With the announcement of the unfortunate cancellation of the hotly anticipated Xbox One exclusive title, Scalebound, it seems that Microsoft has dealt themselves another blow to their momentum. Microsoft and developer PlatinumGames had been pretty silent on this title for quite some time as rumored issues between the two became more and more troublesome.
Most were probably unaware of any issues between Microsoft and PlatinumGames. Only those following director Hideki Kamiya, of Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Bayonetta fame, on Twitter as relations began to strain would have any clue at all. This can be traced back to a tweet from Kamiya, now deleted, in July 2015.
Whatever, ultimately, led to the demise of Scalebound will most likely be revealed in time but, as it stands, this seems to be yet another failure on Microsoft’s part to respectfully collaborate with Japanese developers.
No, this is not the first time this has happened by a long shot. This goes back to the inception of the original Xbox. On an episode of “DidYouKnowGaming?” regarding the Xbox, it was mentioned that the original project name for the console was “Midway” named after the decisive World War II battle that The United States won. While declaring competitive intentions in this sort of business is totally fine, codenaming your console after a battle in a war where your country leveled two of the other country’s cities with nuclear bombs doesn’t exactly set up a good working relationship with that country’s software developers. Despite that, Xbox still managed to secure exclusive Japanese titles such as Ninja Gaiden, Dead Or Alive 3, and 11 SEGA games including Panzer Dragoon Orta and Jet Set Radio Future. These deals would be short term only, however, as most of these franchises are now multi-platform. Microsoft would also go on to botch the exclusivity deals of Resident Evil 4 and Final Fantasy XI due to poor communication and cultural differences. In regards to the meeting for Final Fantasy XI, then Vice President of Microsoft Game Studios, Ed Fries, said, “I just sat there and watched it fall apart. There was a whole bunch of American attitude to the meeting, and the Japanese did not appreciate it. It was like watching a train wreck” (DidYouKnowGaming?).
While Microsoft, definitely, does not have a fantastic history of working well with Japanese developers, it isn’t entirely Microsoft’s fault either. Ed Fries also explained in interviews that the Japanese did not take too kindly to the original Xbox’s black color, saying that it was the color of death. When Fries pointed out the Playstation 2 was black, he was told that what applies to “outsider” products does not necessarily apply to “insider” products meaning that it did not apply to Sony (or Nintendo for that matter with the black Gamecube).
So while Microsoft was certainly not helping their case by being disrespectful to Japanese customs and culture, they were already fighting an uphill battle given the Japanese’s favoritism towards Japanese products. Microsoft did, however, make strides during the Xbox 360 era which saw the releases of exclusive Japanese developed games like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, a timed exclusive, Eternal Sonata and the stunning achievement of getting Final Fantasy XIII on the console. However, while Square Enix moved towards multiplatform for most of its games, Microsoft was unable to make anything happen with Lost Odyssey or Blue Dragon thus putting them back at the drawing board for exclusives. Scalebound seemed to be Microsoft’s next attempt at getting the Japanese audience excited about their console. If the game sold well, then other Japanese developers would, most likely, begin talking to Microsoft about bringing their new games to the Xbox One which would fill a much needed hole in Microsoft’s lineup. Instead, once again, communication broke down between the two parties and forced an excellent looking game into cancellation.
Microsoft needs to take a hard look at what happened here and what has happened in the past with their dealings with Japanese game developers. Perhaps they should tone down the “American attitude” cited by Ed Fries and be more respectful of Japanese culture when dealing with their developers. The Microsoft we are seeing today seems to be all about giving quality games the time and care they deserve to be the best they can possibly be. They are making a lot of pro-consumer moves like the “Play Anywhere” initiative and their ongoing efforts to make the Xbox One backwards compatible with the Xbox 360. Microsoft should show that side of their company to the Japanese if they want to win them over. One thing is for certain though, if they are going to try to win over Japanese game developers again, then they need to do it sooner rather than later.