Sony Can’t Make Japan Care About PS4 Pro (And Everyone’s OK With This)


Tokyo Game Show 2016 made it clear that Japan won’t give a flying damn about the PS4 Pro, and Sony knows it. Moreover, Sony isn’t trying to change that. Hell, if you were here for TGS, wandering into one very specific, small corner of the giant show floor was the only way you’d know PS4 Pro was a thing.

Japan has a reputation for being slower to adopt new gaming technology than other territories; even the mighty 3DS had a painful launch year, remedied only by a huge price drop combined with the release of appealing software. Despite irrefutable worldwide success, the PS4 has found itself the slowest-selling PlayStation console in Japan. Sony knows that chasing the tech-savvy, upgrade-now market isn’t what it needs. It needs to simply grow the PS4 install base by whatever means possible.

At the Tokyo Game Show, two oft-repeated commercials pointed this out. In one, a man at a bar was talking to his friends about how great it was to have a PS4. His powerful shouts of “Yakuza! Persona! Final Fantasy!” had nothing to do with a console upgrade from PS4 to PS4 Pro, but rather from PS3 to PS4. Anecdotally speaking, I know plenty of gamers out here that had a PS2 and/or PS3, but have not jumped on the PS4 train and have no plans to.

The official numbers suggest the same, with the PS3 having sold over 10 million units in this country, while PS4 only recently crossed 3 million. It only makes sense that this commercial continued to say “Buy a PS4 because the price is down.” I half expected to hear a “Please” at some point.

Commercial man even exclaimed ” PlayStation VR!” to all his buddies, and it’s been said that PSVR works best with the Pro. Didn’t matter. “Buy the slim, Japan. Ignore the Pro behind the curtain.”

This commercial isn’t trying to hype up Japanese gamers with something more powerful. It wants them to see the thing that is less powerful, but cheaper — exactly the message this market is more likely to react to. That’s what will sell a console, here.

The second commercial (seen below) was perhaps more honest than I’ve ever seen a game commercial, telling people straight out, “How about buying a new, lower-priced PS4 with Persona 5?” They specifically used the price cut and slimmer size as selling points, rather than trying to hype people up for a more powerful version of an existing system. This was no accident, this was because Sony desperately needs to move some PS4s in Japan, and a price drop is the most appealing way it can do that.

And these are the two main messages Sony chose to play over and over on its big monitors and blast through its loud speakers to the Japanese masses: two videos hyping up the price drop, not even mentioning that other thing with the superior tech.

This nation has been a slow adopter of new hardware in recent generations, and Sony is trying to salvage what it can out of generation eight. Japanese PS4 sales are tough to call either a failure or a success, but it’s a certainty that Sony was expecting to sell more than it has. With PlayStation 5 perhaps just a few years away, Sony needs to build up some more loyalty — to make lemonade of a sour Japanese console generation.

We’ll soon get a glimpse of how this strategy plays out, with Media Create sales figures, which will contain first-week sales of the reduced-price PS4, due to show up within hours of this writing. Whether high or low — I can’t believe I have to point this out, but knee-jerk online comments have confirmed that I do — first week numbers won’t tell the whole story. We’ll have to watch carefully over the course of this fall and holiday season, if not longer, to see the full effect of Sony’s Japanese market strategy.

Whether successful, unsuccessful, or somewhere in between, all of this makes me very interested to see how the eventual PS5 will be marketed in Sony’s homeland.