Today Microsoft hosted an Xbox 2005 Summit in Tokyo where they announced the support of Japan's 50 biggest publishers for the upcoming Xbox 360. I spoke with the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for the Xbox, Peter Moore, to get some insight into Microsoft's plans for conquering the Japanese market. Peter hopes to use this summit to underline how important Japan is to Microsoft. As well as including Peter's thoughts, this feature will consolidate the bulk of the Japan's developer and publisher community's commitments to the platform.
In terms of new reports, Namco has announced that they will be bringing the Ridge Racer franchise to the next-gen Xbox platform. This arcade racer series will be coming to the Xbox 360 in a first for Microsoft. Ridge Racer V was a launch title for the Playstation 2, a signal that this is a substantial gain for Microsoft. Konami and Capcom have also made commitments to bring more of their titles to the console. When I asked Peter whether or not Konami has any plans to bring the Metal Gear Solid series to the Xbox, he couldn't tell us any new information. The MGS series has traditionally been (in the console world at least) a Playstation exclusive and any announcement in the future to bring the game to the Xbox would be a substantial boost to its credentials. Regarding Capcom's plans, they recently announced that Resident Evil 5 will be coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360, firmly closing the door on any previous Nintendo exclusivity on the franchise (as if bringing the supposedly GC exclusive Resident Evil 4 to the PS2 wasn't enough). These titles will join with the E3 announced title Dead or Alive 4, which is a confirmed Xbox 360 exclusive title. As more details from the event are released, we'll be sure to update this article as well as consolidate them in a news article.
I asked whether any of the recent announcement of Japanese titles for the Xbox 360 will be on or around the console's release date, but Peter wasn't too optimistic about that. Apparently we're talking "Summer next year" or thereabouts. That sounds conveniently near the PS3's release date, which could possibly signal an effort by Microsoft to get publishers and developers to release big name titles around the rival console's launch. If Microsoft's thinking is along the lines of dumping every major Japanese and American title onto the 360 around the PS3's launch, then it certainly wouldn't be a completely illogical plan. After all we've heard rumors of this kind of thing before.
Microsoft looks to be capitalizing on the popularity of the Xbox Live! online gaming service, which recently hit 2 million subscribers. When I asked Peter about features that Japanese developers will look to utilise when developing games, he referred to Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI, which is coming to the Xbox 360. Interestingly he noted that Microsoft is looking at integration with the PC version of the game. He mentioned the magic words of "cross-platform" in the same sentence as "PC". Whether this means that Microsoft is opening up the proprietary Xbox Live! platform and allowing Xbox 360 players to game with PC users, I don't know. What I certainly do know is that Microsoft isn't planning on linking in with the PS2 version!
On the surface, this event was all about highlighting the renewed commitments of Japanese developers and publishers to the Xbox platform, but it was missing an important element of the average Japanese gamers thoughts on the next-gen console. Namely, the hardware. In the past several companies have carried out market research on the opinions of Japanese gamers in relation to the next-generation consoles. In much of this research the Xbox 360 is seen as undesirable to the average Japanese gamer. The most important factor in this is that the Playstation 3 is seen to have the largest array of software suited to the Japanese market. The summit will go some way to reverse this view as more titles are announced. However, some research has pointed out that the Japanese view the Xbox 360 is an inferior console in terms of hardware, pointing out the Playstation 3's superior next-generation Blu Ray drive. Also, Team Ninja frontman Tomonobu Itagaki, pointed out the 360's limitations from a developers standpoint. In a recent interview with Microsoft's Steve Balmer, Engadget asked whether Microsoft will be moving towards a HD-DVD optical drive in a future 360 revision. I asked Peter to clarify the situation and say whether Microsoft is or is not planning a HD-DVD drive. He replied that "HD-DVD is still a question", and "we may do something". Whether Microsoft is still trying to sort out technological issues with the format or is battling political issues of whether to back the Blu Ray or HD-DVD format is still unclear. What is clear is that Microsoft needs to commit to a format to address the confusion of the public and developers on the issue of the optical drive. A mid-term change to HD-DVD would lead to a fragmented console platform which is an undesirable situation for developer and consumer alike. Besides, wouldn't a full scale mind and matter assault on the Japanese do much more to bring the statistics back into Microsoft's favor?
On a lighter tone, Peter commented on the "Xbox 360 Kid" as a non-event. Like us, he couldn't really see any new information that has been "leaked" to the public. Because of this he couldn't understand why the media was so excited over the leak. However, as the boss of media relations for the Xbox team, I'd expect he doesn't mind people talking about the 360, no matter what caused the discussion. In my opinion any accusations that this was a Microsoft plant are moot, as they've got the publicity now either way.
I'd like to thank Peter Moore and the Xbox PR team for setting up a Q&A session that gave us an advance look at Microsoft's announcement. As Joystiq receives news of any more product and game announcements we'll be sure to keep you updated.