Sony says the PlayStation 4 won't launch in Japan until 2014

Well, this is unexpected. Sony announced Monday at its pre-Tokyo Games Show press conference that the PlayStation 4 game console will not launch in Japan this year.

Japanese consumers will have to wait until February 2014 to purchase the new console. However, the PS4 will launch in North America, Europe, and South America in November.

When Microsoft delayed its Japanese launch until 2014 it came as no surprise because the Xbox brand has traditionally floundered in that region. The Xbox game catalog is packed with titles that appeal to North American and European audiences, with very little support from Japanese developers.

Sony, on the other hand, has never had a problem selling hardware in Japan or rallying Japanese developers to support the PlayStation. Abandoning its home territory in order to fight Microsoft in North America and Europe seems crazy.

…Or maybe not.

Sony PlayStation 4

Sony might be counting on its home-field advantage to outsell Microsoft in Japan, even if neither console comes to the region until 2014. In other words, Sony believes the Xbox One doesn’t present a real threat in Japan no matter when the PS4 launches, so it’s choosing to direct all resources overseas to win the bigger battles first.

And even if Sony's next gaming console dominates in Japan (which is likely), a Japanese victory doesn’t mean nearly as much in the games industry nowadays as it did even eight years ago.

Changes in gaming landscape

Comparing the PS3 and PS4 launch games demonstrates how much the video game landscape has changed since the start of the previous console generation.

The PS3 launched in Japan in 2006 with six titles, all developed or partially developed in Japan. The PS4 launch lineup is heavily dominated by North American and European companies and design philosophies; Sony Computer Entertainment Japan is the only Japanese studio on the list.

The numbers are clear: Japanese consumers just aren’t as interested in dedicated home consoles anymore. While the North American and European markets grew into juggernauts, the Japanese market has slowly withered. Whether it’s because developers aren’t providing the games—catering instead to the North American money machine—or because the very idea of a home console is antithetical to the way most Japanese consumers spend their time, the country has clearly lost its lust for these machines.

Perhaps the promise of new hardware will bring some people back into the fold, but Sony’s 2014 launch speaks volumes about its faith in the Japanese console market.

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