View Full Version : The second Xbox gets a second chance in Japan

05-20-2005, 10:33 PM
Maruyama interview with Gamespot....

Yoshihiro Maruyama mounts a campaign to breath new life into the Microsoft agenda in Japan.

LOS ANGELES--In late-2003, in an effort to bolster its struggling Xbox business in Japan, Microsoft Japan hired longtime Squaresoft executive Yoshihiro Maruyama to run the Xbox show in the East.

Now, with two big alliances in the bag--one with Tetsuya Mizuguchi and the other with Hironobu Sakaguchi--it's possible the 360 will have a different, less embarrassing fate than the original Xbox (which still struggles to break 2 million units sold in Japan).

We asked Maruyama-san why the second time could be the charm?

GameSpot: Looking back on the Xbox launch in Japan, what were the elements that you recognized as being less than perfect?

Yoshihiro Maruyama: The Japanese market has always been a winner takes all market. The second-place player has a hard time keeping up. The only exception was Nintendo because it [consistently] had such a strong line-up of its own first-party titles. They can survive without having much support from the third parties.

So Xbox was launched in Japan in February, 2002. PlayStation 2 had been around for almost two years at the time. Even Game Cube had launched the year before. Xbox came [to market] way behind its competitors. The PlayStation 2 installed based in Japan was close to 8 million when Xbox came to the Japanese market.

I found that it was going to be very challenging for any company to launch a new console. So when I joined Microsoft, we made it very clear that for the next-generation console, we won't be second. We'd like to launch at least at the same time as our competition.

GS: And of the marquee titles that you've recently announced, are they all slated to be launch titles?

YM: No. Some of them will be released at launch, but some of them will be coming later.

When Xbox launched in Japan, it was like three years behind PlayStation 2 and close to seven months later than Game Cube. Unfortunately, we couldn't figure out a strong line-up of titles to [incentivize] the Japanese game consumer to buy a new console. And on top of that, some people criticized the design. Many people tried to blame the design as the main cause of the problem, but I don't think so. [I] think we came too late with too few titles.

GS: Do you have a launch library yet established?

YM: Internally, we are establishing the launch [library].

GS: Nothing to announce?

YM: We will be announcing one shortly, but not at this moment. Development is a very sensitive issue. We might not be certain we [can deliver] certain titles [in time for] launch. A few publishers are already talking about having launch titles, but we want to have a strong line-up of first-party titles.

GS: What are the most important elements a game needs to have to be a success in Japan?

YM: The one thing we [didn’t create] for the current generation Xbox was role-playing games.

Dragon Quest has dominated the Japanese market in the last four generations, so we definitely wanted to have Square Enix come on board the Xbox We also have two RPG’s developed by Sakaguchi, in collaboration with Toriyama, for Xbox 360. Akira Toriyama is the creator of Dragon Ball.

We have another title called Lost Odyssey, and we have Square Enix support, which is very important to us. But we'd also like to have our own exclusive RPG’s as well.

GS: So the Sakaguchi titles are exclusive?

YM: Of course.

GS: Is Sakaguchi precluded from working on other platforms? Is there any reason to prevent him from creating a PlayStation 3 game?

YM: There is certain agreement between us, so yes. He will be working only on Xbox 360, but he might do something for handhelds, which is beyond our agreement. Microsoft doesn't have a handheld console.

GS: How did Akira Toriyama become involved in the project?

YM: Sakaguchi and Toriyama have known each other for some time. They've worked together on lots of projects. For instance, they worked on a game called Chrono Trigger. It was a Nintendo SNES game, launched in the US in 1995; in 1994 in Japan. A highly acclaimed RPG. So they have known each other now for more than ten years. They talked about making some new games. Actually, Toriyama presented the particular property to Sakaguchi.

GS: When you talked about wanting to achieve a level of success in Japan, what sales figures are you looking for?

YM: I don't want to give you any particular number, but we want to have a much higher installed base for the next-generation 360. It's a very tough challenge, but Microsoft wants to be the number one console in Japan.

Historically, in the US, there has been more than one dominant console. For this generation, it’s been PlayStation 2 and Xbox…Game Cube to a certain level. Previously, PlayStation 1 and the Nintendo 64. Before that, it was Sega Genesis, and Nintendo

GS: You don't think that will ever happen in Japan?

YM: Historically, it's been just one console. As I mentioned, the Nintendo console was only for Nintendo first-party titles. Maybe, I should say Sony and Microsoft are not the kind of company Nintendo is. We cannot sustain a console [with only first-party titles]. So our business is more [unique]; we have to attract more third-party publishers for our consoles.

GS: What do you think of the marketing strategy that Microsoft has taken in America? These are obviously highly orchestrated efforts. Is Xbox ready to do that kind of marketing in Japan?

YM: Eventually yes, but initially, we would like to focus on the hardcore gaming community. Initially, most of the role-playing games won't be ready at launch, so we would attract more of a hardcore action gamer, racing fan, fighting fan. Role-playing games [may] arrive during the second holiday at market or even the third holiday.

GS: So you actually have quite a bit of time to manage without your big role-playing games…

YM: That is our challenge: how do we sustain the moment until we have those high profile [titles].

GS: So what is your strategy?

YM: We are already seeing a very strong commitment from the Japanese third parties to keep supporting the console throughout the first and second holiday.

GS: With known franchises?

YM: Yes, known franchises--which we will be announcing gradually.

GS: What was your reaction to this week's news from Sony, in terms of the PlayStation 3 and what it is capable of?

YM: Sony has been talking about announcing the next-generation console for some time. So we expected that they were going to announce it at E3. The [performance] they talked about, some say it's strong…as good as ours. We have no intention of competing just for the hardware [performance]. [We will compete on] software support and service.

GS: I've heard rumors of Mistwalker being paid $40 million and Mizuguchi getting $20 for their games. How accurate that is?

YM: The budget for each game is different so I cannot just give you one number for all the games, but for some games, it can cost more--some games it can cost less.

GS: How much support do you get from Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer?

YM: They've worked very closely with Japanese partners in the past, so they know how important it is to establish a very strong presence in the Japanese market. I have been told by them that we have to be a very strong player in the Japanese market. Not just by Steve, but also Robbie Bach and Peter Moore.

We have some information that is just becoming public, but we started shipping our [dev kits] more than a year ago, so Square Enix has had ample time to digest our next generation [plans]. And Square Enix loved them. If you ask the question to Mr. Wada he might say the same.

05-20-2005, 10:59 PM
More on the front page.

05-21-2005, 12:00 PM
That interview is awesome. Thanks for sharing man.

05-22-2005, 10:09 PM
Great interview, thanks. Hope they can do it this time.

rolling stone
05-22-2005, 11:49 PM
nice, very interesting. Akira Toriyama was behind dragonball and chrono trigger...i'm excited.