It’s no secret that Xbox has never been able to gain much market penetration in Japan. Looking at the sales numbers, though, shows just how much Microsoft is struggling. The latest estimated figures for hardware sales from Famitsu show that only 38 Xbox One consoles were sold last week nationwide.
The Xbox One has only sold a little over 100,000 units in Japan. In contrast, almost 60,000 Switch consoles were bought from January 27 to February 2, 2020, with over 11 million total units sold since the platform debuted in early 2017. Even the Nintendo 3DS line, a platform at the end of its life cycle, outpaced the Xbox with over 700 units sold between the various models.
The total Japanese estimated hardware sales numbers from Famitsu are:
- Switch: 45,720
- Switch Lite: 22,267
- PS4: 4,121
- PS4 Pro: 2,209
- New 2DS LL: 660
- New 3DS LL: 58
- Xbox One S: 32
- Xbox One X: 26
According to VGChartz, the Xbox One has sold less than 10% than the Xbox 360 in Japan. The total units purchased for Microsoft’s previous console were already pretty tepid a 1.66 million.
The question of why Microsoft has so much trouble in the Japanese market is one that’s been posed since the original Xbox premiered in 2001. Most of the arguments on the platform’s lack of success have been distilled down to:
- Preference for domestic consoles (Nintendo, Sony)
- Lack of JRPGs and Japanese studio support
- Large size of consoles
- Lackluster marketing
- Lack of familiarity with Microsoft brands
Each of these arguments has some merit. In particular, when the original Xbox released, PC gaming was mostly dormant in Japan, so many potential buyers weren’t nearly as familiar with Microsoft as those in North America in Europe.
Additionally, the history of PC gaming in Japan is a bit more complicated than in English-speaking countries. Microsoft’s MSX line was popular in Japan during the 1980s. However, the MSX faced stiff competition in the form of NEC’s PC-8800 and PC-9800 lines (and Sharp’s X1 and X68000 platforms to a lesser extent). So, from a Japanese perspective, the Xbox was no different than if General Electric or Cisco decided to launch a console here. Those are brands people are familiar with but aren’t necessarily companies you’d be enthusiastic about buying a console from.
With another console generation on the horizon, it doesn’t seem likely that Microsoft’s fortunes will improve in Japan. Marketing for the Xbox Series X hasn’t ramped up yet, so we’re not sure what the company’s strategy will be for Eastern markets. If trends continue, though, the Xbox will continue to be a curiosity in Japan instead of a real contender.