2012 gave us The Walking Dead game, Journey, Dishonored, and many other new and exciting products that made it a great year to be a gamer.
The industry was not without its missteps, however, and the PS Vita has been ranked among the top of them. Financial blog 24/7 Wall Street has placed Sony’s fledgling handheld on a list that includes John Carter, and sharing space with the biggest box office bomb in the history of film is certainly not what Sony had in mind to follow the PSP.
What exactly has gone wrong for the Vita? That’s what we will look at here, and also decide what Sony needs to do if they have any desire to fix the mess they have created for themselves.
The Playstation Vita is Sony’s attempt at not just another handheld but their entry into the market of tablets. Unlike Nintendo’s 3DS, the Vita was meant from day one to be more than just a gaming device. Before the system was even given a formal name, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai boasted about the PSP’s successor having better potential than the iPhone. The Vita has all the tools to make it into a great gaming device: two analog sticks, dual cameras, Sixaxis motion control, and everything you would expect out of a piece of Sony hardware by now.
In changing hardware, however, they managed to alienate PSP customers for the second time in as many years. The disaster that was the PSP Go eliminated the same UMD slot which every game on the system utilized, along with a horrendous asking price that barely went lower than a PS3. Similarly, the Vita now uses a brand new data card for game storage and all previous PSP games need to be downloaded from the PSN Store. Hopefully, you weren’t looking to play any PS One Classics on the Vita, because that feature was nowhere to be found when the system launched in February (they didn‘t become available until the end of August).
Had I the cash to invest in a Vita, I would not have been lamenting the lack of PS One availability on a brand new system; I would be looking forward to the exciting new lineup of games on launch day…oh, wait.
The Vita’s lineup of games when it was released in February, for me, was paltry at best. I hope the people who criticized Nintendo’s available games for the debut of the Wii U also gave the same amount of flack to Sony, whose available games mainly consisted of ports and sequels. Not much has changed as 2013 has arrived; if anything, the aggregate ranking of the Vita’s games was dragged through the ground by Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified, unquestionably the worst-reviewed game of the series and a complete and total “Fuck you” to people who have been buying the games for over a decade. Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed managed to find a good home with their Vita-exclusive entries, but almost anything you can play on the system can be found elsewhere.
This leaves you with a physically smaller tablet or a giant mobile phone, depending on your habits in using technology. Without the luxury of internal storage, you are forced to buy a memory card that once again does not work with anything other than the Vita. At the very least, the PSP used Memory Sticks which, while Sony-manufactured, could be found anywhere for reasonable prices. 32 GB of storage for the Vita retails for $100, a ridiculous notion when you consider that many games for the Vita are download-only and can occupy several GB on their own. If you are using the Vita for more than just gaming, you may as well buy an iPod Classic, which has 160 GB for the same price as the Wifi version of the Vita and $50 less than the model with a 3G connection.
Nintendo’s 3DS suffered a similar fate at launch, owing poor sales of the system to a lack of great games upon release. Upon realizing the price was a sticking point, Nintendo dropped it from $249 to $169 and offered a boatload of free games to anyone who had already purchased it before the price drop, and as of this writing, only those people have access to said free games. Sony extended a similar olive branch to customers who had been without the Playstation Network during last year’s hacking debacle, and they are no strangers to offering free software with Playstation Plus. I believe a similar idea, short of blatantly stealing it from Nintendo, would suit them well in their current situation.
Nintendo has sold close to 25 million 3DS units, including the XL released this year. The Vita, meanwhile, is having trouble matching weekly sales of its older PSP counterpart. This should be familiar to Sony, whose initial sales of the PS3 fell well short of the PS2, which was still seeing releases of games well after the next generation of consoles had been established. I think a big difference here is that, unlike a lot of Sony’s previous offerings, there is no big draw to the Vita.
The American TV commercial you see here is from the infancy of the Sony Playstation, back when the electronics giant was brand new to the world of video gaming. They were hot shit, and they made Nintendo’s cartridges and Sega’s expensive Saturn look like dinosaurs. They established themselves as the new kings of gaming on consoles, and when the Playstation 2 included the ability to play movies on DVD, it sold enough to knock Sega out of the hardware market and hold off competition from Nintendo and Microsoft. The PSP was an incredibly powerful handheld that felt like taking a Sony console with you, and the PS3 afforded everyone a Blu-ray player (although it took a couple years to bring the PS3 to a reasonable price).
This is the problem with the Vita. There’s no massively appealing feature to draw in people who have a use for something that it does, because it doesn’t do anything that Nintendo, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and dozens of others who have tried and found varying degrees of success do not already do. It’s clear at this point that Sony doesn’t know what the hell to do with what is, in all honesty, a very powerful handheld, so it’s going to be up to the third parties to make it the system to own.
Capcom developed Resident Evil: Revelations for the 3DS, and it was heralded as a return to the survival horror of old for the series, a breath of fresh nostalgic air compared to the action-heavy offerings with which RE is now associated. This did not translate to sales, and the game is now rumored to be coming to home consoles as a downloadable title. If a new RE game were made for the Vita, and only the Vita, that would be just one reason for people to think “Maybe my money will be well spent on this device.” The same potential exists for Ubisoft, Konami, Square-Enix and any other publisher who wants to take what is probably a risk at this point and invest time and money on a product that could go either way.
You hear that, Ubisoft? I want a new Prince of Persia game, and putting one on the Vita would seriously make me think about getting one to play it. The same would go for a Final Fantasy side story, Dead Space, Mega Man or something completely new and original. I want the Vita to be a success so that Nintendo and everybody else who still sees Sony as a threat has to keep up and continue to set bars higher. Sony has time to bounce back, but they’re going to need help. Let’s hope someone steps in.