Most people maybe already read this but if not its an interesting read
PlayStation Vita hasn’t had an easy go of it in its first year on the market. For as promising as the handheld appeared to be before its release, it’s failed to light the sales charts on fire both in its native Japan and in the west. As a result, questions about Vita’s future have already arisen in earnest as Sony continues to stand by its machine, seemingly unaware (or simply unwilling to admit) that anything has gone wrong.
Before Vita came out, it had everything going for it. At E3 2011, we expected Sony to tag an unreasonable price on its shiny new handheld, but the company did the exact opposite, pricing it fairly and giving it early appeal to would-be adopters. The vacancy of steady releases that slowly overtook the PSP’s latter years was quickly nipped in the bud, with Sony intent on using both its first-party resources and the power of its third-party relationships to give Vita a promising library of games right off the bat and for the duration of its first 12 months.
and I predicted it would be successful as a result. But as I’ve stated many times in the past year, I was dead wrong.
[Vita's] dual analog sticks and high-tech innards seemed to give it considerable leverage...
The question now is what went wrong? How did something so promising fall apart? How did Vita fail to connect to consumers? And perhaps most importantly, can Sony salvage Vita’s out-of-the-gate stumble, call it a false start, and set PSP’s successor on a positive sales trajectory that will allow it to achieve some of the major success PSP found? The answers to these questions are, not surprisingly, complicated and multifaceted, and it’s difficult to come to a positive conclusion that paints Vita’s future as anything but flagging.
Vita’s failure to thrive can perhaps be traced back to the weeks and months before it was released, when the cloudless skies hanging over the handheld suddenly began to look overcast. News slowly but surely leaked about Vita’s capabilities – or lack thereof – including its lack of substantial built-in memory and heinously expensive memory cards that players would have to purchase to download and save games. Depending on the size of the memory card purchased, you'd have to tack an extra $100 or so onto the otherwise affordable price for the Vita itself. Suddenly, Vita wasn’t looking like such a good deal at retail, and the memory card issue persists to this day as a major roadblock barring entry to gamers on a budget.
Sony has also stubbornly refused to drop the price of Vita in the face of prevailing winds from the iOS and Android markets, as well as from Nintendo. The latter company artfully vanquished Vita right out of the gate with a well-aimed price drop partnered with the release of huge games. Sony has yet to recover or prove to anyone outside of the hardcore PlayStation ecosystem why Vita is a handheld worth having, and insisting on “value added” price fixes instead of outright price drops simply won’t solve the problem over the long-term.
Suddenly, Vita wasn’t looking like such a good deal at retail...
And then there are the games that didn’t quite pan out the way we had all hoped they would. With Vita’s portable power well established, gamers were disappointed when titles like ModNation Racers didn’t support online play like its console brethren. Indeed, developers still insist on making baffling decisions with online-centric games, even with smaller titles like Pure Chess and Uncharted: Fight For Fortune using the outdated crutch of “asynchronous online play.” Such online uncertainty hasn’t helped Vita make a case for “console gaming on the go.” Vita’s online functionality should be a selling point, not something worked around and abused.
The biggest two misses, however, were Nihilistic Software’s two forays on the PlayStation Vita in the form of Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. The importance of first-person shooters on the very first handheld not only capable of running console-quality games, but one with dual analog sticks, simply cannot be understated. Yet, Resistance was a dud and Black Ops Declassified -- which had the power to be the biggest and most important game in Vita’s catalog – proved to be junk. And incredibly, both games supported eight-player multiplayer, a shadow of that aforementioned “console quality on the go” Sony touts the Vita as in commercials.
...it’s impossible not to acknowledge that Vita’s sales must improve markedly for it to be viable long-term to Sony...
Still, the games that are available now don’t solve a conundrum very much on the horizon as we enter 2013: the stunning lack of upcoming games for PlayStation Vita. From where we stand right now, there are roughly a half-dozen Vita games in development (that we know about) that are worth being excited about. Killzone: Mercenary, Soul Sacrifice, and Tearaway are the cream of the crop in this regard. Games like MLB 13: The Show, Dragon’s Crown, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Guacamelee! will also be available on PlayStation 3, significantly diminishing their power as Vita releases specifically (bringing up another problem; the overutilization of cross-play that entices PS3 owners while removing reasons for Vita owners to get in on the act).
With sales of Vita hovering around the 4 million mark worldwide, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that Vita’s sales must improve markedly for it to be viable long-term to Sony and, just as importantly, the publishers that are expected to bring games to the handheld. PlayStation Portable, considered a success at retail, has sold roughly 75 million units in about eight years on the market, or more than 9 million per year since release. Vita lags significantly behind PSP, which itself was trounced by Nintendo’s DS (just as 3DS is trouncing Vita). At this rate, Vita’s sales are on pace for 32 million sold over an identical eight-year period, and the math used to arrive at that sum is generous. The numbers speak for themselves.
So the real question becomes easy to identify: with an underwhelming install base with no signs of improving, will third-parties even bother putting their games on Vita in 2013 and beyond? In this sense, Vita’s failure will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of if Sony itself intends on supporting Vita well into the future with its own studios. They have 12 exclusive studios, a new console on the horizon and PlayStation 3 still to support. The first party can’t carry Vita on its back, and even if it did, their offerings are unlikely to lure a drove of new customers through the door.
Part of me feels that Sony has something up its sleeve with Vita, something unexpected. The most obvious thing would be that it somehow connects with the next PlayStation, perhaps as a second screen solution similar to what Nintendo has done with Wii U’s gamepad. This would explain Sony’s blasé attitude towards Vita’s poor sales; under this hypothetical, the company’ll have a chance to “relaunch” Vita. Perhaps it will even be bundled with the new system from the get-go.
Part of me feels that Sony has something up its sleeve with Vita, something unexpected.
But another part of me feels like Vita is on the path towards spiraling to a slow, PSP-like death, but without the years of PSP’s success behind it. It’s this latter scenario that truly concerns me going forward in 2013. If Vita doesn’t sell, it’s not a viable platform for third-parties to put games on. But if third-parties won’t support Vita, it won’t sell. It’s a classic (and unfortunate) catch-22. Third-parties want to test the waters and see what Vita’s all about – just look at the subpar Madden port from this past summer – but without all cylinders firing, Vita won’t make business sense to anyone associated with it, from Sony all the way down to the smallest developer and everyone in between.
As I’ve said time and time again, PlayStation Vita is the handheld I’ve always wanted. It’s a stellar example of what's possible in the realm of gaming on the go, and with the 3DS selling so steadily, the market itself isn’t against dedicated portable gaming. But Nintendo has games that sell, a rapidly expanding install base and feverishly dedicated consumers. With Vita, PlayStation doesn’t have any of that, and without the assistance of rose-colored glasses, 2013 isn’t looking great for Sony’s handheld that could, but hasn’t.