At the Tokyo Game Show, booth companions wear skimpy outfits. Some say it's degrading, some like it. Microsoft's booth companion outfits are cute and designed to show off each woman's best feature, giving them more confidence and making them comfortable.
None of this is awkward per se. But the moves Xbox Japan has made on the country's female customers sure can be.
In Microsoft Japan's most recent promotions for Dance Central, aka the Kinect game, are aimed at Japanese women. The ad promotes the game's exercise benefits, which is fair, I think. It also points out that Dance Central is a way that women can practice dancing for when they go out clubbing. All of these are within the realm of possibility. Here's the new catch copy hard sell for a Kinect Dance Central bundle:
"Have fun dancing and become beautiful with women's supporter, Xbox 360 4GB + Kinect Dance Central."
Xbox Japan has recently run a series of Dance Central web videos showing young women, dudes, little kids, and yes, the ubiquitous Japanese schoolgirls. This isn't the first time Microsoft has roped in schoolgirls to sell Kinect, and in Japan, schoolgirls are a common trope to sell products to both men and women; men like them because they're happy and cute, while women like them because they're reminders of youth and freedom.
Xbox Japan has a history with Japanese schoolgirls—heck, so does Dance Central. Early ads for the game and Kinect featured schoolgirl members of girl group SKE48. But the connection goes back further. In 2006, a group of Xbox 360-loving schoolgirls popped up at a Microsoft community event at the Tokyo Game Show. Honestly, I don't know if these girls worked for Microsoft or a Microsoft PR firm or simply liked Xbox 360. I asked these girls why they attended the event, they said they were there for a faceplate contest. But four kids, showing up in suburban Chiba, hoping to enter an Xbox 360 faceplate contest just seems odd.
One of those girls had a blog on which she'd write about, well, the Xbox 360. She'd do things like post sticker pictures of her friends holding Xbox 360 controllers, leading me to wonder who the hell brings home console controllers to take sticker pictures with? This girl also uploaded viral videos of her and her friends posing in Shibuya (again, with controllers) and even singing an Xbox 360 song they apparently made up. Most of the girls in the karaoke video look like they'd rather be anywhere but there. The blog is no longer updated.
Only Microsoft published games appeared in her videos and on her blog. Japanese netizens have said this is Xbox Japan being desperate and claimed that these girls were paid shills for Xbox Japan, accusations the company ha weathered before—recently even—and maybe, just maybe accusations it will weather again.