémon pairing, an NX tie-in for these games wouldn’t be a big stretch and would be hugely marketable. A Yo-Kai Watch game for the NX would also get attention. Same goes with Monster Hunter. And a number of other Nintendo franchises which do well in that market, all with a ready supply of Nintendo charm and wit. Sony has admittedly shunned its Japanese origins; it wasn’t long ago that Sony was almost considered unfashionable in the country, but Sony is a company capable of reinvention on a grand scale and I wouldn’t put it past them to take some of its old and more successful Vita fare and pretty it up for the Japanese audience.
Ultimately, what both Sony and Nintendo want is for Japan to come back to the Home Console. The weaker market in Japan has made its presence keenly felt, with lesser sales of both the Wii U and PlayStation 4 than either company would like, and it’s imperative for the success of these new consoles that after a period of disinterest, that they make the Japanese market once again fall in love with their machines. This is also why games like Final Fantasy 15 are so important this year; a game series which was once a staple of the JRPG genre, and yet the Japanese have been turning their noses up of late.
The success and/or failure of these coming consoles hinges on making everyone want these consoles – and the only good way to make the Japanese fall in love again will be to expressly target them and their annual gaming show. To put the spotlight on them, have the world looking toward them and pitch directly at them. And it gives us, in the West, a little more time; by waiting a few more months, you can create the illusion of a more protracted generational span, even if we both already know these consoles are coming and could time our watches by their unveiling and eventual release schedules. This should take the bitter taste out of our mouths in the West, and give us more time to collect our thoughts – and our pennies – in preparation for this new wave of hardware.
It’s not complicated stuff. For a decade, E3 has been the big show. And the Western market responded in kind; but we’re a different audience to the Japanese. What appeals to us isn’t necessarily what appeals to them (as I said, healthy arcade scene still going on in Japan). It’s not a big leap to presume this focus on the Western market ultimately led to the collapse of the Japanese home console market (I understand many Japanese people feel this way); and now, knowing they need those old Japanese sales figures to make a return for this new wave of hardware, they’re simply pulling the same trick in reverse, hoping that it will work just as well inverting the principle.
Whether it does or does not is neither here nor there. It’s not the point. The point is – they have to try. In a market that is becoming ever more fractured and ever more diverse in terms of where gaming is happening, it’s important to chase those old sales figures that Japan could once generate, even if it is clutching desperately at straws. The games industry needs Japan, and it needs Japanese developers again; it needs them to come home to the home console, and the only way to do this is to make the Japanese market feel special, wanted and loved.
Of course, I have no idea if it will work. Your guess is as good as mine on this front. But it isn’t strange that they’re targeting Tokyo Game Show; what surprises me is considering the smouldering crater where Japanese sales figures once resided for the home console market, is that it’s taken this long for the games industry and two of its major players – Sony and Nintendo – to realise they were missing them in the first place!
Better late than never, but let’s hope inverting the marketing doesn’t impact Western sales. Or we’re in for a brutal vicious circle…