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Where did Sony go wrong with the PS Vita?
by Gerard Martin Cueto on 09/05/12 11:39:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 



It’s no secret that the Sony’s dedicated gaming handheld, the Playstation Vita, is selling really badly. According to Playstation Germany boss Uwe Bassendowski, the PSP’s successor has only sold 2.2 million units worldwide. To put things in perspective, here’s a chart comparing the sales patterns of the Vita to the 3DS, the DS, and the PSP:

As you can see, the Vita is on track to sell the poorest compared with all the other gaming handhelds on the list. Smartphone gaming has obviously hurt the Vita’s sales and the only other dedicated gaming device on the market, the 3DS, sells exponentially more than the Vita in a good week, or a bad one.  To put it simply, the Vita, which is latin for life, is in the fight of its life.

Sony’s Gamescom 2012 conference showed that they were going to support the Vita through and through but obviously, things shouldn’t have been this bad in the first place. So where did Sony go wrong with Vita? Here are my thoughts: 

1. Sony should have made it a phone, maybe along the lines of the Xperia play with a slider or clam-shell design (a portable device should be easy to pocket!). They’ve had the Xperia Play as a gaming smartphone and I think they should have improved on it. If it wasn’t possible for a PS smartphone to have the same graphical/processing capabilities that the Vita has right now and still have a respectable battery life, then they could have toned down the device’s processing and graphical power. There's nothing wrong in doing so. Case in point, the 3DS hardware is infinitely weaker than the Vita and it has sold over 18 million units in less than two years. Which brings me to the second item on this list…

2. Sony should have changed their strategy completely when it comes to games. Console ports and spin-offs by B-team devs(cross play) are fine but people will always buy handhelds for games that are exclusive to the handheld. It’s all about the exclusives. This should have been their primary strategy in terms of software. Why would people buy a gaming handheld when most of the handheld’s games are just ports or spin-offs of games people already own on consoles? Sony should have followed Nintendo’s blueprint and have their top teams develop “mainline” titles in their franchises exclusively for the 3DS (the team that developed Super Mario Galaxy 2 also developed Super Mario 3D land). Instead of Sony Bend developing Uncharted: Golden Abyss, they should have had Naughty Dog develop Uncharted 4 exclusively for the Vita. Or maybe Infamous 3 developed by Sucker Punch exclusively for the Vita. Bold moves obviously but they were launching a new hardware, they really needed hard hitting exclusives.

3. PS1 support and PS Mobile (for android/iOS type games) should have been present from the start. These types of games are what most casual audiences look for in terms of smartphone gaming. With PS Mobile games and big Vita exclusives, Sony could have covered both the core and casual audience. As it is and from what I understand, PS Mobile is still in its early/launch phase.

4. Losing Monster Hunter exclusivity. Sony should done everything to make Monster Hunter a Vita exclusive. It worked wonders for the PSP. Capcom’s Monster Hunter games sell gangbusters in Japan and is now helping drive the 3DS’ sales in the region.

5. Extremely high memory card prices. Sony, being Sony, again decided to use a proprietary memory card for the Vita and then priced them exorbitantly: the 4GB card sells for $19.99, 8GB for $29.99, 16GB for $59.99, and the 32GB for $99.99. I can’t believe how expensive these memory cards are in this age of cheap SD and micro SD cards. The Vita’s initial price of $250 was well received considering the tech the device has, the memory card prices however have kept more than a few people from actually buying the handheld.

 

For more of my views on games and game development, you can head over to thegameglitcher.com


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Comments


Evan Combs
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You lost me at "Sony should have made it a phone".

I agree with points 2 and 5, and to a lesser extent point 3.

I have been saying the same thing about the games. Ports aren't going to sell a mobile console, you need games that take advantage of the device. Not games that try to act like they are being played on a PS3.

I don't think not having PS Mobile ready is a huge deal, but it most certainly would have helped their cause a lot.

The pricing of memory cards is just another sign that Sony is an old company stuck in the old ways, not realizing the world has passed them by.

Chris Hendricks
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Actually, putting phone functionality in it would have made me consider it. Then it would have been a useful product while I was waiting for anticipated games.

Kyle Redd
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How could the Vita work as a phone? There would be no way to do it without having to remove a large portion of the physical controls on the unit, otherwise you'd have people jamming an analogue stick into their cheekbone every time they tried to talk.

Joy Zimba
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When the PSP was initially released it did okay but as soon as the Vita arrived ( in my country at least) PSP sales have soared.

Retailers are now pulling out special bundles for PSP when before Vita there was nothing - so perhaps the Vita's first role is to bring the PSP age to a close with strong sales- the PSP being the more affordable of the two- and then with its rather pricey but 'cutting edge' tech last the distance past the PSP.

I do believe in the Vita (not in the more conventional tech sense) but in terms of Sony digging its heels in for the long run - them going with PS Mobile and trying to make it not just 'run' but really work for them and their developers -I think this is a good move.

If they can keep revenue where it keeps them profitable and running- and as a result have the Vita be the jester (forget the crown) of gaming hardware - it actually may be the right, but not so popular, business move.

