Spot On: Japanese devs' spin on 360

Despite a massive effort, Microsoft's console is still struggling in the Land of the Rising Sun; Executives and game designers discuss why--and what can be done.


TOKYO--It's no secret that the Xbox 360 hasn't exactly seduced the Japanese market. Even though Microsoft spent lavishly wooing the island nation, its new platform's December 2005 launch in the territory was largely met with indifference. By contrast, the 360 was nearly impossible to find in Europe and North America for months after its November 2005 launch, despite reports of now-infamous hardware issues.

Nevertheless, the 360 had a substantial head start in Japan. The other next-generation consoles didn't launch in Japan until late 2006--the PlayStation 3 on November 11, and the Wii on December 2. And although the Wii's 25,000 yen (about $215) price point made it the clear favourite for frugal gamers, the 360's 39,795 yen (about $343) cost put it below both the 49,980 yen (about $431) 20GB PS3 and the 59,980 yen (about $517) 60GB PS3. (Both PS3s have since been discontinued in the US, and the 20GB was never released in Europe.)

So how is the 360 faring in Japan one year after the next-generation war began there in earnest? In a word: poorly. Though Microsoft claimed to have sold over 11.6 million consoles worldwide through the end of July, only 1.5 million of those were outside North America and Europe. Indeed, various reports pin the number of 360s sold in Japan as less than 500,000 and as low as 420,000. Nor do the platform's fortunes appear to be improving. For the week ending September 23, 2007, Japanese industry tracker Media Create reported that only 1,687 Xbox 360s were sold in Japan, compared to 10,732 PS3s and 24,992 Wiis.

Microsoft is quick to point out that the Xbox 360 is doing well in other regions, with 6.8 million in North America and 3.3 million in Europe as of July 31. Consequently, the console's success in Japan, or lack thereof, will not make or break the console. Clearly, though, the publishing giant wants to break into Japan, an influential region regarded by many as the holy land of game culture.

So what has Microsoft done wrong? Aaron Greenberg, Xbox Live marketing director, thinks that the problems go back to the original Xbox, which sold poorly in Japan after debuting there in February 2002--nearly two years after the PlayStation 2's debut.

"The feedback we got from the original Xbox console was that people didn't like the black colour and they didn't like how big it was," he told GameSpot. "We worked with the Japanese design team to design the Xbox 360, so the console was designed with a Japanese style in mind. Hiroshi Ogawa, director of the 360-exclusive Infinite Undiscovery, concurred. "The first Xbox was a little big, a little bulky, and in Japan that doesn't go over too well."

That said, Greenberg isn't entirely convinced by the research and the reasons given by the Japanese respondents for not liking the console. He said, "This isn't like a car where you're driving it around town... I don't buy any of that stuff about the colour, to be honest with you. ... We listened to that advice and we made a white console, but then Sony made a black one, and theirs is now bigger [in Japan]. But I think if you have games people want, then they will buy the system."

So what must Microsoft do to court Japanese gamers? "In order to succeed in Japan, [Microsoft] needs Japan-created content, not just a lot of foreign games that have been localized," Soulcalibur IV lead programmer Masaaki Hoshino told GameSpot. Indeed, many developers say that, naturally, there is a bias toward Japanese games in the Japanese market. "People think [foreign games] are difficult and there's no guidance on how to clear the objectives," said Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation director Natsuki Isaki. "Now that has changed, and they are much easier to play, but this bias remains among Japanese gamers."

Natsuki Isaki agreed with his colleagues, "I personally like games like Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, Gears of War, and Test Drive Unlimited," he said. "But I think Japanese players don't want challenging, stressful, difficult games. Japanese players would rather have role-playing games with a slow tempo, where they are led and shown what to do. So, maybe games like Blue Dragon will start to change things. When more of those kind of games come on to the market, then I think more Japanese players will accept the 360."

Indeed, Blue Dragon comes from one of Japan's most famous RPG designers, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. The nearly 25-year industry veteran is one of several high-profile home-grown designers that Microsoft aggressively courted to create 360 exclusives for the Japanese market. Though other games developed through the program fared poorly at retail--games such as the Tetsuya Mizuguchi-designed action game Ninety-Nine Nights--Blue Dragon struck a chord with Japanese JRPG fans. In an interview earlier this year, Sakaguchi said the game was on track to double its sales target of 100,000 copies, which, although modest, is remarkable given the 360's tiny installed base in Japan.

