Microsoft's Bill Gates woos Japanese market with localization strategy

Friday, March 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHIBA, Japan (AP) _ Microsoft chief Bill Gates ventured into rival territory on Friday, showing off the U.S. software giant's much-anticipated Xbox game in Japan, home of competitor Sony's best-selling PlayStation 2.

Gates said he hoped the special hand-held controller, which is smaller than the one designed for the United States, would help lure finicky Japanese gamers to the Xbox.

``We see Japan as the center of this business,'' Gates said at the Tokyo Game Show. ''(The controller) is a good example of the commitment we have ... to the requirements of this marketplace.''

The Xbox, slated for release in Japan and the United States this fall, marks the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant's first foray into the game console business.

Gates' sales pitch to a packed audience at the Makuhari Exhibition Hall underscored how important Microsoft feels Japan's reaction to the Xbox will be to compete with PlayStation2.

Gates said the Xbox will be the first game console that has different controllers to suit the needs of specific markets.

He also said a team of Japanese software developers led by Takayuki Miyake, a top game designer lured away from rival Sony, will be adapting U.S.-developed games for Japan and creating its own games for worldwide release.

Microsoft expects to have 100 software designers in its Japanese team. It hopes to have 12 to 18 titles ready for the Xbox's debut and gave a sneak preview of some of its games, including a martial arts fight game with movie-quality graphics and prototypes of snowboarding and combat games.

He touted the Xbox's DVD player, 8-gigabyte-memory hard drive and ability to access the Internet over a broadband connection.

Some industry experts had doubts about how successful the Xbox could be in Japan. ``I was underwhelmed,'' said independent software developer Jake Kazdal. ``There was nothing to show. The graphics weren't anything special.''

Gates didn't say what the Xbox will cost, a main concern for Japanese consumers.

The Xbox has generated considerable interest here but has yet to convince many software makers that it is worthwhile to develop games for the system. Gates' speech was widely seen as an attempt to attract Japanese developers to its project.

In a huge boost to those efforts, Microsoft announced Friday that it is forming an alliance with Japanese video game company Sega Corp. to bring future versions of Sega games to the Xbox.

Sega will create 11 new games for the Xbox, including the latest versions of ``Panzer Dragoon'' and ``Sega GT,'' the companies said in a joint statement released in Tokyo.

Microsoft has said it plans to spend $500 million marketing the Xbox.