While most of the major players in the upcoming cloud gaming movement are based out of the U.S. – Microsoft, Google, and even Sony’s Gaikai division – Japan represents a unique testbed for the burgeoning technology, as well as an opportunity to revolutionize the relationship between the Western and Japanese game market.
Despite the fact that much of the early consoles were born in Japan, the relationship between Japanese and Western game markets has been strained over the last decade or so. There have been a few crossover hits, but largely the Japanese game market has maintained its insularity, with Japanese games doing well overseas but Western games struggling to find a strong market there (despite some standouts like Minecraft, Skyrim, or most recently, Days Gone).
Much of this has to do with the relationship Japanese gamers have with console hardware – largely driven by a shift towards mobile and portable gaming thanks to an extensive commuter culture and continued battles over the living room in small apartments and houses. The prospect of a traditional at-home console just isn’t as attractive there as it is in the West –evidenced by the slow pickup of the PlayStation 4 and the fact that the Nintendo Switch just overtook it in terms of sales after only being on the market for two years.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a market for console games in Japan – the runaway success of late-generation titles in huge franchises like Monster Hunter World and Yakuza 6 (or Ryū ga Gotoku) shows that there’s still a place for a black box under the TVs of Japanese players – but portable or handheld devices have always just sold better thanks to the cadence of Japanese life.
This is poised to change with the next generation of games – the easy access to high speed internet enjoyed by Japanese gamers and emphasis on mobile or portable devices is a perfect fit for the future that cloud-based gaming promises.
It’s already happening – with Ubisoft and Capcom working directly with Nintendo to allow players to stream games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Resident Evil VII directly to their Switch consoles, even though the Switch doesn’t have the hardware necessary to run the titles natively.
Already a test-bed for our cloud streaming future, Japan has an opportunity to uniquely thrive here, as cloud-based gaming can help remove all the unique barriers that players face in that market and bring HD (or even 4K) quality gaming directly to them where they are – whether on a train, sitting with friends in the schoolyard, or in their bedrooms.
There is potential for this to have a knock-on effect for the larger gaming industry as well – as Japan’s slow adoption of console hardware and resulting decreased interest in pushing graphics have led to a slower than average adoption of new tech among Japanese game developers over the past few generations. That has had the impact of making Japanese titles less relevant during generational shifts. With the popularization of cloud tech, we might see more of a reason for Japanese developers to work with the latest hardware, bringing Japanese development to the fore earlier in the next generation.