The Vita being as it is a bit forgotten by the big guys will also allow devs who dare to really make a mark, as others have mentioned before.

It's a different kind of dynamic, high prices and all, but I think there is something there.

Joe Wreschnig
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The rise in PSP sales may have less to do with the Vita and more to do with the new nearly-half-priced PSP model, which launched a couple months before the Vita.

Joy Zimba
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I would have thought the same but looking at the timing of advertising- these discount bundles are definitely showing up AFTER the Vita. I used to even think they were for the Vita but upon closer examination - nope- PSP.

It's like people who are interested in the Vita cringe at the price and walk out instead with a PSP and a couple of games. That's why I thought it was worth mentioning.

Dave Endresak
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Umm... the Vita does not need Monster Hunter. It has what it needs: Hatsune Miku Project Diva f, which also refutes much of the assertions claimed in this piece. Maybe the author wrote it up prior to Project Diva f's release and subsequent sales for the first week, but that only means a rushed piece, at least as far as checking the power of exclusive titles and major franchises. Sony's head at the Yokohama launch festival for PJD f stated that Sony wanted to handle Miku very well because she's such a huge successful franchise, and the subsequent release the next day and sales the next week certainly show support for that view. The problem is that the Vita is holding back sales of PJD f but it still managed to quadruple the Vita sales for the past week.

No, the Vita shouldn't be a phone. FYI, many people do not have a smartphone nor do they want or need one due to the various elements of their personal lives (not unless the prices drop to about 10% of what they are right now, anyway, as they did with cell phones previously). Portable devices should fit in a pocket? Oh, yeah... like tablets and ereaders, right? Oh... guess portable devices don't need to fit in a pocket after all.

Where did Sony go wrong?

The accessories like memory cards, yes.

Failing to offer globally popular titles designed for the system (not these console ports no one wants, as I stated in prior posts after E3). People want games on handhelds that are made for the system. Ports are bad ideas. Same with console to PC or vice versa... almost always a bad idea. Same with a popular title ported to a smartphone... almost always bad.

The market around the world already stated what they want. Don't offer it? Fine... you won't sell systems.

Gerard Martin Cueto
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So now that there's a project diva game, it "doesn't" need any more exclusive games for the Japanese market? I would think that the sales of the Vita and the game will be lower/significantly lower next week in Japan. It doesn't need monster hunter? How much is the monster hunter games for the 3DS selling? Tons. It also sold tons for the PSP. MH is a franchise with a huge and dedicated following. Imagine if that game was on the Vita, I'm sure it will drive lots of hardware sales.

Also, when I said the device should be easy to pocket, most tablets and e-readers were really out of consideration since most of those devices have larger screens (7 to 10.1 inches). In terms of screen size, the vita is in the same class as the 3DS and smartphones, so that was what I mean when I said it should be easy to pocket.

Robert Boyd
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Hatsune Miku is nowhere near as big as Monster Hunter. Hatsune Miku on the Vita will probably sell a little over 200k LTD (it's very niche so most people who were interested in it bought it week 1 - expect sales to drop sharply). In contrast, Monster Hunter 3G on the 3DS sold over half a million in its first week. The typical Monster Hunter game sells millions of copies.

It's great that the Vita will get a few tens of thousands of extra system sales in Japan thanks to Hatsune Miku but that's not enough to reverse its current fortunes.

Joe Wreschnig
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I like the Project Diva series, but it's only being seen as a big bump because the Vita sales are so amazingly poor to begin with. Its success is not a long-term signifier of anything.

Michael Stevens
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1- By and large, people have the phones they need. Adding phone hardware would only have raised the price (or forced compromises in horsepower.) and caused even loyal fans to wait a year or two for their contract to expire.

5- Totally agree. It's particularly damaging because the Vita is only backwards compatible via download. Overpricing save space, a limp UMD-to-download initiative, and No UMD drive means that PSP owners aren't trading in to upgrade, and they've partitioned their audience instead of energized it. PSP owners still need their PSPs. That means that buying a Vita isn't an easier decision for brand loyalist (as it was for DS-to-3DS) and for those that do get a Vita missing out on that ~$50 is going to hurt the attach rate. Not since the original Xbox has there been a major system so reliant on it's launch software, and that's *nonsense* given how much Sony's back catalogue is available and still relevant.

Kyle Bidwell
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Well, I couldn't tell you why Sony messed up selling large numbers of Vita's but I can tell you why I haven't bought one.

#5 mostly covers my #1 reason. But, all in all it's a pricing problem. It's a tough pill to swallow spending $250 on a Vita, then another 2/5th's ($100) that on the memory card I'd want for it. I like having a ton of space so buying the tiny cards is a no-go. The fact the non-3G system itself is $250 is a problem as well. If they had not included a 4gig card, which presumably could have knocked the price down to $230 or so, then I'd also be a bit happier about it since I'd cast it aside right out of the box. It's a step in the right direction to start doing the $250 bundles that include a game, but it still seems to come up short. Drop the price of the memory cards by at least 50%, lose the 4gig cards from the bundles, include a worthwhile game and price it at $180 for the Wifi model and I'd buy it.

