Status quo and social rift on the Japanese gaming market in 2015

noire-as

2015 is now behind us and it’s time to draw a picture of the market. Lots of figures have leaked from GAF and I spent quite a lot of time compiling data to achieve a top 100 chart of games released in 2015 in Japan, all format combined + digital sales. I also used to data of this post (which goes well beyond 100) and Dengeki’s weekly rankings, taking the most recent figure when available.

First thing that draws the attention is that on 100 games, there 50 on Playstation systems, and 50 on Nintendo systems. Draw? No, the victory again goes the Kyoto-based firm, which dominates the top 10, has all the million sellers and boasts evergreen 2014 titles. But the point of this is to assess to social state of the Japanese market. If you look carefully, 60% or so of the games on Nintendo systems mainly address kids ad the mainstream public whereas very few Playstation games do. Furthermore, 60% of the 50 best selling games on Nintendo’s side were from 3rd party publishers, to be compared with 94% for Sony who just released Bloodborne, The Order 1886 and Nathan Drake Collection as first party games. Given that two of them are rather low in rank, I can say that Sony didn’t hinder its partners’ business this year. The success of western titles keeps growing : Call of Duty is up 33% in 2015, Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront have already topped 200K units sold. Also, I must stress that there are only 4 3DS 3rd games in the top 30, whereas the Playstation ecosystem has 13. Besides the exceptions Monster Hunter, Yôkai Watch and Dragon Quest, the interest of Nintendo platforms from a third party point of view is further diminishing.

But the most striking thing comes when you actually cross those two parameters : in the top 30, there are only two games designed for older gamers, Monster Hunter X and Dragon Quest VIII, two IPs that would sell on any platform given the high level of fidelity and awareness. This means that for 3rd parties, aiming for the care gamers’ market on WiiU or 3DS is a strategic mistake. They better have to focus on Playstation systems to get the best return, and many (all of them actually) are fully aware of that, even those who earn fortunes thanks to the 3DS : Level-5 develops Ni no Kuni Revenant Kingdom on PS4 and SquareEnix has 13 projects going on PSVita/PS4, but only 2 on 3DS. More than ever, 3rd parties must side with Sony if they want to achieve their goal : make money.

The big question being : how many games are being developed for NX? 2015 has been fairly bad for core gamers’ titles on 3DS and WiiU, underperforming titles are rife. Xenoblade Chronicles X ends up below Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, and is crushed by competing RPGs like Tales of Zestiria, Sword Art Online Lost Song and Bloodborne. Worse still, the ambitious open-world is outpaced by Tokyo Xanadu, Falcom’s modest Vita-exclusive Action-RPG. Takahashi can do nothing but admit its failure at home. Other much awaited JRPG, Bravely Second doesn’t even match the first week sales of Bravely Default. I was saying before, it could never catch up with Battlefield Hardline, that poor mod of Battlefield 4, in sales. The so-called «successor of Final Fantasy» is in shambles. While Nintendo or Level-5 make monstruous amounts of bucks, established IPs fail to sell as expected : Ace Combat Assault Legacy +, Kenka Banchô, Atelier Rorona, Langrisser Re:Incarnation, Project X Zone 2 et Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem can’t avoid the flop. Nearly every indicator points to less implication of 3rd parties with the Big N. But it remains true that if Sony completely withdraws from the portable market in 2017, the market share of its opponent should rise considerably and 3rd would likely immediately come back. Until then, the situation is as such.

While the West has long forgotten the specter of casual gaming, the iron curtain has fallen once more on Japan, divided between family-friendly systems continuously running Yôkai Watch or Splatoon, and gaming vets preferring mature titles like Yakuza, Tales of, Metal Gear Solid or God Eater. This divide is not absolute as both demographics can meet for games like Fire Emblem Fates or Monster Hunter X, but the trend is now crystal-clear : 80% of the games being developed right now in Japan are either for PS4 or PSVita.

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