Why PS3 Dragon Quest Heroes Outsold PS4 Version

March 4, 2015 Written by Heath Hindman

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The first quarter of 2015 was supposed to be the beginning of a big PS4 push in Japan, beginning with January’s Far Cry 4 and running up through the March 26 double-boom of Disgaea 5 and Bloodborne. Games such as The Final Fantasy XV Demo, Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and Dragon Quest Heroes were expected to be the bridge.

However, it was the PS3 version of Dragon Quest Heroes that had the stronger debut this week, outselling the PS4 version by a score of 325k to 269k. (PS4 figure includes some that were technically sold last year but downloaded, as part of its Metal Slime hardware bundle.) The PS4 got a great lift to 46,139 units sold (per Media Create), but many were predicting much higher. True, some people already grabbed their DQ PS4s in late 2014, when its hardware bundle first went on sale, but that doesn’t solve the whole puzzle. It should also be noted that the PS3 version of DQH was about $10 cheaper than the PS4 version.

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For Sony, the bright side here is that a PS4 game debuted to over 250,000 units sold, which is fantastic — the strongest debut for any PS4 game to date. The downside is that we’re now seeing that a game can come out and sell what appears to be huge figures and yet have only a 20-30k hardware sales boost to come with it. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not very much. Fans love the endorphins that come with seeing their favorite console have a good week, but the guys in suits have a lot more caution in their optimism. Let’s go back to beginning of the quarter and work our way forward for a minute.

Far Cry 4 sold more on PS4 than PS3, which appeared to be a sign of changing times. Its PS4 version sold through virtually all of its first shipment right away; I don’t doubt that a few of those PS3 sales went to fans not wanting to wait for a restock of the PS4 version.

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The momentum wasn’t sustained. Xenoverse proved to be a decent seller, but not much of a system mover, as the PS4 stayed below 20k during its release week, and its PS4 version was outsold by the PS3 counterpart

But while PS4 console sales have indeed taken upward steps, including a big one this week, these numbers aren’t what Sony would want its console to be hitting after only a year on the market. No doubt Sony expected a better first year than the one million it sold, given that so many weeks went by with the system moving fewer than 10k units.

This week’s sales results demonstrate the Japanese market’s tendency to cling to previous generation harder, and for longer than other territories. Graphics are a minor factor, as they’ve always been. Online stuff is practically irrelevant as a factor on console sales.

Then there’s the economic factors. Right now isn’t the time to buy anything pricy in Japan. The national consumption tax rate (which applies to basically everything you buy, as well as your utility bills) took a jump last year, and its impact has been felt on many industries. Meanwhile, the yen has been falling in value and employers are in no hurry to adjust wages. They probably won’t be when the tax rate rises again in April of 2017. I neither light cigarettes with 10,000-yen bills, nor sleep on a pile of money. Those days sadly ended in 2014.

That said, I can’t help but wonder how much of a difference PS3 backward compatibility would have made on PS4’s current situation in Japan. I don’t know what the cost of its inclusion would have been, but I’ll always wish I could peek into a few parallel universes in which the PS4 could also play PS3 games. Multiple SKUs? Maybe it could have worked. We’ll never know.

What happens now is we wait and see how the exclusives do. Final Fantasy Type-0 is a tricky example. I think most of the Japanese fanbase already played that game on PSP, so the appeal seems only mid-level on its own, but including that Final Fantasy XV demo might put it over the edge. Or it might not; it’s a really tough call.

Yakuza 0 comes out on March 12, but again, it’s cross generation. If February taught us anything, it’s that PS3 versions of Japanese games still outsell PS4 versions. A lot of Yakuza fans might already have a PS4, since Ishin launched alongside it. See how weird this situation gets? This game could easily be a huge PS4 mover, or just a so-so shot in the arm.

The real test might be March 26, when the aforementioned Bloodborne and Disgaea 5 arrive — both exclusive, both with high Japanese audience appeal, and being released at a good time of the year. Just hopefully they don’t knock heads and diminish the other’s debut sales.

Oh crap, that’s going to happen, isn’t it?