360 to crack Japan - Xbox boss

They were just warming up.

With PlayStation 3 looming, its performance so far has hardly been auspicious - but Xbox Japan boss Takashi Sensui believes that Microsoft's efforts with 360 in the Far East will finally come to fruition this holiday.

While the bulk of media and consumer attention at last week's Tokyo Game Show was focused on an overwhelmed Sony stand, Sensui insisted that his struggling platform was finally receiving the content to match the value proposition to turn around Microsoft's fortunes in a territory which has thus far largely shrugged at a console the West has embraced.

"Japanese consumers are somewhat reluctant to take in new brands, particularly if the brand has come from outside Japan," Sensui told GamesIndustry.biz in an exclusive interview during last week's event.

"We've been here for several years now and we've launched a new campaign this summer for 360. The response has been very positive - people now feel they're very close to 360, that it's more relevant to their lives and particularly for gamers that Xbox 360 is the best platform there is."

Key to Microsoft's optimism this holiday is a triumvirate of 360-exclusive titles, spearheaded by Mistwalker's hotly-tipped RPG Blue Dragon and including Capcom's Lost Planet and Tecmo's Dead Or Alive Xtreme 2.

"Japanese consumers have a different taste in gaming. This holiday we have a great line-up that will answer those demands; I think it's going to be a great time for us going forwards," Sensui insisted. "I think we have a great variety of titles with great depth and some of the key titles necessary for the Japanese market."

The RPG genre, in particular, has proved a major obstacle to the US firm's ambitions in a territory where the mainly PlayStation-loyal Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises dominate consumer interest.

Blue Dragon, although a brand new title, is a project from original Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's Mistwalker Studio, seized upon by Microsoft as proof that it is honouring its commitment to woo Japanese gamers with apposite content.

Sensui continued: "The important thing is the balance of the portfolio. We need those established franchises to answer the needs of the consumers but at the same time we need new content."

A clear run as the only next-gen system in the market has failed to drive anywhere near the volume of unit sales of 360 Microsoft will have been hoping for to date in Japan. And the threat posed by the 11th November PlayStation 3 launch was increased last week by Sony, with SCE president Ken Kuturagi announcing a surprising and aggressive 20 per cent price cut for the 20GB PS3 model, down to 49,980 yen (EUR 337).

But Sensui rejected suggestions that this piles further pressure on the 37,900 yen Xbox 360 (EUR 255) and the forthcoming Core model, due to be released in November at 29,800 yen (EUR 200).

"We believe that what we offer in terms of the content and the value of the system and the pricing of the console both on the standard console as well as the Core system that we're introducing for the first time in November, provides the best balance of value and price and I think [our proposition] really is the best value for money going into the holiday," he said.

And while the Xbox Japan boss refused to provide an estimate of the 360 installed base in Japan by year-end, he moved to distance Microsoft from a direct fight with its rivals, pointing to the opportunities of a an expanding sector: "Well, as you very well know, I'm not allowed to say any specific number for the country," he explained. "At least with these three consoles in the market this holiday [360, PS3 and Wii], the market itself in Japan will expand and we have a great chance of taking a good share in that market."

But with analysts suggesting that 360 has so far sold well under 200,000 units in Japan, compared with the 2.4m units shifted in the US alone by the end of August, it is clear that Microsoft's system must now show a dramatic leap in performance over the holiday period if it is to improve its status in the territory.

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