It was finally here: A PlayStation 5 was on sale in Tokyo.
In fact, now that the console is finally in more plentiful supply, PS5 hardware managed to cross the 3 million sales mark in Japan this month – accounting for just under 10% of the total 32 million units sold worldwide since launch.
While the launch of PS5 was rough around the globe, it was particularly difficult here in Japan. For the first two years following the console’s November 2020 launch, I never saw one in the wild. I mean, literally never. When stock was available, most chain stores restricted sales to those with a loyalty card, and with prior purchases on record, and other insanely strict measures – before then placing you in a lottery for the chance to maybe be able to buy one.
As someone who’s good at losing lotteries, I had no chance of buying one myself.
Stock went out in an instant every time. Is that because demand was high or were supplies low? Or both? Well, with total weekly sales hovering around the 15,000-20,000-units mark for much of 2021 and 2022, and many gamers complaining that they couldn’t get hold of one, it seemed pretty clear that Japan was getting a disproportionately small slice of the global PS5 stock. This for a country of some 130 million people, one of the top three gaming markets in the world, and the birthplace of PlayStation – a lot of fans here felt forgotten by Sony.
The scarcity PS5s was a popular meme, even making its way into wider popular culture. Dempagumi Inc, an idol group, referenced the lack of PS5s in their song Mikata Sezu ni ha Irarenai, with a desperate lyric that translates as “Life is helpless without friends – even the PS5 is all sold out”. And when the price of the console went up last summer by 5,500 yen (around $42), Twitter was awash with “as if we could buy it anyway” type bitter comments.
The times were indeed tough. It was not surprising, however. Japan is becoming less of a priority market for PlayStation, so PlayStation watchers in Japan may have predicted this.
In February 2014, the PlayStation 4 finally launched in Japan – around three months later than it did in the United States. It took sales here to really explode for a few years. While the PS2 sold over 20 million units in Japan and the PS3 just about crossed the 10 million line, PS4 fell just short of 10 million units – a generation-by-generation decline. It was clear that Europe and America were far more popular markets for PlayStation Home consoles. (The Vita and handheld PSP blazed brighter trails than any other console in Japan.
In 2016, the PlayStation business moved its headquarters from Tokyo to San Mateo, California, signalling a shift in SIE’s priorities. In 2021, Japan Studio – the oldest PlayStation studio – was unceremoniously dismantled. Closing Japan Studio underlined Sony’s commitment to AAA Western games like The Last of Us and God of War over the endless variety but middling sales of Japanese games like Gravity Rush and The Last Guardian. Sony is the Japanese conglomerate that owns PlayStation. But, its heart and soul is American.
(Full disclosure: I was a Community Manager at Japan Studio for a time and loved almost every game that the studio produced. Except Knack. You are welcome.
We now come to today. PlayStation is still a popular gaming brand in Japan. The demand for PS5 is high. Just… Not as high as it is for Nintendo Switch.
One glance at multiformat charts from Japan over the last few years shows a consistent picture: Nintendo is the king in Japan. In the overall software charts of 2022, 18 out of the Top 20 games were for the Switch. Nearly all those first-party Nintendo titles were in the top 20. Elden Ring on PS4 was 10th, while Gran Turismo for PS5 came in 18th.
Still, with PS5s finally available in Japan, it appears that the drought has ended. We can now get a better understanding of the actual demand. Famitsu published data that combined the standard PS5 with the discless version. Sales figures have been steadily increasing since December 2022. The peak was February at around 93,00026 units. It has seen a steady decline, but it is still No.1 on the hardware sales charts with a healthy 64 869 units in the last week. For comparison, the Switch – which is now in its seventh year – has sold around 60,000 combined units per week in 2023, for a running total of over 28 million in Japan alone.
The PlayStation 5 is now selling well in Japan, as the supply has caught up to demand. However, overall, the Switch still has a significant lead.