At the moment, several Japanese-focused RPGs are in development, including two from Square Enix: the Sakaguchi-designed Lost Odyssey and Square Enix's Infinite Undiscovery. However, Ogawa thinks Microsoft needs to make more JRPGs if it wants to succeed in the territory. "I think in the previous generation that when it was the Xbox versus the PlayStation 2, Microsoft was unable to put out many RPGs," he explained. "They weren't able to put out the type of games Japanese players really play. And the resistance to 360 may be some holdover from that."

Given the fact the 360 had to overcome the Xbox's tarnished legacy, one might wonder why any Japanese studios decided to make games for it at all. Some designers say that they chose to work on the console simply because there were no other next-gen options at the time development of their game started.

"We really wanted to develop a high-end game, and the desire to make that kind of game was more important than the market to us in the beginning," said Infinite Undiscovery producer Hajime Kojima. "The PlayStation 3 wasn't out at that point. Also, from the business side of it, it was originally a Microsoft and Tri-Ace project, so obviously Microsoft was going to push for it to go exclusively to the 360."

Natsuki Isaki agreed, saying that the 360's early start is one of the reasons that Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation went solely to Microsoft's platform. He said, "One reason for choosing the 360 is that it was the first next-gen hardware to market. There was a big gap between Ace Combat 4 and 5, and we wanted to get the next phase out as quickly as possible, and the 360 was the first hardware available."

Hoshino adds, "The main thing driving us is that we want to create content to please the fans. And to do that, we want to have it available on as many platforms as possible to reach as many fans as possible."

Now that the PlayStation 3 is up and running, does this mean that development in Japan for the Xbox 360 will dry up? Unsurprisingly, Greenberg doesn't think so. "Square has announced two more titles for the platform," he said. "There's a new Final Fantasy XI expansion that has been added on. Capcom, Namco Bandai, and Konami have all brought exclusive titles to our platform. I think as we continue to grow our install base, we'll continue to sell a lot of games around the world, and we'll get more and more publisher support."

Also, some developers said they liked the idea that the 360, although unpopular in Japan, has a good install base in North America. Indeed, the popularity of Capcom's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition showed many Japanese developers--including the increasingly West-focused Square Enix--that the 360 can give their games a global audience. "The worldwide aspect is definitely there," Ogawa confessed. "Also, in terms of the next-generation consoles, the PS3 isn't quite at the level where the PS2 was, so if you're choosing a next-generation console, it's not such a great difference between the PS3 and the Xbox 360. We foresee that the Xbox 360 will expand."

Other than concentrating on nabbing more Japanese-friendly games like Blue Dragon and Infinite Undiscovery, what else is Microsoft doing to try to grab more market share in the region? Phil Spencer, Microsoft's first-party publishing general manager, said that the company is doing a number of things, including investing in projects that do not have a North American focus. He explained, "It is true that outside of North America and some European markets, the method for creating and nurturing community and their appetite for subscribing or purchasing content takes very different steps. You see us today focused with shipping very core titles like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, but as you can imagine, our future endeavours go beyond simple Xbox 360 shrink-wrapped products."

Greenberg adds that he believes the recently announced spate of Japanese-developed Xbox Live Arcade games will help the 360 gain surer footing in the Japanese market. "A lot of small- and medium-sized publishers that make niche games more targeted to the Japanese market are now actually coming on Xbox Live Arcade," he said. "We've had the Capcoms and the Namco Bandais on Arcade, but now we're seeing increased support from [publishers] like Hudson. And then you get into studios like Treasure and Exit and all these other companies that really haven't traditionally had a large presence in the Western markets. They're focusing on Arcade because it's a great platform for them to make and sell original-style games that appeal to not just Japanese consumers, but consumers around the world."

Greenberg says he's happy that the future looks rosy in Japan for the console and that the next-gen war is far from over. He told GameSpot, "If I felt like where we were with the 360 in Japan was impacting our ability to get games out of this market, I would be more concerned. But we're seeing more publisher support here than we've ever seen before. We had more than twice the titles PS3 did on the Tokyo Game Show floor this year. We've got 300 titles. We have a larger install base. We outsell Wii and PS3 combined from a game standpoint. So I feel good about where we're at."

