Reaching PS Vita's Target Audience
Koller believes that in order to build momentum for PS Vita, it's vital for Sony to convey the system's primary value -- a handheld that can deliver console-like experiences on the go -- to the consumers it's identified as the portable's target audience: PS3 owners.
"We have a very large install base of PS3 owners right now," he says. "When you look at that key messaging of console gaming in your hands, there's no better person to talk to about that than the PS3 owner. We know them well. They're active. They're PlayStation loyalists."
Along with encouraging publishers to bring new versions of their console franchises to PS Vita (and not straight ports), Sony has made plenty of moves to beckon PlayStation 3 owners, such as planning to extend their PlayStation Plus subscriptions to the portable at no extra cost this fall.
Focusing on this target audience has also allowed Sony to introduce features like Cross Buy, which gives consumers copies of both the PS Vita and PS3 versions of a multi-platform game when they purchase a single edition (e.g. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale); and Cross Controller, which enables players to use their PS Vita as a second-screen PlayStation 3 controller in select titles -- much like the Wii U.
And while Sony's strategy to sell the idea of big-screen experiences on a portable wasn't enough to establish PSP as the leader in the last handheld generation -- something the company blames on the flood of ports that tainted the system's image -- it's doubling down on that plan for PS Vita. If anything, Sony believes it hasn't done enough to emphasize that as the portable's primary strength.
"I think one of the ways that we could have improved the launch is we probably should have had a stronger message around console gaming in your hands, being very overt about that," says Koller, who feels the platform holder wasn't able to focus on that so much because it also needed to highlight PS Vita's unique features. "It does take quite a bit of messaging and marketing to wrap that around consumer's heads."
It's worth noting that this is an issue Sony has struggled with before.
Attracting Indie Support
That's not to say that Sony is foregoing smaller and indie titles -- on the contrary, the company has worked with plenty of small studios and even individuals to release their PS Vita titles, looking for ways to help bring their ideas to the portable, whether that's through loaning them dev kits or negotiating the best way to market their titles. We've seen the results of those efforts with unique releases like Sound Shapes, Escape Plan, and numerous upcoming games.
Koller believes it's important to have a bench of strong indie titles that will not only keep users returning to PS Vita's PSN service and diversify its offerings, but also help differentiate the handheld from its rivals by demonstrating the hardware's unique capabilities (e.g. having a multi-touch screen and a rear touchpad). "In terms of actively encouraging those types of development, we're all in on that," he promises.
The marketing director says Sony has a persuasive argument when it comes to convincing small developers to bring their existing titles to PS Vita: "Look, there's an opportunity to expand your offering. As long as you make it unique to Vita, there's a real opportunity to have very, very strong incremental sales, because that consumer is sitting there waiting for this, as opposed to trying to find a needle in a haystack on the mobile deck."
He notes that when releasing digital titles on PSN, developers don't have to deal with "playing with price and all the things that are required to make an indie game move on a mobile platform. If you jump in with us, we're able to really provide a lot of opportunities that the others do not" -- opportunities recently outlined to Gamasutra by SCEA's vice president of publisher and developer relations.
A number of studios have also commented that the tools available for PS Vita have been great to work with, too -- Frima's programmers, for example, prefer working with the handheld's tools over the PS3's.
There's room for improvement with how PS Vita sells its downloadable indie games, though. Twitchy Thumbs' Buck feels Sony has to overhaul how the PSN Store presents game information as soon as possible. While Steam and Apple's App Store display screenshots, reviews, and other items to spur impulse purchases, PSN offers very little for consumers to evaluate whether they want to take a risk with buying a title.
"With the PSN Store, you have a game logo icon and some text. That's it! In order to decide whether or not you want the game, you have to get on Google and do more research. That is a huge wall, and as a result, tons of sales are lost. This should have been fixed at PS Vita launch, and to not have even thumbnails of screenshots is inexcusable," says Buck.
[Update: Sony has started to address this, most recently adding screenshots to the PSN Store entry for New Little King's Story. Older titles and even many other new games, though, still lack any media that would give consumers a preview of their content.]