I don't really mind the "Miniature console games" problem all that much. In fact, that AC3 Liberation game might be enough to push me over the edge and finally get one. The thing about that game that makes it appealing is that it doesn't seem like that will be an experience you can get elsewhere. Shrinking/Porting console games is not the way to go. Making original games, even if they are part of a series, is the trick that has eluded Sony for so long. They need to court the developers better to get this done.

Expanded game support for PS3/Vita integration is also something that would make it more attractive. This has been something the console makers have been trying to do for over a decade all the way back to the Dreamcast days (VMU's were awesome). Nintendo tried it with the GBA and had mild success. Sony already tried it with the PSP and had even less success. If I felt like I was missing out on something really cool while playing a PS3 game, and owning a Vita would fix that problem, my willingness to spend more would increase.

At this point it's just a waiting game for me. Prices will come down, but hopefully not because of Sony slashing features off the hardware. If they did that, I'd wait even longer for the price of used Vita's to come down further.

Robert Carter
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They also needed to advertise more. In the US (at least locally in Los Angeles) the only ads I saw were in gamestop (easily passed over) and in Taco Bell via that promotion they had.

A few weeks before launch, I asked several friends (all gamers) and fellow students in the Game and Simulation Programming degree I am in if they were going to buy the Vita. The most common response I got was "The What?".

This could easily be tied in to the lack of exclusives. With no major titles people were looking into, it just didnt hit their radar. If they announced some major titles to be Vita Only, they may have been noticed a bit more without having to actively try to advertise more.

Also, PS1 exclusives should have been open at launch. And if they had PS2 titles, that would be a major selling point. The PS2 has more than enough iconic and nostalgic titles to make a handheld worth getting. PS1 titles, though now implemented, are lacking. I was very disappointed to see no Crash Bandicoot or Final Fantasy titles, despite that these are available on PS3 and PSP. They have wild arms one, and Jet Moto one, but not WA2 or JM2. The console is getting pretty old with nothing to look forward to in terms of titles.

I love having MGS 2 and 3, and look forward to FFX on a portable device, but neither are exclusive and will not drive sales of new devices. Its sad, the system is so beautiful! Rayman is a pleasure to play on the device... So much potential being wasted.

Neko Otome
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"1. Sony should have made it a phone, maybe along the lines of the Xperia play with a slider or clam-shell design (a portable device should be easy to pocket!). "

No, XP's touchpads aren't even usable with long nails. And that would have added $200 to the cost.

"then they could have toned down the device’s processing and graphical power. There's nothing wrong in doing so."

There is everything wrong with that. The whole point of it is more processing power. Using less would make it less capable in gaming.

"Why would people buy a gaming handheld when most of the handheld’s games are just ports or spin-offs of games people already own on consoles?"

3DS's biggest games were also ports and spinoffs

Robert Carter
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I agree with most of your points, except that the ports to the 3DS with upgraded graphics/sound/content (Starfox, Zelda, etc) are exclusive ports unavailable to the Wii, and therefore will drive sales harder than non-exclusive ports

Also other popular games such as New Super Mario Bros are not spin offs, but new games/sequels of popular series.

Neko Otome
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He's using a definition which counts uncharted golden abyss as a port/side game. By whatever definition he uses to count it also counts the games you listed

Gerard Martin Cueto
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Just to clear things up, I considered Uncharted Golden Abyss as a side game because it isn't one of the main/numbered games.

This is similar to MGS: Peace Walker for the PSP which was initially planned to be a mainline/numbered MGS game as MGS 5: Peace Walker but was then renamed to just MGS: Peace Walker, with MGS 5 probably to be done next-gen.

For the ports like Starfox and Zelda, they are indeed exclusive to the 3DS since they have added content, improved graphics, etc. Games like PS All stars Battle Royal, Sly Cooper 4, MGS HD, and Street Fighter X Tekken are non-exclusive ports because they are released / will also be released for the PS3.

Lastly, New Super Mario Bros 2 is a mainline title in the Super Mario / New Super Mario series and it is a 3ds exclusive.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Gerard Martin Cueto
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@Dan Eisenhower

It isn't just about the name.

For one, Golden Abyss isn't exactly developed by Naughty Dog - the creators and main developers of the series. Second, mainline titles are given greater marketing/advertising budgets, and three, mainline titles are much bigger productions.

These reasons are why I see Golden Abyss as a side game and not a mainline title in the series.

Neko Otome
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Please use the reply button to reply.

The new mario games weren't numbered either, as they'd be like mario 139. Zelda games aren't numbered either. And nintendo lets third parties like capcom handle them too. Minish cap and the oracles series, metroid other m. They aren't consodered spinoffs.

And who made it doesn't change the content. Uncharted was an awsome game. And all vita "ports" get exclusive content, sony has required it since the psp age.

Gerard Martin Cueto
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I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree re: how we see games as either side games or main games.

Lastly, exclusive content or not, they're just that, ports. They are playable/will be playable on a system other than the Vita. It's one of the things hurting the handheld, a lot of ports and few games exclusive to the system (as I mentioned).


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