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Microsoft's Takashi Sensui Gets Trendy with Nikkei

Find out what the chief Xboxer has to say about reaching a million units and more.

 

Nikkei's tech website, which has the wonderful name of "Trendy Net," is in the middle of its annual feature on the gaming industry. As it does every year, the site is currently running through a series of lengthy interviews with major industry execs.

Sensui at last year's pre-Tokyo Game Show media briefing event.

Following recent interviews with Square Enix's Yoichi Wada and Bandai Namco's upcoming president Shin Unozawa, Microsoft Japan's Home & Entertainment chief Takashi Sensui was placed in the hot seat for the latest interview. Here's a quick recap of what he had to say.

The story first begins by recapping the state of the 360. Did you realize that the system is on the verge of topping the million mark? Citing Media Create figures as of March 1, the 360 has sold a total of 940,000 units. If you'll allow me to speculate here, the system could see a surge of sorts from Resident Evil 5, meaning it may manage to top the million mark some time in April.

Nikkei's first question to Sensui began by noting that that the 360, for the first time, reached its forecasts in yearly sales (it's unclear what the site is referring to by "forecasts," although it could be system sales). But something else made the Xbox division even happier than that, said Sensui. Last year, hardware sales for the 360 for the full year were up 70%. No one had been expecting that, he said, referring to the error as a mistake that they were happy to make.

Microsoft's strategic goal for 2008 was to expand its share in Europe, according to Sensui. It reached that goal, but Microsoft's Japanese offices were also able to offer good news, he said.

The thing that drove the increase in sales, reflected Sensui, was the Xbox 360 RPG Premier 2008 event from last June (I covered this mostly for IGN, but click here for some pics in the gallery section of the main site). He feels that the reaction to the showing of major RPGs like Tales of Vesperia and Star Ocean 4 is showing in the latest sales results.

"We'd like to keep on continuing with this flow of RPGs," he said of the string of RPGs offered by Bandai Namco and Square Enix. "It's presumable that players who like RPGs would like to keep on playing RPGs, so we believe it's important to continue offering good titles to these people."

Continuing to please fans appears to be Sensui's style, even when faced with a bleak situation like the original Xbox. "Business for the first generation Xbox did not go well at all. Despite that, we kept on going, working to bring enjoyment to the people who bought [the system]. After the Xbox 360 release, we've continued with activities to bring people more and more enjoyable experiences. As a result, we're at the point where we're at last feeling that we've earned the trust of consumers." Sensui has apparently become famous as well, as he remarked to Nikkei that Xbox 360 users will recognize him at events or on the street and call out to him.

[end_p text="Continue reading for more from Sensui's latest interview" /]

Asked to name a title that performed well on the 360 last year, he listed Tales of Vesperia as being the number one selling title (he's right!). In Sensui's eyes, there are two notable characteristics to the games sales. First, Vesperia was long selling title, with sales continuing from the original August release on through the year-end season. Sensui also cited user surveys in which Vesperia continued to remain the number one title that people listed as having purchased with the 360 console.

The other notable feature of Vesperia's sales is that it brought in new users, notably a higher percentage of girls, and a younger crowd than normal (click here for pics from the Vesperia launch event where there definitely were quite a few ladies in line).

Moving on to more general matters, the site asked for a few thoughts on the recent trends towards Western gaming in the Japanese market. Sensui turned the question into something broader -- the general case of games selling well outside their territory of origin, including Japanese-developed titles selling well in overseas markets. In Sensui's mind, Western development has improved over the past years, supported by advancing technology, resulting in good titles and a certain degree of success in Japan. At the same time, Japanese developers have been strengthening their development in order to achieve success in North America and Europe, and also making use of the same technology as their overseas counterparts. As a result, the line has blurred between homegrown European titles and Japanese developed titles that target European markets. Soul Calibur IV and Dead Rising are examples, he believes.

The interview next turned to the Japanese version of Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace video service. For those who aren't based in Japan, the Japanese 360 still doesn't have a proper video service in place. It's all just "a matter of time," said Sensui, adding that he'd like to start it soon. The infrastructure is in place thanks to the start of the service overseas. All that remains is preparing content for distribution and finalizing the timing.

Asked about what will separate Microsoft's service from its competitors, Sensui did not get too specific, but said that Microsoft would like to offer something typical of the platform. He also expects to have original content, with the focus on content that is believed to be appealing to Xbox 360 owners.

He doesn't believe that the video service will be the number one reason for that people choose to buy a 360. However, he does feel that the service will add to the 360's value, even for those considering a purchase.

Now for the juicy stuff: talk of upcoming plans.

First, portable systems and next generation hardware. Obviously, Sensui didn't have much to say in these areas.

For portables, the site recounted a claim made by John Schappert at the Tokyo Game Show that Microsoft does not have plans for a portable game machine. "There's been no change," responded Sensui. "If you ask if, in the future, [a portable machine] 100% won't be released, I can't make such a claim, but at present we have no plans." As a reason, he cited a need to keep up resources for the Xbox 360, noting that the system is still in its development phase. As another reason, he suggested that the portable machine market will change in the coming years, with music players, game machines, cell phones, and even small PCs merging with the help of Windows Mobile.

On an Xbox 360 successor, he said, "We have no specific plans, and I can't even imagine what form it will take."

Moving on to his picks of big titles for 2009, he said he's hoping for the recently released Star Ocena 4 and Biohazard 5 (the interview was actually conducted before the latter's release last week) as being big draws. He also mentioned Halo Wars and Halo 3 ODST, saying that Microsoft would like to make these banner titles for the North American and European markets big in Japan as well.

There are other unannounced titles as well, but he said to wait for E3, Tokyo Game Show, and Microsoft's own announcement events.

The site asked specifically about Gears of War 2's release. "I have nothing specific to announce at this time," responded Sensui, "but we'd like to release it as quickly as possible to Japan. Although it appears that there are quite a few people who couldn't wait and picked up the import."

In closing, the interview asked Sensui about the coming platinum milestone for the 360. Noting that Microsoft has thus far not made announcements regarding Japanese sales feats, the interviewer asked that Microsoft do something in commemoration of the upcoming milestone. To this, Sensui responded: "We have policies regarding the release of figures, so I'm not sure how far we can go, but I would like to share something of some form, particularly with the players."

"For other companies, one million units is probably not a great amount, but for our Japanese Xbox business, its a big milestone -- new territory that we've yet experienced. That we were able to come this far is due entirely to the support of the players and our partners. I'd definitely like to share the joy of reaching [the milestone] with everyone."

Sensui is apparently not getting big-headed, though. Admitting that 1 million was just one point of passing, and that even with a million units, Japan's software makers cannot recoup their investments on titles sold just in Japan, he added that he'd also like to use the milestone as a starting point for the next development. "I can't make public specific numbers, but after crossing the million mark, the natural next expectation is two million. We'd also like to aim for beyond that."

He closed with: "2008 was, for the Xbox, the best year in history. For 2009, we'd like to go even beyond that and make this the number one year in history."

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