Aside from The Simpsons: Cartoon Studio (don’t you judge me!) I was never that fond of PC gaming when I was younger. But, after delving a little deeper into the video games Japan has to offer, specifically the most expensive ones in Tokyo, as well as 20 PS2 games set in Japan, it got me wondering how popular PC Gaming was in Japan as well.
It’s safe to say that it certainly hasn’t had the easiest of starts… or middles… Consoles still reign supreme, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. But, even though Japan likes to stick to its ways, it’s clear that the PC Gaming culture is here to stay. What I’m most interested in with the sudden boom in PC gamers in Japan is how we got to this stage, so let’s find out.
History of PC Gaming in Japan
During the 1980s, with Japan riding high on its economic boom, there were more than a few PCs arriving on the market for people to use. With systems like the NEC PC-8801 being incredibly powerful and holding more ram than a lot of similar products on offer, it wasn’t just consumers that jumped on board. Despite the fact that the PC-88 wasn’t actually intended to be used for games, developers jumped at the chance!
Game developers wanted to make the most of this hardware as well and decided to start building games for this system and other similar ones
When working with a PC like this, developers could finally build the feature-rich story games they’d been dreaming of. But building games for these systems came with problems of their own. Many of the ‘Successful’ PC games would only sell around 10,000 copies, whereas Famicom would sell millions with some titles. While incredible games could be made on PC systems, the cost of doing so was just too high for most developers to justify the fairly minimal sales. Enix was one of the only developers that stuck around to work on PC games in Japan at the time, but that’s a story for another day.
The Fall of PC Gaming in Japan
Only a few years separate the NEC PC-8801 and the Famicom, and so when the majority of developers realized the financial possibilities of building games for the Famicom and other consoles, they jumped ship.
With powerhouses like Sony and Nintendo, the marketing budgets of smaller PC game manufacturers just couldn’t keep up. By the 1990s, the country was almost entirely full of console gamers, instead of the popularity that computer games they had known the decade before.
Once game consoles became household names, it would be (and was) very tough for PC gaming to break back in. We already know how that Japanese society is fairly conformist in nature, so anything new that pops up isn’t going to have an easy time. Even in the late 90s when Japanese laptops and computers were far more widely available in households, they weren’t seen as gaming machines. Computers were tools for work, and consoles were tools for pleasure and that’s how it stayed.
The Rise of PC Gaming in Japan
Well, that’s how it stayed until recently. Kadokawa Ascii Research Laboratories, a Japanese think tank, published a report which showed Japan PC gaming was worth around $868,000,000. That’s close to double 2018’s market size which is huge! And the interesting thing is that it’s still growing.
So why has PC gaming in Japan grown?
1. PC gaming has grown everywhere
There are loads of PC gaming statistics that show PC gaming is growing. Add to that the number of steam PC game sales which was expected to amount to more than 8.7 billion in 2022 and you can see how prevalent this industry is. Japan PC gaming is proof of these figures with the fact that its PC games market has nearly doubled in just 4 short years.
2. Certain titles have been a driving force
If you haven’t heard of PUBG, Minecraft, League of Legends, and Fortnite, I’d guess you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years. Whether you’ve heard them referenced in pop culture, seen the gift cards at your local shop, or avidly play all of them yourself, they’ve brought in an influx of new players to the system. While all of those games are on other consoles, FPS games in Japan are similarly much better played on a mouse and keyboard. Use a controller and you put yourself at an instant disadvantage. Competitive gaming and Japanese speedrunning require as much of an advantage as possible!
Famitsu suggests there are 15 million PC Gamers in Japan and 23 million console players. While that shows consoles are still more popular, that’s an extremely fascinating statistic when just a couple of decades ago (or less) Japan was thought of as nothing more than a work device.
3. Access to western markets
Steam and other online game marketplaces have really helped increase the number of PC gamers in Japan. Western game developers realized they were missing out on Japan as a demographic, an untapped goldmine of sorts, and began releasing their games in Japanese.
Let’s be honest, Japanese games are a little different from western ones. You’ve only got to visit the arcade section in a GiGO in Japan to figure that out. But, there’s no reason we wouldn’t all enjoy the same games if we could understand them. With the majority of Japanese people not speaking English, this was a huge loss of a big player base. Nowadays it’s far more common for big games to be released with Japanese language options than it ever has been.
Search trends for PC Gaming in Japan
A quick and slightly crude way to see if the popularity of computer gaming in Japan has grown is to take a look at google trends. The two graphs below show just how much PC gaming has grown over the last decade and a half.
PC Gaming culture in Japan Today
To understand PC Gaming culture in Japan Today, you’ll have to know a little about Japanese gaming culture as a whole. Back in the UK, arcades really aren’t popular places for anyone over the age of 10. Why would they go to the arcade and play a game with rubbish graphics when they could just sit at home and play Japanese PS5 games instead?
In Japan, it’s a little different. Sure, there are still people who do this, but going to the arcade is a very common activity for people and their friends no matter what age they are. Lots of the games are competitive beat games which mean loads of people constantly try to improve an beat eachothers scores, but even still it’s just a popular location for people to hang out. In fact, since living here I’m fairly confident that Japanese arcades and gacha gacha locations are some of the top picks for date spots.
Houses are small also relatveily small in Japan, especially in the citiies. If you can all play together with your friends at the local arcade (where there’s enough room), hang out, and have something to eat or drink, why stop now? It’s that classic Japanese thought pattern of ‘If it isn’t broken, why should we fix it?’
Availability of gaming PCs in Japan
Rewind just a few short years and you’d be fairly hard-pressed to find gaming PCs unless you’re in a big city, but now it’s definitely easier. If you’ve got a Softmap, BIC Camera, or other electronics chain shop in Japan, you’ll be spoilt for choice. That is unless you literally live in the middle of nowhere then it definitely wont be so easy to get.
The following pictures are from a Yodobashi camera near me:
That’s more gaming PC parts than I’ve ever seen, in any shop, in any country. It’s literally like you’ve entered one of those online PC shops that just seems to have thousands of pages.
And if you don’t have a gaming PC, you could always go to a gaming cafe which I’ve come across many times, even outside of Tokyo. I can’t confirm the amount of esports and PC gaming cafes in the suburbs of Japan, but they seem to have sprung up all over the place in the bigger cities. The only thing I would say is that although there seem to be a lot of them, I still find the arcade sections in GiGO far busier. Perhaps they’ll see an upward trend when this generation has grown up playing keyboard and mouse
PC Gaming isn’t the most popular form of gaming in Japan
Famitsu recently released a list of the top 100 best-selling games in Japan. 90% of those games are on the switch, and mobile gaming is even more popular than that. So, while steam has seen a Japanese language user increase in the last few years (2.45% of users), it has a long way to go to get anywhere near console gaming. But indie game development in Japan is on the rise, so who knows what the future will hold!