There was quite the uproar when Sony announced that it would be releasing its newest console in its homeland months after going on sale in other territories. Judging by the reception the console has received, though, it looks like Sony may have been right to put Japan last when it came to PlayStation 4.

According to recent reports, approximately 620,000 PlayStation 4 consoles have been sold in Japan since it launched on February 22. A respectable number, certainly, but nothing like the reception the console received in the US and Europe, where millions of units were sold during the first few weeks alone and PlayStation 4 now stands as the UK’s fastest-selling console of all time.

The Japanese console market, while not exactly floundering, has become decidedly stagnant in recent years and a number of developers, most notably producer and former Capcom R&D head Keiji Inafune, have commented that the Japanese games industry is on its last legs, even going so far as to say that developers are making “awful” games that are years behind those made in the West.

Regardless of the quality of software being created by Japanese developers, though, there is currently a distinct sense of apathy amongst Japanese consumers when it comes to console gaming, with new hardware generating only a fraction of the buzz it once did. Dr. Serkan Toto, CEO & founder of a Tokyo-based video game industry consultancy, recently discussed the Japanese console market on his blog, presenting data for both hardware and software sales from Japanese publisher Enterbrain. Put side by side, the figures really do seem to suggest that console gaming is going nowhere in Japan right now, shiny new console or not.

Japan’s console market in the first half of 2014:

Hardware sales: 706.3 million yen
Software sales: 1016.3 million yen
Total: 1722.6 million yen (US$1.685 billion)

Japan’s console market in the first half of 2013:

Hardware sales: 663.9 million yen
Software sales: 1056.3 million yen
Total: 1720.2 million yen (US$1.683 billion)

In US dollars, Dr. Toto writes, the difference between the two periods is a paltry 2.3 million. Hardly the kind of leap one would expect following the arrival of the same console that is flying off the shelves in pretty much every other country around the world.

So what’s going on Japan? Why aren’t gamers scrambling to pick up PS4s like those in the US and UK? The two main reasons the console is failing to create any real buzz, industry pundits suggest, are the seemingly unstoppable rise of mobile games and a lack of software which appeals to Japanese audiences.

It is ironic to think that Japanese gamers should still be left wanting for PlayStation 4 software that really speaks to them, especially considering that Sony execs cited a desire to ensure “a good line-up of titles for Japan” when explaining their decision to delay the launch of the console in its homeland. But a quick look at the Japanese software charts (which for the last week of June shows just one PS4 title, Ubisoft’s heavily hyped Watch Dogs, in the top 10) certainly suggests that developers here have yet to embrace Sony’s new machine, and for that reason consumers too are happy to stick with their PS3, which is still getting just as much love as its new sibling.

The real hurdle console makers face, though, is the enormous popularity of mobile gaming. Now worth $5.4 million, the smartphone game market currently accounts for roughly half of the value of Japan’s game industry. Little wonder, then, that the arrival of a new console – even one that is breaking records and far exceeding its parent company’s projections elsewhere – should barely even register on consumers’ consciousness.

The arrival of software that better appeals to Japanese tastes may spark a jump in sales in the months to come, and we may see PlayStation 4 picking up steam as increasing numbers of developers make the switch to the new hardware, but right now the forecast for Japan’s console market is not looking especially bright. Sony will no doubt continue to focus its efforts on Western markets where PlayStation 4 remains a hot-seller and software sales have so far been much stronger. Whether that will result in Japan being left even further behind in the future, though, remains to be seen.

Reference: Serkan TotoEurogamer
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