(In case you didn’t know, “vita” means “life” in Italian)
Launching in December of 2011, the PlayStation Vita had a job to fulfill: be the successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) owned by over 80 million people. With a 5 inch OLED touchscreen, six-axis motion sensor, a rear touch pad, and a laundry list of other additions, the PS Vita was bound to succeed… right? Wrong. In fact, the Vita did much worse than anyone anticipated. Here’s the harsh reality:
- The Vita sold less in one year than the PSP in 1 month.
- As of right now, the Vita is at around 8.6 million units sold. Its competitor, the Nintendo 3DS, is at around 44.1 million units sold- a near 5:1 ratio.
- Companies are unwilling to develop games for the Vita due to the fact that their time and resources could be spent on another console to ensure greater sales. The Vita can’t sell because companies aren’t making games for it. This results in a deadly cycle.
You may be asking yourself: What went wrong? Some argue that the proprietary memory cards (used as a defense for piracy) repelled potential consumers from purchasing Vitas. In an age where digital games are becoming more apparent than their physical counterparts, memory cards are necessary. The problem with the Vita is that it can only use Vita-specific memory cards, which are costly, and they aren’t even included when buying the system. A 32 GB card will cost $100, 16 GB – $60, 8 GB – $30, and 4 GB – $20. While these prices would be slightly reduced during Gamescom 2013, it may have been too late as the damage was already done (as described in the disappointing sales above).
Another possible answer is marketing, or lack thereof. Marketing is pivotal to achieving successes. It’s why names like “Wii” and “Xbox” are terms most people know (including people who never play video games). Ask someone on the street who is a casual gamer what a Vita is and they’ll probably think it’s a type of bread. When watching T.V., I noticed that there were far more 3DS commercials than Vita ones. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing a single Vita commercial. How will the public buy Vitas if they don’t know it exists?
The Vita’s marketing problems don’t lie only in advertising itself. Sony has constantly changed the purpose of the Vita. First it was marketed to be a “console on the go”. The problem? Triple-A games by major developers were rarely made. The few games that were AAA weren’t console quality (Example: Borderlands 2, which was originally on PS3 and Xbox 360, suffered from dropping frame rates, awkward controls, and an overall unenjoyable experience). Now, it’s marketed to be a peripheral to the much more successful PS4. While this may be the only option to get Vitas in the hands of the public, it raises many red flags. The Vita being contingent to the PS4 shows that the Vita can’t survive on its own and that Sony’s solution to its lack of games is to share the PS4’s growing library of games to the Vita.
Last but not least, it’s possible that the handheld market is dying. People would rather spend $0.99 on an iPhone game than $39.99 on a Vita game, especially because the iPhone serves more purposes than just playing games. With the introduction of in app purchases, developers are making much more money than they ever could’ve fathomed if their game was released on the Vita (Example: Candy Crush, Angry Birds).
However, not all is dire for the Vita.
The very few people who do own Vitas purchase lots of games. The attach rate (meaning how many games are bought per Vita) is about 10. This is excellent, considering most consoles have an attach rate of about 2-3. Chris McQuinn of Drinkbox Studio stated, “People rag on the Vita so much, and I think people who rag on the Vita don’t understand, at least from a business perspective, the purchasing power of Vita owners. Vita owners are serious purchasers of games. It’s an amazing system”. He also added, “”If people don’t see the Vita doing the same number of sales as the 3DS, then it’s automatically a failure. But I think what people fail to understand is the purchasers of Vitas are very, very engaged game consumers. For them, the attach rate with games is very high. There might not be a lot of Vitas out there, but the people who do own Vitas are very serious consumers; they buy a lot of games.”
In addition, the Vita is performing superbly in Japan. This is because people commute to work more frequently than in the U.S. In fact, “A majority of 53% of students and 48% of company workers indicated to commute to school/work by train or subway”. These minutes can be spent playing on the Vita, and combined with the plentiful amount of role-playing games (very popular in Japan), it’s no wonder why sales there are outstanding. During the week of July 19th 2014, 44,969 Vitas were sold; 29,322 of which were sold in Japan. Considering only 2,560 Vitas were sold in North America that week, it’s apparent that the Vita is performing terrifically in Japan.
Considering all this information, can the Vita be saved?
Yes, but not to the point where it can surpass the 3DS in hardware sales. Saving the Vita will require many sacrifices on Sony’s part and will likely cost them a lot of money. In my opinion, Sony should:
- Reduce the price of memory cards even further. A 32 GB should cost 50-60 dollars at most. In addition, an 8 GB memory card should be included in every system, removing any hidden costs.
- Produce more Vitas with different colors. It may sound bizarre, but having a wide variety of colors will appeal to many audiences in North America. “Limited Edition” colors will give potential buyers an incentive to buy a Vita, instead of the standard black color.
- Advertise the Vita. Make commercials for the Vita that appear on children’s networks such as Nickelodeon. Make banners and billboards in highly populated cities such as NYC to gain public attention.
As a proud owner of a Vita, Sony does have the ability to change the Vita’s fate. It’s an excellent console with a wide variety of games made by independent studios. Some believe the Vita’s disappointing outcome is a sign that handheld gaming is coming to an end and succumbing to mobile games. What do you think? Can the Vita be saved? Is handheld gaming dead? Comment below and share your thoughts!