However, even Greenberg admits that for a new entrant and outsider such as Microsoft, the Japanese game market is a tough nut to crack. "It's a very mature market," he confessed. "People have owned consoles here for many, many years. People from 8 to 80 play video games here. If you go to the arcades, you'll see adults chain-smoking in suits playing games. It's wild."

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Avatar image for snakes3425

In Japan Sony and Nintendo have the advantage of being on their home turff. Xbox is an American console. If Microsoft wants to expand, they need to make the 360 appealing to Japanese gamers, such as including games that appeal to a Japanese audiance, and expand LIVE's features in Japan.

Avatar image for matt_kun

I definitely agree that microsoft japan needs to expand it's support for more japan specific live support and more importantly content if they want to woo the market over there. While I was in Japan I had a japanese live account, but there it was hardly worth looking at compared with the enormous amount of content available in the US.

Avatar image for thenephariouson

Well im a brit and love my 360!! it has the games that appeal to me as well as the best 'Online' ability of any console (and always will). Its simply a matter of national pride as well as Sony & Nintendo 'knowing what makes their customers tick!' I think MS will always have problems trying to promote their consoles in Japan / China so i reckon they should'nt bother and concentrate on the ROW and save a ton of marketing ca$h, whilst giving us exactly what we want.

Avatar image for Shinkada

The Japs are nationalists through and through. Don't waste your resources, Microsoft; you're an American-based company, and thus, your console will never sell well over there. Just be thankful for the occasional Devs jumping on the boat; so far it seems that most of the devs the 360 is getting from Japan are the actual good ones. Capcom's making us part of their main franchises now, Ikaruga is an awesome surprise that we'll hopefully get soon, and I'm sure at least a few others will come too. It doesn't matter how many crappy, same-old JRPGs you make Square to create for the console, it's not going to break into Japan. You'd have to relocate main office Japan, fire all your staff and hire nothing but Asians for them to approve of the 360.

Avatar image for Shadow_Fire41

Japanese didn't like Gears of War!!? WTF!!? My favorite Genre is RPG but i loved Gears of War and Halo, If a RPG fan can like these theres no reason those RPG hoggers can't. (i say RPG hoggers cause they hog alot of RPGs that never make it to America or take too long getting here.)

Avatar image for BIG_Rizla

RPG's are easy be it the irritating random chore that is final fantasys or the large open world of oblivion.All they take is patience.Games like ninja gaiden on the other hand,all they take is an endless supply of hair to tear from your cranium.

Avatar image for TheoleDominion1

"Jump in" slogan is NOT catching on. If they they want to keep this slogan I suggest they use the hit song "Jump" by pointer sisters ( a great song that REALLY captures the feeling you want) showing 1 then 2 people in the same living room playing a game then show someone else in a different location "jumping in" the SAME game the previous two shown ealier. Just keep adding in people "jumping in" the same games all around the world. None of their current or previous commercials emphasizes this.

Avatar image for Riverwolf007

I would care if Japanese devs made good games anymore, sure there are always one or two bright spots every year but for the most part these guys are in a huge game dev rut.

Avatar image for G-Ivanski

Yea JPRGs would really work...I think also japanese styled fighting games like Virtua Fighter and Dead Or Alive might work...I was surprised people in Japan liked Halo 3 (it sold out a lot for a while)...they should put out Bioshock over there too, I think that game might be deep enough to get some people over there to like it....but yea, definitely JPRGs would work.

Avatar image for hellpolice

One issue about the 360 its hardware reliability is inferior however it is still a powerful machine just not durable. I' m on my second 360 and thinking on trading it for a Wii before this one gives out too. 360 is a powerful machine with good western styled games and not many jrpgs however the fact that my first 360 got its reading lens jammed and could not read any disk are making me go grab a Wii instead. I'm moving back to Nintendo after 13 years of no buying a Nintendo console.

Avatar image for Barcode711

MASTERCHIEFUSMA, RPGs are not mindless. Hell, they often take more thought than shooters. Halo is more skill than intelligence oriented, and an RPG is more intelligence than skill oriented. I bring Fallout up. You spend the whole game reading things, trying to say the right things to the right people, and trying to get the most out of your equipment setup. In Halo on, say, Legendary, you have to make sure you dodge fuel rod cannon rounds and must stay out of your enemy's grenade range.

