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Microsoft to delay Japanese Xbox launch?

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Microsoft may be forced to put back Xbox's Far Eastern debut - because of a lack of support from Japanese games developers.

Says who? Who else but... er... Japanese games developers, according to a Bloomberg report.

Sounds a bit like sour grapes to us... we do sense a certain indignation in the tone of the comments from Japanese industry executives cited in the report.

It's certainly true that Xbox marks a real shift of the console business' hub away from its traditional centre in Japan, primarily because Xbox is an offshoot of the PC games arena rather than the console world.

That's probably why Microsoft has focused its evangelism efforts on PC software developers and hasn't been courting the favour of console and arcade specialists, such as Capcom.

Here, for example, is Capcom's response to the console: "Microsoft should have talked more with Japanese game development houses," said Keiji Inafune, Capcom's R&D head. "Japanese video-game developers can't afford to invest aggressively in making Xbox games because Microsoft has yet to show its specific intentions, such as what age demographic it is targeting."

Except, of course, that hasn't stopped Konami from announcing Xbox titles, and Sega is expected to do so later this month at the Tokyo Games Show, part of its plan to abandon the hardware market in favour of a broad software-only strategy. Bill Gates will be speaking at the show, to promote Xbox and almost certainly announce a series of partners.

That's not the way to do it

Even companies with a stake in the success of the console have questioned the wisdom of Microsoft's plan to ship the console simultaneously in the US and Japan.

Electronic Arts CFO Stan McKee told Bloomberg he too doesn't expect Xbox to launch in Japan before 2002. EA has already announced it will offer Xbox software.

The issue seems more one of logistics than software support. Consoles have traditionally been launched in Japan first, with US and European roll-outs taking place six months to a year later.

This is as much about the perception of Japanese companies' perception that their home market is superior to others, but it is a proven way of launching games machines in a controlled fashion worldwide (Sony managed to balls it up with PlayStation 2, of course.)

However, a delay in launching Xbox in to Japan may not matter too much, even though the country accounts for 25-30 per cent console sales.

"Even though Japan is an important market long-term, whether or not the console is a success will be judged by what it does in the US," Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Heath Terry. told Bloomberg.
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