Now that Japan has a PS5, which games can they buy? Probably not the ones you’d expect. PS5 launched like PS4 with very few games for the Japanese market. Its lineup was dominated by Western-made and Western-facing games. However, domestic releases, backwards compatibility with PS4 certainly helped to bridge this gap.
In terms of lifetime sales of physical disc games, Gran Turismo 7 is in pole position as PS5’s biggest seller, with 294,714 physical copies sold on PS5 – this seems to be the closest the PS5 has to a system-selling killer app in Japan. Horizon Forbidden West follows Elden Ring, Hogwarts Legacy, Resident Evil Village and Elden Ring. God of War Ragnarok comes in at No.10 with 53 816 physical copies sold via PS5.
SIEJA does not publish figures on digital sales regularly, but it does publish rankings. Forspoken and Monster Hunter Rise were the top digital titles of the past few months. Wild Hearts and Like a Dragon (Ishin) are other notable examples.
We’re even seeing some PlayStation games in the weekly multiplatform physical charts. In recent weeks we’ve seen chart spots for Wild Hearts, which appeals to Japan’s Monster Hunter loving audience; Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, which is hot among Soulslike fans; and Hogwarts Legacy, which is enjoying a magical reception in a country where Harry Potter is ragingly popular and where language and cultural barriers have prevented its author’s online comments from damaging the brand.
The multiplatform charts also include the occasional PS4 game, as that older hardware remains in people’s homes – Tales of Symphonia Remastered, Final Fantasy Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, and Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse are all doing well. The Switch version often charts higher in cases where it is available, such as Fatal Frame and Theatrhythm.
What does this mean for PlayStation 5 Japan? Now that hardware is more readily available, there’s no doubt that Sony’s console has plenty of potential to do well in Japan. Yes, Nintendo continues to eat Sony’s bento, but 3 million consoles sold is not to be sneezed at, and with the right games, demand is likely to increase.
For example, Insomniac’s Spider-Man games do well here, so the launch of Spider-Man 2 later this year will be interesting to watch, and Final Fantasy – while not as big in Japan as Dragon Quest – is popular enough that FFXVI and FFVII Rebirth will surely encourage sales of PS5 consoles.
While multiplatform games do better on Switch, when there is a version available, PlayStation still performs better than Xbox and PC. PS5 will be the default platform for multiplatform games that are not available on Switch, like Resident Evil 4, Street Fighter 6 or Like a Dragon Gaiden – The Man Who Erased his Name.
“But what about PS VR2?!”, I hear you ask. And since you’re asking it so loudly that I can hear it all the way over here in Tokyo, allow me to respond. We’ve yet to see any sales figures in Japan for PS VR2, but… If you thought the $550 price tag seemed harsh in the US, 75,000 yen in Japan is sticker shock of a high order – it’s considerably more than the already high cost of the PS5 (60,000 yen) and PS5 Digital Edition (50,000 yen). There are many hurdles to overcome, especially with the small number of PS5s in Japan and a dearth of great games for Japan. These hurdles are not insurmountable. There is still hope with the right games or services.
It’s been wild to see PlayStation lose so much ground in Japan to Nintendo over the years, and indeed the rise of mobile gaming – which in Japan is a market as large as all of the console and PC gaming market combined – makes matters all the starker. Due to the scarcity in new-gen hardware, the PC gaming market is expanding rapidly here. Xbox seems to be doing better.
However, I believe PlayStation is reaching a turning point here in Japan. It helps to dispel negative sentiments and make the PS5 more tangible by making them more easily available in Japan without having to go through frustrating lottery systems. And with a strong raft of upcoming games that appeal to the Japanese market – albeit many of them third-party – the PS5 stands to carve out a very strong second-place position in Japan. PS5 sales are just about outpacing the PS4 at this stage in its life, so I’d guess we’ll end up somewhere higher than PS3 numbers.
Which is great. You know what? Japanese gamers wish that SIE would show more love to the country it was born. The increase in stock availability of PS5 consoles represents a significant first step.
Daniel Robson serves as Chief Editor for IGN Japan. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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