Avatar image for rodrigo101992

I just want to be good as coul calibur II in gamecube

Avatar image for iz_me_roland

i agree that japanese games are difficult, and they require alot of skills and planning just beating a game like JRPG games...heck i didnt even need a walkthrough for oblivion. As for some JRPG games gave me a heck of a time to beat that's why i like it.

Avatar image for EsquiloVoador

what do they mean harder games??? i think final fantasy and jrpgs are way more difficult than shooting aliens or running and jumping wildly, it takes skill sure, but hard games are those that burn your brain, and takes hours and hours to complete... i like ps3, xbox 360 and wii (more ps3 :) )

Avatar image for MASTERCHIEFUSMA

The Japanese dont like the 360 cause simply there arent games they want to play while Americans and Europe gobble 360's up like twinkies cause they have the games we like, The Japanese market is very different then our own, we prefer harder games with some thought required, The japanese prefer mindless RPG's (No offense). Put it simply the 360 needs RPG's if they want the 360 to succeed

Avatar image for termadoyle

it only seems that Japanese are waaay too racist to accept an American product as their gaming console. But it's very odd that 99% of SONY fanboys are american and countries other than Japan itself. both sides need to grow up and change. N'uff said.

Avatar image for madmike1515

I agree with ninjak. I really thik it sucks that the 360 won't be making a dent in the asian market for a while, especially as that means it might miss out on many japanese studios developing for it. Alot of the consumer purchase from the PS2 domination era was japanese developed, but at least there are a few studios still stickin with the 360.

Avatar image for Ninjak

say it again.... "reckeweg Japan is the electronics juggernaut of the world and they see Xbox as an American product. They simply aren't going to embrace a non-Japanese console. Sony and Nintendo are a source of national pride for them. No one here in the states ever seems to be able to wrap their head around that. Until they do they are just going to keep blowing ad and merchandise dollars down the drain. "

Avatar image for uzimaki557

You want to know the solution to making the 360 take off in Japan.... Get MistWalker to publish Chrono Trigger 3. forget square, they are dead, gone, and greedy. Chrono Trigger 3 would revive any console, and the minds at MistWalker could do it, infact 1/2 of the team is there, and most of the rest are floating around and freelancing.

Avatar image for Soupflakez

reckeweg, yeah that's one reason. That could be some of it, but you forget that the Japanese love American culture and love our music. A lot of American devs sort of just gave up on Japan. stillereize: well congratulationsm, FPS's aren't bad, they are meant for the more competative, shooter, type of gamer. Xbox is strong on it's shooters because that's what it specializes in. The Xbox 360 is the best console for any kind of shooter because the quality of the shooters on the console is great. You somehow managed, through your perverted logic, to diss an entire genre and a large user-base. BTW, when you say MS churning out FPS's what do you mean exactly? A lot of the FPS's on the Xbox 360 are multiplat and weren't even published by MS Game Studios.

Avatar image for reckeweg

Japan is the electronics juggernaut of the world and they see Xbox as an American product. They simply aren't going to embrace a non-Japanese console. Sony and Nintendo are a source of national pride for them. No one here in the states ever seems to be able to wrap their head around that. Until they do they are just going to keep blowing ad and merchandise dollars down the drain.

Avatar image for ZJohnnyZ

I agree!! "But I think Japanese players don't want challenging, stressful, difficult games." I'm an ex-nintendo/64 and PS1 and 2 only gamer now I love the Xbox360 but I have noticed that the games are more about difficulty then actual fun of playing! I miss just enjoying playing and moving along the story or making my own, now I just restat over and over and over again wile my blood pressure rises higher and highr. You can be a pro gamer based on the number of fun games you've completed instead of how close to a heart attack you've gotten!

Avatar image for Silicon_Noob

I gotta say m$ look to have the most exciting lineup of upcomming Japanese software even despite the fact the console doesn't fare so well in Japan.

Avatar image for dragonseer439

I was living in Japan when the Xbox360 launched. It was funny seeing Xbox adds all over the Tokyo trains, and swish demo kiosks set up, but then no one buying them on launch day, or even caring. Anyway it wasn't for lack of trying.

