Epic's CliffyB has suggested that Japan's Western woes could down to a lack of focus on multiplayer in their titles, using the paucity of connected gameplay modes in title such as Vanquish and Shadows of the Damned to support his standpoint.
"My advice to Japan is that in a disc-based market right now, you cannot [ignore multiplayer]," said Bleszinski, though he also added, "I'm not saying tack multiplayer onto every game."
Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned, for example, was "a wonderfully crazy adventure," according to Bleszinski, but it didn't sell well at all. The Epic creative says that the addition of a co-op multiplayer mode could possibly have saved it.
"...The dialogue had me laughing out loud, just even the key-door systems in there; it was a beautifully crazy game with really fun gameplay, but no multiplayer co-op experience in there. I'm not saying tack on versus; there's a billion different ways you can do some sort of 'players interacting with other players.'"
Additionally, Bleszinski reckons that a lack of multiplayer was one of the reasons that Vanquish sold poorly - a game that he admires greatly.
"And if you're going to make a third-person shooter... the fact that Vanquish didn't have a multiplayer suite was a crime," he went on.
"That IP, it was pretty good as far as being Western, but the gameplay was great, the vibe... and I've often said on record that if Gears is the kind of Wild, Wild West coal train chugging along, that Vanquish is the Japanese bullet train, with style and everything. And there is absolutely no reason I shouldn't have been zipping around, doing the mega slides, diving up in the air in an arena with other players."
He's kind of got a point. Being able to incorporate that super-slick gunplay into a bunch of multiplayer modes with your mates could have been a real treat.
Bleszinski did praise one Japanese series for its groundbreaking approach to multiplayer, though, calling Dark Souls "one of the most innovative games" for its passive multiplayer, he says "that game is going to continue to inspire a lot of Western developers to figure ways that you can have connected elements in campaign games, and have more of a blended experience." [Gamasutra]