Have you ever noticed that Japan stands apart form the rest of the world in video games?
In the American market, we had a variety of game machines that got over 10% of the market. When removable ROMs were introduced, there was the 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Odyssey 2, Astrocade, 5200 and Vectrex (not to mention the obscure “Neutered by Atari in America” Emrerson 2001) And that doens’t count computers like Apple IIe, Atari 800, Commodore 64, and TRS 80. That was back when what we call a PC was known as an “IBM compatible”, and before licensing, an IBM. I NEVER knew anyone who gamed on an IBM compatible. American had so many choices, that Atari made Intellivision and Colecovision games as well as non-Atari computers under the Atarisoft Label, Coleco made games for the Intellivision and the 2600, and Intelliviosn made 2600 games under thre M-Network label. That would be like if Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo making games all for each other’s systems under altrnate Llabels like Majhong (which they do with Minecraft) Sony (which they did for Q Bert Rebooted) and Red Cap Games (NIntendo said they would rather die as a corporation than make thrid party games.)
As I was young and only following my market, I was unaware of the European and Japanese markets at the time for 1984. As far as I can tell, there were only 2 home consoles that uses swappable roms in the time all those American systems came out, the Famicom, and the Sega SG-1000 (if there are any others, I couldn’t find them with a 10 minute search.) I dont think the Japanese have been exposed to an Atari, and Intellivision, or a Colecovision. To them, Japan was the center of video games. A lot of games were exported out to Americans, who negoitated by the company, not by the system, and it was not a comany-line thing, but an individual title license. Coleco had Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior, Parker Bros had Popeye, and Atari had Mario Bros, 3 different American publishers for Nintendo Games.
But even though American were seeking American titles in addition to their Japanese imports, I have not heard of an Asteroids craze, or a Centipede craze, or any other Atari games do well in Japan. Most people in Japan think Atari is “a concept” in the board game Go. (I never played the board game Go, so I’m being as generic as possible)
And at the time Sega has both American and Japanese bases covered as they were funded by American money building games in Japan to serve American uniformed warriors stationed in Japan. It was the ultimate East-meets-West company.
Then the whole market collapsed in America. Ten we had a crippled Atari, and the Japanese success story Nintendo and the mixed nationality Sega going to American and exporting their stuff.
Ever since the Famicom beat the Mark 3, and even before where Japanese who recognized the word Atari mainly from Go, Sega had a half-American stench whihc made Japanese dominate the Japanese market. Hudson challengd witht he PC engine and made inroads, but the half-breeds Sega launched the Mega Drive in Japan to so much of a thud, that in Japan, Sega was releasing games on the PC Engine.
In Europe the computer was big, and not “The PC”. There were many brands of computers that are foreign to me that succeeded in Europe. And among dedicated games machines, the Sega Master System did well. The NES was obscure in Europe. In Brazil the Master System was such a force that even in 2019 the number one machine of all time in Brazil was the Master System.
America was was the vacuum that swept in Nintendo and Sega. The only thing that represented continuity was a non-Mattel branded Intellivision and an Atari 7800. My favorite system, the Colecovision was dead. And it was well above the Atari 5200. Nintendo made their marketing go well with their seal of quality, and tied in third party developers with exclusives, which the Japanese companies were willing to go along with anyway, because they’d rather support the 100% Japanese NES than the half-breeds Sega. In that generation there were very few multiconsole games, and usually released under different labels to technically not violate Nintendo’s uber-restrictive licensing policies. Rampage was on all 3 systems, Choplifter was on all 3 systems. Those were American licensed games.
Then Sega took off for 2 reasons. One was cultivate their Americna and European third parties, and make the various market regions autonomous. And the second was challenging in court the exclusivity clauses that were in Nintendo’s contract. Acclaim was the famous “shell game company” where LJN was a company formed to make more games for the NES, and Flying Edge and Arena were companies to circumvent Nintendo’s exclusive clause and make games for Genesis. All 4 companies were literally next door neighbors. Tengen was formed as Atari’s was to get on the NES, and Sega used Tengen to make NES games. The only reason Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Mario Bros were on Atari 7800 was due to a previous contract that had to be honored, and are literally the only Nintendo games released by a competitor, at least until the CD-i.
Sega did well in Europe. Once Sega successfully challenged Nintendo in American courts, they did great. Everywhere Sega was better, except in Japan, where the number 2 system was the PC Engine. Mega drive was bargain basement in Japan.
When Sega of Japan clashed with the other world divisions, Sega made the most Japanese of their systems, and it became the most successful Sega System in Japan, despite being third behind Playstation and N64, both Japanese-native systems. In the process they flushed the American, and European divisions down the toilet with it.
Sega tired to build it back with the Dreamcast, and it only succeeded in America. I think it was Sega of Japan’s pride saying they’d rather abandon the console race instead of being a popular American system and a laughing stick in Japan. Honor carries lots of weight. Now Sega’s tech support out of America is handled in Europe. Nice going Sega of Japan, take a whiz on the people who supported you the most.
Then Xbox picked up where Sega left off. Literally only two Japanese companies supported the Xbox Prime, Sega, which was reliant on American success before, and Tecmo, because it impressed Team Ninja. In Japan Xbox was a joke, but everywhere else ot was picking up steam.
The most popular console of the next generation was the Xbox 360. It started with the Wii, in American, but lost ground when most third party game makers were hamstrung by the motion controller. The Xbox 360 picked up because of its consumer-friendly policy for online games, that forced developers of anything that wasn’t available on disc to have a free trial demo. And not surprisingly, the try-before-you-buy policy made hits like Limbo, Super Meat Boy, and Braid, and made the Xbox version of multi-console downloads the most popular. The most games I own are Xbox 360 games, and that’s in large part to the try-before-you-buy policy.
But even in that worldwide success, Xbox 360 was kept in the bargain bins in Japan.
Xbox blew it in America with consumer-unfriendly policies, like getting rid of try-before-you-buy downloads and floating the idea of serial coding discs so they only work with one Xbox Live account, which was an affront to used game merchants, like Gamestop, as well as consumers. They got rid of the serial discs, but kept the buy-in-blind-faith downloads, and only kept those because Nintendo and Sony had those too, and was considered par for the course.
In America, Xbox tried the One S, which was trying to be the world’s cheapest 4K movie playerin addition to being a game console, kind of like the PS2 and PS3 strategy. And that worked for a year. Then Sony undercut them by offering a cheaper stand-alone 4K player, but you still can’t play 4K movies on a PS4. And the PS4 not playing 4K movies was a deliberate choice.
But in all this, Xbox One is a whimper compare to PS4 and Nintendo in Japan.
My point is that Sega and Microsoft had to work harder because one big market shut them out for not being a native son. Even when Sega TRIED to be Japanese, though it improved in Japan, it sunk the rest of the world, and wasn’t even enough to get #2.
My point is that people say Japanese embrace American Culture. Yes they have McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, to start. But it’s a very selective embrace. In video game culture, American culture is unwanted. I bet you if I wore a T Shirt with a cartoon image of (I don’t know what the official name is, but I named him) Hector the Centipede (as a play on the metric prefixes centi- and hecto-) and a screen shot of the arcade game Centipede, the Japanese would either be confused or be labeled a cultural invader. The only thing I can think of that’s equally as selective is automobiles. American cars are as rare in Japan as American Video Games are in Japan.
America is a nation of immigrants. Japan is not. We welcome Mario. They put up a mushroom wall in front of Hector with no gaps in it. This is such a one-sided exchange.