Avatar image for therejectx


Avatar image for Ra-Devil

Bern20 Controllers? CONTROLLERS? How do you break the 360 controller? My friend broke his. Wanna' know how? He throws his controller against the floor as hard as he can when he loses (I make him bring his own controller if he wants to play at my place). I don't mean toss it accross the floor, I mean throw straight down. It usually makes something on my shelf fall over. After... 10 months? Has to be 10. Anyway, 10 months later, he FINALLY broke it. What happened? The corner of the controller finally cracked and split. The motor that makes vibrations in the controller stopped working. About 2 weeks later the left thumbstick finally went limp, and he had to get a new one. With that said, WTF were YOU doing to your controllers!?? I was amazed at what the controller could handle, and you somehow went through 2 already?? So your, you know, playing games with hammers, right? I know the console isn't that formidable, as mine broke on a plane flight (carry on, padded too), but not the controllers. It's true Sony makes overpriced high quality things, but their controllers for the PS3 are maybe as structurally sound, so why are you bringing up controllers? Jump on the fan-wagon and go with "Defective console" or "TONS OF FPS." Back on track, true, I own... 4 FPS for the 360, being R6 Vegas, GRAW, Bioshock, and Halo 3, but I enjoy all my other games too (26 in all). So of those 26 titles, I have 4 FPS, 5 TPS, 2 RPGs, 2 Hackn'Slash, 3 racing games and the rest are just other random games (think Viva Pinata). It's not just FPS people, it's shooters in general. I got 10 titles that have emphasis on shooting things, the style and perspective is just different, and I try not to buy too many games that are similar (save for GRAW, that was a gift). Why isn't the Xbox 360 doing well in Japan? It's a Nationalist county, there aren't many Japanese stylised games, and the Xbox was a bust in Japan. The PS2 didn't have many games I enjoyed on it. Know what I did? I didn't buy a PS3... tough choice, huh. I like Halo, Ninja Gaiden, Fable, and the Xbox line up in general, so I got the 360. I don't care that you don't like my taste in games, or even if you do. It's all about opinions people. My friend has a PS3 cause he likes it... he has his own reasons, and I don't care to ask him why he didn't get a 360. Why? In some parts of the world, eating dog is okay. I like dogs, so I don't think I would like eating one. Does that make the people who do it wrong? Stupid? Misinformed? No, they just like to eat dog. So next time, instead of being stufid fanboy retards, just enjoy your damn games and let someone know that you liked your game. I'm not telling you your game is superior, so don't get confused here. I like Halo, you like Final Fantasy, and he like Smash Bros. We all like something different, and that doesn't make any single one of us wrong in any way.

Avatar image for PS360Fanboy

They prefer Sony and Nintendo

Avatar image for KamalR

awww Microsoft don't even have too many FPS it's just that the sell the best that's all the other type of games don't sell like FPS sell ppl who think ms only got FPS look up there games only a handful is FPS

Avatar image for stillereize

The fact that Microsoft keeps churning out FPS isn't the problem. The problem is all you retards that keep buying FPS's. Hardware issues aside, even though Xbox 360 has made some strides in developing more games outside the FPS box, it still continues to rely heavily on the FPS genre. And like retards to shiny lights, you guys keep buying FPS.

Avatar image for bern20

Japanese people don't like the Xbox 360 because everything Microsoft makes is crap. I love my Xbox 360 to death, but please Microsoft fix the red ring of death! Make the 360 not as loud! I been through like 3 Xbox 360 controllers. MS needs to step up its quality.

Avatar image for jubeajubea

Gaming in Japan is like Film in the US. Imagine if we expected US box offices to all of a sudden play as many foreign films as they did hollywood films. The top consoles have been coming out of Japan since the inception of the medium, so its going to take more than a couple console generations and JRPGs to make any US based console truely do well in Japan.

I for one am very happy about kinds of titles being made for the 360, even though I still despise M$ . The demographic of the console is much closer to the creative goals of US game studios and so we're getting some amazing games as a result. Before the 360, console games had a much different slant and the PC was the place for mature, involved gaming. I know thats a generalization, but as an example: I'm buying several games on the 360 that I would have purchased on the PC instead like bioshock, gears, orange box and the upcoming mass effect. In contrast, I still get the console-flavored games on my Wii, but those are by no means the gems of the medium imo.

