After 10 years, Microsoft's gaming console Xbox is still not officially available in Malaysia
The longstanding reason of 'high software piracy rates' no longer holds, so what's next?
LIKE many others of my generation and older, I grew up almost exclusively on Microsoft products.
Sadly, the longstanding relationship I have with this technology giant has, in recent years, become one that oscillates between love and hate.
I love the fact that Microsoft Word was a steadfast friend and companion throughout my student years and, till today, plays a big part in my professional life.
I love all the educational outreach programs that Microsoft does to help youths level up their technical skills and events such as the Imagine Cup, which has had such a profound impact on the lives of so many.
But I hate, I repeat, hate the fact that we remain a second tier consumer market in its eyes.
Sure, it can’t be helped. Compared with Singapore, which also serves as the company’s regional hub, we are not a developed nation only a developing one. It’s only to be expected that we don’t get the latest products first because we have a lower proportion of consumers with a high disposal income and penchant for gadgets.
Microsoft isn’t the only technology company that has classified this market as such, and I am resigned to this reality till the economic standing of this nation climbs up a couple of rungs. But while I am fine with not being the first market in the region to get the latest gadgets and software, not getting it at all is really the bigger insult.
For those not already aware, despite it being 10 years since the first iteration of Microsoft’s gaming console Xbox was launched in Asia, it remains officially unavailable in Malaysia.
In fact, a recent query to Microsoft over the matter yielded the following statement: “Xbox 360 is currently sold in 38 countries around the world including Singapore, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. We have no further announcements regarding expansion at this moment.”
But wait, you ask. What about those Xbox consoles you’ve seen in living rooms of friends and family? Sitting in a pretty row in game shops? Two words: Grey imports.
As a technology journalist, I have the pleasure of interacting with the good folks over at Microsoft and every time “the Xbox issue” comes up, the same broken record gets played over and over. The main reason why Xbox is not officially available? Because of Malaysia’s high levels of software piracy.
Fact is, they say, Microsoft makes a loss on every Xbox unit sold. The real money comes from the sales of games and the country’s level of software piracy doesn’t make it an attractive market to launch Xbox in.
I am tired of hearing that damn excuse, so let me retire it once and for all with a simple table (see table on left).
Comparing the list of all countries where Xbox Live, the company’s online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service, is available with their piracy rate as stated by an annual survey conducted by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), there are five 'Xbox countries' with higher piracy levels than Malaysia.
One might argue that Russia and India (both with 63% piracy rate) boast larger populations and more room for growth. Mexico, with its 57% piracy rate, probably gets the goods because it’s just down south from the United States.
But Chile with its piracy rate of 61% and population of 17.5 million beats out Malaysia with a 55% piracy rate and population of 28 million people for Xbox?
Let’s not even talk about Greece with its 61% piracy rate because let’s face it; the country’s debt crisis does not make it an attractive market for anyone right now.
Just to add to this equation, this year, it was reported that Malaysia has been taken off the United States Trade Representative's (USTR) watch list for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement issues, in recognition of its progress made.
Simply put, something is just not quite right with this picture.
First of all, having the console officially available and Xbox Live activated for the market automatically lowers piracy concerns, with digital content delivery and digital rights management locking everything to a verified user account.
The urban population, which would be the first target market for such a product, already has access to high speed broadband … for the most part.
And don’t tell me Malaysians don’t spend on gaming. According to an interview with MOL Global, internal industry stats show that the Malaysian gaming market generates between RM20 million and RM25 million (US$6.4 million and US$8.1 million) in revenue a month!
By making Xbox “unavailable”, all that’s been done is make an entire generation of consumers learn how to point everything to Singapore’s Xbox Live Store and input other people’s information just to get access to the Live Marketplace.
Not to mention the money from sales of all those grey imports goes toward pumping up Microsoft Singapore’s bottom-line and not Microsoft Malaysia’s. That’s right, I said it.
Before you tell me “Gabey, it’s just a gamer issue and consoles are dying anyway, mobile and tablets are on the rise” – it’s not just a gamer issue; it’s a business issue. It’s a “mark of confidence in the market” issue.
No talk about Xbox is complete without mention of Kinect, the company's motion sensing input device.
Not only was it one of the most exciting pieces of hardware by Microsoft in recent years, its release spawned an entirely new commercial ecosystem that had nothing to do with gaming.
The fact that the company embraced and did not reject (in the form of lawsuits) the community of hackers (or “tinkerers” as they call them) who have taken to the device and are currently experimenting with its potential, was a fantastic move in my opinion.
By virtue of the system not being officially available in Malaysia, students in any of Microsoft’s training programs or initiatives won’t get access to the hardware and be allowed an opportunity to test their mettle in crafting solutions with it.
Microsoft has been in Malaysia for 20 years, and as a market we still don’t have access to the full suite of the company’s products and services.
A friend of mine bought himself a Nokia Windows Phone out of pure curiosity and while he was impressed with the hardware, the user experience seemed quite basic. That is, until he got off the plane on American soil for a business trip a few months after buying it.
“My phone just exploded! All the things I could do with a Windows Phone while I was there was amazing! The thing just came alive,” he told me while exhibiting withdrawal symptoms from what he termed “the full Microsoft experience.”
Microsoft, like every other company in the technology space, is now moving towards a unified approach across all devices and user touch-points. The upcoming launch of Windows 8 is supposed to be the flag-bearer and symbol of that seamless and unified strategy.
It’s no longer about the hardware play, thanks to Apple. It’s now all about the eco-system. With the Asia Pacific region repeatedly touted as the next driver of global economic growth, for a nation like Malaysia, we really have no other place to go but up.
The continued push with Windows Phone means that services like Windows Store must and will be made available in Malaysia, with localized content and payment gateway support for it to have any real traction in the market. Is it really that hard to open up Xbox Live Marketplace too?
I’ve been told that Malaysia has “never been more important” to Microsoft, and that the country is now included for the first wave of any major product launches in the region.
That’s great news, but with the exception of the new Windows Phones which it also pushed by OEM partners, it is essentially the same slate of products we’ve already had in the market, and with the bulk of it aimed at the enterprise market.
It’s a lot easier to convince the C-Levels guys to buy your product; you just have to prove that it is indeed the more cost-effective and superior option. Compared with that, the consumer market is a heartless, volatile and fickle-minded place.
Don't get me wrong, this is a company whose positive role in the country’s growth cannot be denied, but right now I'm only hearing one message:
That even after “20 years of helping transform the nation”, “equipping the youth with skills for the future” and all that jazz, Malaysia is still not “good enough” of a market to qualify for a gaming console with local store support.
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