When Japan jumped to the forefront of the mobile phone revolution and flaunted a near 100% cellphone penetration rate back in the late 90s, it seemed like Japan would keep its technological lead for at least another two or three decades.
But in hindsight, the side-effect of jumping straight to the mobile world (and skipping the wired internet altogether) turned out to be quite dire, especially in the face of a world now connected entirely through the TCP/IP protocol.
Over the past nine years, I've seen Japan struggle with the concept of "online networking". And by that I'm not referring to social networking online. I'm speaking of computer-to-computer networking, or more explicitly, online gaming.
Before the PS2 launched, FF10 was one of Sony's centerpieces for their marketing, and "online" was a frequently used word for their marketing campaign. But it wasn't until two years into the PS2's lifespan that they even released FF10 into the market, and even since then online gaming was really the exception to the rule rather than the norm for PS2 titles. SOCOM and some EA Sports titles were the other notable online titles, but they were all developed by Western studios, and not by the Japanese.
It basically comes down to this: The Japanese developers have lived in a world where owning a PC with an internet connection is (or was until recently) considered a luxury. A PC was really "just for horny otakus who want to play Hentai games" (the irony being that even those otakus really only used it for offline games).
Even today, Japan's most active online "forum", 2ch.net, is TEXT BASED, when the rest of the world is already in the midst of upgrading to Web 2.0 with a plethora of multimedia-driven networking hubs like Facebook.
So it is not surprising that Japan's recent attempts at online gaming have been laughable at best.
- Armored Core 4 (PS3/360) had a horrible "search game" system that required friends to click the "find game" button at the same time in order to have a chance at playing in the same game.
- GT5:P (PS3) spent 10 minutes searching for a new race from scratch after each race, so you ended up spending more time searching for games than you did actually racing.
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii), suffered from incredible lag, WHILE forcing each player to own his/her own Wii in order to participate.
And the latest title, White Knight Chronicles (PS3), which has an online 4-player co-op feature, completely fails at that department with barren lobbys, the complete lack of voice support (text chat FTL), and an interface that reminds you of 1995.
Why is Japan still living in the 90s??!!!
(Actually, Namco's titles have been rather decent with their online components, but my main point stands)
I personally love the "Japanese polish" in videogames. And anyone who's played console games for a while knows what I'm talking about. That slick, buttery feeling you get in your ears and eyes when you play a well-produced Japanese game still can't be matched by most Western-developed titles.
But we now live in a world where World of Warcraft has 14 million subscribers, and gamers communicate through VoIP headsets instead ofkeyboards. When we think "online", we imagine both co-op AND competitive, complete with a ranking system AND matchmaking. Oh, and we trade items, too!!
Yet, for Japan, going online means being able to browse Yahoo on your phone. And online gaming simply means connecting to the internet and playing against random people, BY YOURSELF. Because to them, gamers who play online are losers who have no friends.
Seriously, who actually owns a gaming system AND subscribes to
broadband AND has friends??