Avatar image for Zee666

Japan may be my favourite country, but they definetely don't like the games i do. C'mon Japan accept the 360 with all it's greaty greatness woohoo!

Avatar image for Lethal_Levy

Cirus, you are wrong! There is Dead or Alive 4, VF5 is out, Fight Night Round 3, Rumble Roses, WWF, WarTech: Senko No Ronde, DMC4 on the way along with Ninja Gaiden. Know what you're talking about before you start chatting sh!t.

Avatar image for Cirus2

one genre the 360 is lacking is fighitng, dont think there is even 1 available hmm ermm well theres VF5 coming soon but hate VF mainly the animation is proper like robots and **** game.

Avatar image for pinball69

And not every game made in the US is a flop in Japan. Many Blizzard PC games such as Starcraft and WoW have sold extremely well in the asian countries.

Avatar image for pinball69

Microsoft just needs to convince Square-Enix to also make "the" Final Fantasy games for the 360. And also get more Capcom and Konami games.

Avatar image for frankeyser

any think it could be the jump in slogan for the 360? not only do i think it is retarted in english in japanese it does not even translate well! so it sounds even dumber. picture if the wii's slogan was touch your willy. people would not buy it just because it sounded dumb. the slogan needs some work for one.

Avatar image for EXxile

I'm glad to see the 360 is getting support from alot of Japanese developers. And BTW, Halo 3 was number one on the charts in Japan. GS even has an article about it.

Avatar image for Simba_Dude

If size did matter then why is the PS3 selling better in japan then the 360?

Avatar image for methehacker

"Greenberg says he's happy that the future looks rosy in Japan..." come on, what future. I've spent a few years in Japan... half of the kids there don't even know what an Xbox is bro...

Avatar image for holycrowbar

pandemic_rno. "No. You do" You do know that Halo 3 was number one one the sales list in Japan the week it came out, right? With that many sales, it can be implied that Japanese people may possibly like the game. Just becuase you're anti-microsoft, doesn't mean you should be retarded about it and sound stupid. On the topic of the article, it's nice seeing microsoft getting more support in Japan. More Japanese support for the 360 makes it more competitive in the console market, which can only be good for consumers like us, even if we don't buy into microsoft's console.

Avatar image for Mazarak

My 2 cents: The Xbox 360 can't do well in Japan. It just can't. Point case - Devil May Cry is muliplatform. SO what? If you want to play MGS4 for FFXIII AND DMC, then you ARE going to buy a PS3. That's it. Why buy a 360 to play DMC when u gotta buy another ps3 to play FF and MGS? As long as FF and MGS are exclusive to SOny, the PS3's survival in Japan is guaranteed.

Avatar image for skm_neon

Japanese people don't like hard games? lol

Avatar image for Tora-tora-tora

I’d add a comment since the subject continues. The most important thing is that 99% Japanese gamer assume any FPS shooter is way too simple and violent, and are no interested at all in football(not soccer), basketball, ice hockey or MLB(not baseball). It sure is that no need any survey. And what do you think if you see the Japanese who complain about a tiny Japanese movie share in US? Of course, the Japanese convince the movies are really exciting. That’s the answer.

Avatar image for RoC1909

What a idiot to make a statement like this: The feedback we got from the original Xbox console was that people didn't like the black colour and they didn't like how big it was. If the Japanese REALLY didn't like a specific console due to it's color or size..I say TOUGH S***!!! I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I really don't think that the Japanese people are as shallow as this jerk would like readers to believe.

Avatar image for Andrew_D28

Japanese people really like Halo 3. That and the numerous JRPGs and shooter arcade titles are helping MS alot. Not to mention I like JRPGs and shooters, so I say keep em coming.

Avatar image for RaiKageRyu

This board flooded with zealous fanboys.

Avatar image for thegame1980

It's as simple as this. Japan is BIASED towards outside marketing. They can say they don't like the Xbox for any number of reasons but they are FULL of it. They don't like it simply because it's from America and not Japan. Had the PS3 been an American product they would shun that as well. They are brand and country loyal to the fullest because no matter WHAT Microsoft does with the next Xbox console they will not like it.