Home consoles aim to retake share from smartphone rivals

Executives of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. announce the release of “Dragon Quest Heroes” and other new titles in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 1.

Feeling intense pressure from wildly popular smartphone games, makers of home video game consoles are launching a counterattack.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. has announced a major increase in the number of titles for its PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Japan Co. released the Xbox One on Thursday - its first new console in nine years.

But will these moves be enough to pull gamers away from their smartphones?

Good times in US, Europe

Atsushi Morita, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Asia president and nephew of Sony founder Akio Morita, announced about 30 new PlayStation titles on Sept. 1, including new additions to the "Dragon Quest" and "Resident Evil" series.

Morita spent about two hours singing the praises of the console's mainstay and other titles.

"We want to create excitement in the Japanese market, which has been lagging behind Europe and the United States," he said.

PlayStation 4, which went on sale overseas in November, has sold more than 10 million units in about nine months, the fastest pace a PlayStation model has achieved.

European and US gamers often invite friends over to their homes to play sports or multiplayer games on big-screen televisions.

PlayStation 4 has proved popular since it allows participants to join multiplayer games from their own homes over an Internet connection.

Yet the console has not been so warmly received in Japan.

Video game magazine Famitsu estimates that in the six months since PlayStation 4 went on sale in Japan in February, it has sold about 660,000 units.

Even PlayStation 3, widely seen as a flop, sold about 910,000 units in the first six months.

Sony is hoping to give its new console a boost by more than doubling the number of titles available, from the current 70 to 170 by next spring.

Smartphones' 50 per cent share

Twenty years have passed since the first PlayStation model went on sale in 1994, during which the domestic video game industry has undergone a major transformation.

Nintendo Co. fired the first salvo against home consoles in 2004 with the release of its popular portable console, the Nintendo DS. These days, competition comes from smartphones.

Smartphones made up about half the domestic video game market in 2013, according to CyberZ Inc., a smartphone advertising agency.

The market for smartphone games grew by 78 per cent to ¥546.8 billion in 2013 compared to the year before, and is expected to reach ¥800 billion in 2016.

Smartphone games such as "Puzzle & Dragons" by GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. have gained a wide following among the younger set.

Nintendo has been struggling to sell its Wii U console. In May, the company released "Mario Kart 8," which features its popular Mario character.

Microsoft's Xbox One allows players to switch over to television shows if they want to watch them in the midst of gameplay. It can also be used to surf the Internet or watch movies.

Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Famitsu publisher Kadokawa Corp., said, "The success of home game consoles will depend on whether a super-popular game appears."

As mainstay titles tend to be part of a series, they are sometimes seen as lacking in freshness. It appears that console makers will have to devise new ways of having fun to bring about a new boom in popularity.Speech

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