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Opinion: It's time for Sony to consider a Vita price cut

Opinion: It's time for Sony to consider a Vita price cut Exclusive

April 23, 2012 | By Chris Morris

I feel bad for Kaz Hirai.

The new CEO of Sony has plenty on his plate these days. He recently announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs. He has the mighty task of reviving Sony's once-powerful brand name. And he's doing all of this as angry investors and skeptical analysts watch critically from the sidelines.

Now he has another problem to add to the pile: The PS Vita is not moving. And that's an especially notable dilemma, since Hirai has already stated that he's looking for the company's gaming division to help shoulder a big part of the load in the company's turnaround.

In Japan, Vita hardware sales hit a record low last week, selling just 8,250 units. In the U.S. -- where the base Vita sells for $250, and the 3G version sells for $300 -- sales appear to have declined to between 205,000 and 215,000 last month, although precise figures are not available.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's following the same trend as the 3DS did in its terrible debut in the U.S. While American gamers basically ignored the system due to its high price and lack of must have games, Japanese sales plunged even further.

The ultimate decision to cut the price just a few months after launch was a life preserver for the 3DS, which ended up selling more hardware units in its first year than the DS.

The 20 percent worldwide price cut was only part of the battle, of course. Nintendo's solid holiday lineup of games had arguably a bigger impact -- but that's ultimately a chicken/egg argument. Would the software have convinced people to buy the games if the hardware had stayed at its original $250 price level (notably, the same price as the base Vita)? Or did the price cut make them more willing to pull out their wallet. It's a moot point, either way.

While a price cut seems logical to consumers at this point, it's a little more complicated for Sony. Kaz Hirai is still largely known as a PlayStation guy and a price cut just two months after the system's U.S. launch would be viewed as a failure of that division. (Just look at the heat Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took when Nintendo slashed the 3DS's price.)

Having that public stumble less than a month into the job wouldn't help Hirai -- and it wouldn't help Sony. That makes it a little less likely that we'll see an immediate official price cut for the Vita. Add in Sony's long history of putting off price cuts, even when sales are sub-optimal, and it's an even bigger longshot.

I wouldn't rule it out entirely, though.

Lowering the system's price during E3 might raise fewer eyebrows, but I suspect it will be a bit longer before Sony pulls the trigger.

Nintendo's decision to reduce the 3DS was unusual not only because of its suddenness, but because it came at a time when there were still no notable games for the system on shelves -- or imminent.

The Vita has a much stronger launch lineup than Nintendo did, but the flow of new games has become a trickle filled with ports and multiplatform titles. At E3, everyone expects Sony to bang the Vita drum loudly, but the odds of a single title (or multiple ones) rallying hardware sales to an acceptable point are slim.

A holiday price cut, however, is something that could both raise sales and allow Sony to save face. It would come close to the system's one-year mark -- an acceptable time to lower prices. It would come as the next round of premium Vita games hits the market. And it would come at a time when consumers are more willing to pull out their wallet.

The only question is: If it does come then, will it be in time to grab people's attention? After all, as the end of the year draws near, the Vita's going to have a lot more competition -- with both the Wii-U and next iPhone likely lobbying hard for people's gadget dollars.

Like I said, I feel bad for Kaz Hirai.

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