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GotGame Truth Machine: Does Sony Care If The Vita Fails?

by on May 13, 2013
 

PlaystationVita

Five million.  Sony is expecting to sell 5 million Vitas over the next year.  I’m sorry, that’s not right.  Sony is expecting to sell 5 million PSPs and Vitas COMBINED.  I don’t like doom and gloom articles, but when Sony’s expectations have sunk so low, it’s clear that the Vita is in a very grim situation.  It doesn’t seem like the Vita is on the road to recovery, and it doesn’t seem like Sony cares.

First, I’ll start with the obligatory “I’m not a complete fanboy’ disclaimer”.  I’m not a huge Sony fan, but I have owned all of the gaming consoles they’ve made so far.  I genuinely want the Vita to succeed, because I’m a big fan of handheld gaming and want it to stick around. The Vita is in a sticky situation however.  While many people have either been comparing the Vita to other consoles that have made comebacks, the 3DS and the PS3, or tried to lump the Wii U into the Vita’s realm of struggles, there is a big difference between the Vita and other systems.  The difference is that Sony doesn’t seem to care if the Vita fails.

When the 3DS struggled at its launch, Nintendo went into full blown panic mode.  They slashed prices by 80 dollars, gave away enough digital content to appease gamers, incurred their first ever yearly loss due to their price cut, and shoved as much Mario as possible through the pipeline.  It wasn’t easy, and it may have cost Nintendo, but the 3DS made its way to solid ground.  Meanwhile, the Vita has been struggling more than the 3DS for a longer time, and Sony has – in the west- done very little to help the console.  Why is that?

Nintendo-3DS1

Nintendo did everything possible to save the 3DS, because they had no choice.  Nintendo cannot survive without their handheld division, at least not as the company they are now.  The GBA kept Nintendo relevant through the Gamecube years, and the DS has been hugely successful for them.  Nintendo does not have a lot of revenue streams.  They don’t make anything besides games, and they can’t afford to drop out of the handheld market.

Nintendo’s actions on the Wii U have not been as swift or meaningful, but they’ve at least shown that they care through interviews, publicity, and some attempt at marketing.  They’ve gone so far as to send a message to every Wii owner to let them know about the Wii U.  Of course, the Wii U is less than half as old as the Vita, and its competitors haven’t arrived quite yet, so Nintendo has more time to right the ship.  Nintendo is forecasting 9 million Wii Us for the next year.  While 9 million might be a disappointing figure to some, it is higher than either the XBox 360 or PS3 managed in their second years.  Will Nintendo achieve this goal?  I can’t tell you that, but Nintendo is set to make a big effort, and top executives in Nintendo have their jobs riding on the Wii U’s success.  The Wii U and the 3DS are too big to fail.

Sony on the other hand can drop out of the handheld market.  Sony can allow the Vita to sink in American and Europe while becoming a niche product in Japan.  Sony has other divisions to make money, and they have other divisions that are in need.  Sony can choose to take the money they would have spent on the Vita and use it towards their tablets, cameras, or reinvest it in the PlayStation 3/4.  If Sony drops their handheld gaming console, they’ll be alright, or at least not in much worse shape than they are.  The Vita is small enough to fail.

How is the Vita doing?  Well,in the last year, Sony sold 7 million PSP/Vitas combined.  PSP and Vita sales weren’t all that far apart, so there were likely about 4 million Vitas sold and about 3 million PSPs.  By comparison, the 3DS sold just shy of 14 million units.  The 3DS’s install base is outpacing the Vitas by leaps and bounds, and that makes the Vita a poor target for third parties.  If Nintendo and Sony each hit their projections for next year, the Vita’s install base will be about 1/4 the size of the 3DS’s.

The Vita’s library has not been growing quickly.  So far this year, the Vita has had 5 games score over a 70% average on Gamerankings.  Out of those games, two scored above an 80, and none scored above a 90.  Of these 5 games, only 1 was exclusive to the Vita, Soul Sacrifice.   By comparison, the 3DS has had 6 exclusive titles to score above a 70% as well as two non exclusive titles.  One of these titles scored above a 90%, Fire Emblem Awakening, and 2 titles scored above an 80%.  The 3DS’s install base is larger, it has had a years head start, and its library of quality software is still expanding at a greater pace than the Vita’s.

All of this is not to say the 3DS is a better console.  This is to say that Nintendo has put a lot more effort into making the 3DS a viable platform.  There is no reason that the Vita can’t have tons of great games, except that Sony is not investing the energy or the cash to make that happen.

PSVITA-PreOrder

What has Sony really done to address the Vita in the West?  Unlike Japan, we haven’t seen a price drop, nor have we seen an increase in software.  Last year at E3, the Vita had virtually no stage presence, aside from a demo for PlayStation All-Stars.  The biggest potential system seller for the Vita, Black Ops: Declassified, was botched.  The blame for Black Ops: Declassified can’t be placed solely on Sony, but Sony should have kept better tabs on a game that was to be bundled with their system and was its greatest chance of success.  Sony has been announcing relatively few Vita exclusives, and they haven’t said much about the Vita’s future aside from its potential as a PS4 controller.  Based on their own projections, Sony clearly does not expect much from the Vita.

