While driving last night I was listening to the latest episode of Warning: A Huge Podcast — one of the few gaming podcasts worth the bits it's printed on — when the hosts began discussing the latest video game sales figures from the Land of the Rising Sun.
While most of the discussion was further depressing evidence of the Japanese gaming biz sliding headlong into oblivion, two figures stood out as hilariously contrary to the rest of the planet, further proof of the increasingly detrimental nationalism of Japanese consumers or simply baffling depending on your own personal tastes.
The two figures in question are the sales of Pokémon Black and White and the sales of Halo: Reach.
A high five should be aimed at Nintendo for what they've accomplished with their latest Poké-release. Last week saw the games' Japanese debut and in two days the duo sold 2,557,000 copies. That's a huge number, so if you're having trouble wrapping your mind around it, consider this: Pokémon Black and White now hold the record for the biggest two day sales total in Japanese gaming history.
This, despite the fact that overall Nintendo DS software sales are declining sharply across the board.
It should also be mentioned that the Pokémon franchise is rapidly approaching its 15th anniversary with no signs of slowing down. To wit: These latest two games are the 26th and 27th entries spawned from series creator Satoshi Tajiri's childhood memories of forcing bugs to fight to the death in the Japanese countryside.
Hit the jump for more numbers and less insect bloodsport.
Also debuting in Japan last week was the latest title in Microsoft's biggest franchise, Halo: Reach. The game has been widely praised by critics across the planet, including a 1,300-word tongue kiss from our own Erik Henriksen. Unsurprisingly, the game has been selling like Mary Magdalene (propers to my broski Pope Gregory The Straight Pimpin' for that one), having racked up $200 million in sales in its first 24 hours of availability, according to Kotaku.
In fact, in its first week of availability, the game — which is widely seen as the "killer app" for the Xbox 360 — sold roughly 3 million copies worldwide.
In Japan however, total sales barely topped 44,000.
Even more depressing? That 44,000 is a steep decline from the sales of Halo 3, which moved a slightly less depressing (yet still pathetic) 90,000 copies in Nippon over the same period in its lifespan back in 2007.
Now, keep in mind that the Xbox 360 is widely viewed as having bombed hard in Japan, so it has a much smaller install base over there than it does in, say, America, but even so, 44,000 copies of the console's biggest release is just sad.
Why mention all of this? I realize it's unlikely that any of you are reading this from a cramped one bedroom apartment in Shinjuku or an ¥800,000 per month loft above a tapas bar in Roppongi Hills, but it's rare that American gamers, even those who keep their ears pressed firmly to the metaphorical ground on which the industry is built have a chance to learn about how things are going across the Pacific.
Even the ongoing, catastrophic collapse of the Japanese gaming industry barely earns a mention from mainstream publications and websites.
Consider this a quick glimpse at the disparate world over there (as well as an experiment for me). If you guys dig this sort of thing and want to hear more about how Japan is doing, I can make that happen. If you couldn't care less however, this is a one-off type thing that you'll never see again. Lemme know in the comments.
While you're down there offering your opinion, why don't you also try your hand at explaining all the info I presented above or answering the questions below? There doesn't seem to be any sort of professional consensus for what is going on in Japan at the moment, so any idea is valid (doubly so if it involves Godzilla).
Why is Pokémon still so incredibly popular despite a hyper-saturated market, and the collapse of the antiquated handheld platform that the series' main line of games calls home?
Why did the Xbox 360 bomb in Japan? Why is the Xbox 360's biggest release to date essentially being ignored by Japan's gaming public? Short of buying a Gravure idol for every gamer east of China, what does Microsoft have to do to turn things around in that territory?
Or is that even possible at this point? Are they just totally fucked? Is their only option a quick retreat back to the loving arms of the rest of the planet?
Finally, does any of this matter in the wake of US and European industry giants pushing Japanese companies out of business en masse?
Those few Japanese companies that are surviving (Capcom, for instance) have been forced to "westernize" their business practices to stay competitive (to wit: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest publisher/developer Square Enix publishing Modern Warfare 2). So far it seems to be working on a small scale, but how are traditionally Japanese companies supposed to compete with Western developers if the majority of the market decides it no longer has any use for the Japanese style?
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!