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Jetsetter: Japan still wins when it comes to console launches

And Jetsetter looked, and beheld a pale console launch: and his name that sat on him was the 7th Console Generation and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto PlayStation 4 and Xbox One over the living room, to rule with high-end graphics, with social features, with death, and with the beasts of the Earth!

Or not. Today we freak out after coming off of long lines fresh with a new machine (or for Xbox One purchasers, mentally preparing themselves for long lines). From here we head off to unbox and play new games, then go online and read about those new games and watch other people unbox their machines. Then it’s off to Twitter to either slag on people hating the console (or hate on the console yourself), or attack developers for not making better launch games. Then it’s on to gloating with your peers as you ready up for your next Battlefield 4 match. This is the face of the modern console launch and Jetsetter, devoted as we are to import gaming, can’t escape the gravitational pull of the new machine onslaught.

There’s a lot to be hopeful for in the future on these consoles for import gamers. This may well be the very last console launch that comes with disc-based games as the primary means of distribution, but for now that mean importers and collectors will still be able to snatch up games with alternate covers from foreign lands. With the PlayStation 4 region free, those intrepid souls will also be able to snatch up games not guaranteed to come to America from Japan. Sega is delivering a sweet looking medieval Japan spin-off of Yakuza for PS4 called Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin, and given Sega’s reluctance to publish those games abroad, it may be just one of those scarce foreign delights on Sony’s new beast.

kqWiOLiThere was a time when Japan was the focus of video game technology and design, and consoles made it into Japanese gamers hands long before they ever made it to America. Japanese launches were, even back in the early ’90s, attended by huge lines at electronics stores that have become de rigeur in the U.S.

Midnight launches for gaming hardware in the U.S. have become curated events. They are parties, hyped up and captured by the manufacturer to increase the appeal of the systems. Next week when the Xbox One launches, in New York City fans will not only be grabbing a console, they’ll be attending a concert featuring Macklemore and Ryan Lewis; fans in LA will get deadmau5. But while Americans rally strong for our console launches, Japan still dominates the launch enthusiasm contest.

It’s well documented across the web and even here in Jetsetter that the popularity of Dragon Quest games in Japan is nothing to sniff at (even though the series has in many ways been supplanted by Monster Hunter in the hearts and minds of Japanese gamers). Dragon Quest VII‘s release on PlayStation best exemplifies how even new Monster Hunter entries can’t compete with how crazy those classic DQ launches could get.

Think the pre-release hype for the PS4 and Xbox One is crazy? Look at the above commercial for Dragon Quest VII. That’s people praying for the game to come out. The game came out on Saturday, August 26th, 2000 and sold just under 4 million copies over the next two weeks. That may seem like a small number compared to blockbuster releases today, but consider the size of the market. The best selling game in Japan over the past ten years, New Super Mario Bros., has only sold about 6.5 million copies total since 2006.

You may wonder why a marquee release like Dragon Quest VII broke convention and came out on a Saturday. The Japanese government asked Enix and other game companies to release the biggest games on a Saturday so people wouldn’t skip school and call in sick to work, and that tradition actually began with a console launch. As detailed in Steven Kent’s (now woefully outdated) 2001 The Ultimate History of Video Games, Japan went bananas when the Super Nintendo came out in November of 1990, with people fighting over consoles in the streets. And thus, Saturday releases were born.

Gaming was a smaller business back then, though. Just 300,000 consoles shipped out in that Super Nintendo launch in Japan, a far cry from the estimated millions that Sony and Microsoft are delivering this November. How things change in this strange little medium, this oddly beguiling pastime.

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