Can the Vita be saved?  Absolutely, but it will take a big investment from Sony. My philosophy on game consoles is simple.  If you build it, they will come.  Games sell systems.  I’m sure you could point out a few gems on the Vita, but by and large, software support has been slow.  Sony needs third party developers on board, and they may need to fund some projects Bayonetta 2 style to make that happen.  They need to make more titles for the Vita, and they need their best teams working on them.  The next Uncharted game has to be made by Naughty Dog and not Sony Bend.  A price cut in the West certainly wouldn’t hurt.   Sony needs to pour resources into the Vita, and frankly, I don’t think they’re willing to do that.

Sony has other needs that they seem to deem more pressing.  Diverting resources to the Vita means less resources available for the PS4, which is a much higher priority for Sony.  Unlike Nintendo, Sony can cut their handheld division if it becomes dead weight, and based on their forecasts, that seems to be what Sony plans on doing.  I’m not slinging mud on the Vita because I’m biased or because I’m trolling for hit, but when Sony themselves have released such dismal projections, it is reasonable to question the future of the Vita.

I like handheld gaming.  I like my PSP.  I don’t want to see one of the only two companies that make dedicated handheld gaming consoles leave the market.  I sincerely hope that two years from now, people post a link to this article and say “hey remember when everyone thought the Vita would fail?  HAHAHAHAHA!”.  However, Sony themselves have painted an exceedingly bleak future future for the Vita.  It’s hard to see a light at the end of the Vita’s tunnel, and it seems that Sony agrees with me.

If you think I’m dead on, or you think I’m just being a negative Nancy, you could let me know in the comments section.  I welcome dissent, as long as it is well reasoned dissent.  You can also follow me on Twitter @gotgameJustin. Till next time.

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  • stevie
    May 13, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    At some point, Sony realized they aimed for a market that doesn’t exist, and they seem to be set between a rock and a hard place when it comes to refocusing. Going AAA in the handheld space was a mistake, and it’s clear that publishers weren’t exactly on board with Sony’s expensive gamble from the outset, but now with the PS4 on the way, I don’t doubt that Sony is choosing to let the cards fall where they may when it comes to the Vita for the time being. The entire AAA space is in turmoil at the moment, and there isn’t much Sony can do about that much. They made a good choice in not focusing so much on the Vita’s AAA capability, but they haven’t replaced that marketing with anything else.

    There’s no precedent in modern gaming for how poorly the Vita has sold, and Sony knows it, but whether or not they’re in a position right now to do anything about it is in question. Sony has been in financial trouble for a long time, and with the industry in as much turmoil as its in at the moment, they have much more riding on the PS4 than the Vita by miles. Hopefully E3 will bring some good news, but Sony is well aware of what happens when you allow a product to flounder for too long before trying to right the ship. It wouldn’t surprise me for a second if Sony decided to allowed the Vita to fall into a niche, and focused on mitigating their losses in the handheld space while they push the PS4 in the home console space.

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    • Avatar of Justin Weinblatt
      May 13, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Sony has a history of aiming for markets that don’t exist. The Move, The PSP Go, the Playstation TV, PSASBR, etc. You can have a great product, but if you don’t have a defined audience for it, it won’t succeed.

      That being said, I don’t believe that a AAA handheld is a bad idea. If Sony wanted to create a product that was distinct from Nintendo’s handheld line, that is precisely what they needed to do. However, the problem is that Sony doesn’t have the content to support that console right now.

      There could be a AAA handheld market, but Sony would have to fight really hard to create that, and perhaps now is not the time to invest heavily in that.

      As for E3 having some good news, I doubt that. Sony’s predictions basically say it all. They don’t see the Vita rebounding this year, and they know more about the console than anyone else. Unless they get very lucky, the Vita isn’t turning itself around.

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  • May 14, 2013 at 9:11 PM

    Sony DO know what they are doing. Dual sticks… no fps.
    Most of Vita titles are psp-style, most of them doesn’t need this piece of software for gameplay (dual sticks for rpg, sports, fightings, slashers, racing? no, they are for FPS).
    Uncharted and Unit 13 was good, but not incredible. Big names Call Of Duty and Resistance failed so hard, and obviously Sony was aware of that, Sony was aware about the damage it will done to console in the first place.
    I just don’t get one thing. Why Sony are trying hard to PR next Killzone… It isn’t made by Guerilla original stuff, but it might be the good thing (they are not that gifted anyway – only KZ3 was somewhat comparable to big names). But for clear attitude ‘we don’t give a damn’ (yeap, I am owner. And I do not own PS3), it doesn’t add up. Something is off. Maybe they have a plan (but they are killing Vita with silence anyway). They are probably trying waters by releasing FIRST PROPER title for Vita, THE game that no other mobile device can handle, and then see if it will sell console well so it worth investment. Right now they are holding Vita in self-infused coma. They missed the mark with Uncharted, but they hit with Little Big Planet Vita. They need something to prove them if Vita worth investment on West with PROPER WEST title. Killer app on the west. Or I might be wrong, I’ve still putting to much hope on Sony, though I won’t buy PS4. I’m sick of Sony’s regional issues and pricing.

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