Xbox 360 launches in Japan

[UPDATE] Next-gen console sells out in half an hour at event location--full premiere party coverage with photos inside.

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TOKYO--The Shibuya Tsutaya Shopping Center has always been a popular location for game companies to launch a new product. It's where Microsoft unveiled its original Xbox to the Japanese in February 2002. The company decided to use the same location for today's Japanese Xbox 360 launch ceremony. The center is located at an intersection right outside the Shibuya train station, which is one of the famous landmarks in Tokyo.

Gamers planning to buy an Xbox 360 at Shibuya Tsutaya didn't have to worry about lining up early, as the store gave out numbered tickets to ensure order. Nonetheless, there were already more than 80 people lined up outside in the cold an hour before the console went on sale at 7 a.m.

An additional crowd of curious pedestrians also gathered around the building, wondering what all the fuss was about. Some of the attendees from the previous night's countdown party at the Xbox 360 Lounge were also on hand. The number of customers at the Shibuya Tsutaya event eventually totaled 250, according to Microsoft.

The Shibuya Tsutaya Xbox 360 launch event was hosted by Hisanori Yoshida, a famous DJ from the Nippon Broadcasting radio station. Yoshida, an owner of the original Xbox, expressed his excitement over the launch of the Xbox 360. He also confessed that he couldn't stop playing Halo 2 the previous night, when he should have been resting for his big job this morning.

Fired up by Yoshida, the crowd went wild when Yoshihiro Maruyama, Microsoft Japan's Xbox operations chief, came up on stage. "Thank you all for coming so early to the countdown ceremony today," said Maruyama. "We've finally been able to make our way to the Xbox 360's launch here in Japan. We've all been doing our best to respond to everyone's expectations, and we're finally going to be able to deliver it today. We're anxious to see if everyone will enjoy it."

When asked by Yoshida about his own gaming tastes, Maruyama revealed that he likes racing games. "I've played a lot of Ridge Racer 6," said Maruyama. "I keep on racing the courses in time trial mode to see if I can score below one minute. It takes me a while to get used to racing games. I try to memorize the courses and figure out where to drift."

Maruyama also recommended another racing game. "Microsoft will release Project Gotham 3 in January [in Japan]," he told the crowd. "I think we've already said it before, but it re-creates cities like Shinjuku [in Tokyo], Las Vegas, London, and New York, in a very realistic fashion. You can really check out the billboards and other objects as you drive around. I've rode around the city of Shinjuku a lot [in the game], and I could see the pubs and stores that I go to, which is pretty cool."

After Maruyama finished his speech, Microsoft corporate vice president of worldwide marketing and publishing Peter Moore (who also had stopped by the Xbox party last night) came up on stage. He received a huge cheer from the fans at the Shibuya Tsutaya after telling them "Ohayougozaimasu!"--"good morning" in Japanese.

He then continued in English. "Thank you for getting up so early in the morning here to welcome the new era of gaming with the Xbox 360," he said through a translator. "On November 22, just a few weeks ago, we were very proud to introduce the Xbox 360 into the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people were able to buy the console that night and have been playing great games ever since." said Moore, who went on to explain that the console has also been a big hit in Europe.

"But as exciting as those two events were, nothing is more exciting for me personally than to be here in Tokyo this morning, with seven minutes to go to the launch of Xbox 360 here in Japan," continued Moore, who has been committed to penetrating the Japanese game market, where the original Xbox never gained major popularity.

"I want to give my thanks to the hundreds of people who work at Microsoft here in Tokyo that have labored the last two and a half [to] three years to enable us to get here," Moore said. "And perhaps equally as importantly, my thanks to the fans of the Xbox here in Japan, who have been so loyal to us though our difficult times in the first generation. Your loyalty will pay off with incredible gaming experiences in the next generation."

After Moore finished his speech, a large high-definition monitor on the stage began counting down the last remaining six minutes--360 seconds--until the opening of the store. Then the anxious customer waiting in line to purchase the first official Xbox 360 in Japan was pulled on stage. The customer, a 22-year-old graphic designer, had come to the Shibuya Tsutaya on Thursday morning but was turned away because the numbered tickets for the event were not yet being handed out. Today, he got in line at 4 a.m., long before trains begin to run in Tokyo. Fortunately, he works in the area, so he decided to spend the night at his office.

Surprisingly, the first customer revealed that, despite his eagerness to pick up an Xbox 360, he doesn't own a current-generation Xbox. "I'm especially looking forward to the graphics," he said. "I heard that the visuals will be extremely beautiful with the shift to high definition. I really got interested in the Xbox 360 after I checked it out at the [Xbox 360] Lounge."

When asked by host Yoshida if he'll be playing with his girlfriend, the customer quietly mumbled and dodged the question. Later on, Moore teased him, saying, "I'd like to tell our lucky winner that he's guaranteed a girlfriend with every Xbox 360."

During the last 60 seconds of the Xbox 360 countdown, a short video played where various people, including game developers, shouted the console's name. When the clock struck zero, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates appeared onscreen to holler "Xbox 360!" in Japanese. He did not, however, appear at the event in person as some had hoped.

From a purely retail perspective, the event was a resounding success. Half an hour after the launch began, all the Xbox 360 consoles at Shibuya Tsutaya were sold out. There wasn't even a unit left for Moore and Maruyama to pose with for press photographs.

Following the lighthearted ceremony, the two Microsoft execs got serious, issuing some stern comments about their company's competitors. "History tells us that no great empire lasts forever," said Moore. "In the case of the Sony PlayStation, obviously it has been a great empire. But when a superior culture comes along, typically it means the end of that empire. We believe that the superior culture is the Xbox 360 games experience, particularly the Xbox Live experience, which will bring communities from around the world together through gaming."

Moore also said he believes that the Xbox 360 will help Microsoft become a leader in the Japanese game market. "The most important thing is that we have the support of every major Japanese publisher…and I'm very proud that we're able to get that support from the Japanese development community."

Moore concluded with even grander statements. "This is not a sprint. This is a marathon. Life cycles of consoles last for many years, and it's now a global business. We're the first company in the world to launch globally in the United States, Europe, and then Japan in 18 days. We think that gives us phenomenal momentum against our competition. We're very optimistic about our numbers. Obviously on a long-term basis, it's our goal to drive towards complete market leadership around the world."

Maruyama talked more about the current status of the Xbox 360 in Japan and revealed that some additional surprises should be waiting during the remaining few weeks of 2005.

"As you may all know, we've had an uphill battle with our current-generation platform," conceded Maruyama. "Our approach this time is to consistently provide good titles to the Japanese users and make everyone acknowledge that the Xbox 360 is different. We believe that doing so will make our business flourish. We see Sony as a rival, but we think that the most important thing is to deliver [good] entertainment."

"We've already said that six titles are being released today, and four additional titles are coming out within the year," continued Maruyama. "During the year, we'll also announce several new titles that are being developed for the Xbox 360. We will also release details on a number of other games that are already announced, especially Blue Dragon, which is being developed under Microsoft. We should be able to show off some new footage."

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