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 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.
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.