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We need to talk about the PSP Vita.

posted on February 17th, 2012 by christian

We need to talk about the PSP Vita.

It isn’t exactly lighting up the sales charts.  True, it isn’t technically out yet in the West, but if it is true that its Japanese numbers are still hovering around half a million units, then the 3DS almost matched Vita sales in its first week alone.  Unless fortunes reverse, and the Vita ends up doing gangbusters over here, I think we can agree that Sony has a problem on its hands.

What frustrates me is why this is happening.  For all appearances, the handheld is a marvel of hardware design, is relatively cheap, and has strong launch titles.  So why is it that no one is going nuts over it?  It seems to me that for all the Vita’s strengths, Sony messed up on the little things, and they’re adding up to a lot.  For instance, the Vita’s a pretty good deal considering how powerful the hardware is, but folks are harping on the cost of the 3g data plan (I’m actually not sure why this is happening, considering there’s a wifi model, but whatever).  They’re also complaining about pricey, proprietary memory cards that are essentially mandatory, even for boxed games.  They’re complaining about the back touchpad, and the fact that no matter how pretty Uncharted is, it forces you to perform gimmicky control maneuvers to show off the system’s abilities.

To put it another way, Sony made a fantastic piece of kit, but forgot to make it easy and enjoyable to use.  The Vita ecosystem is locked down and proprietary from every angle.  The UMD Passport program is maddeningly expensive, and isn’t even coming out here in the West.  And there’s nothing like the 3DS’ Find Mii/Streetpass Quest that tries to outdo iOS apps at their own game.  The Vita is powerful, but unwilling to address the current state of the industry in any way, shape or form.  I’m not saying Sony should have come out with a slab of glass and metal that ran 99 cent, glorified Flash games, but the details of the Passport system alone suggest that Sony still wants to treat their userbase with a sense of indifference bordering on hostility.  I don’t think the Vita looks nearly as bad as its sales suggest, but I do believe the philosophy behind the system is clearly a problem.  How many times does Sony have to be told that throwing the beefiest hardware at people is not the path to success?  It can’t merely be Japanese stubbornness — even Nintendo is learning to adapt.  I suppose that Sony just can’t help being cocky until they’re absolutely forced to hunker down and right the ship.

That might be a problem this time around — the massive success of the PSP meant everyone predicted that the future of the Japanese gaming market was in handhelds.  Whereas the PSP was the side project next to the “surefire” PS3, the roles were reversed this time around.  If Sony doesn’t get their act together with the Vita, I don’t know what it will mean.

5 Comments

  1. jay said on February 18, 2012:

    I have no way of knowing how large a minority we are, but a lot of us like Pat, Chris and me have a PSP for the niche games that aren’t there yet on the Vita. of course they are not, the thing has been out for ten seconds, but the point is that there will be a good number of late adopters who don’t give a shit about Wipeout and Uncharted but want the new Ys or portable Persona.

    Sony may have a big problem if they can’t get the mainstream crowd onboard with the system, but the PSP got plenty of games I was interested in before Monster Hunter came out and made the system popular (in Japan).

    I don’t really care how much money Sony loses (that’s not true, I want them to lose a lot so they scale down their stupid hardware and return to a PS1/PS2 mentality), the Vita will likely still end up with a lot of niche RPGs and crap so in the longrun it’ll be a good system for a lot of gamers.

  2. Matt said on February 19, 2012:

    I’m surprised at how similar the Vita seems to the recent, Ken Kutaragi-based system designs. There’s been a few relented stances, but it still feels ultimately formed from that signature Sony arrogance. I haven’t gotten my hands on the system, and should probably research it more, but the memory cards, the size of the system itself, and the UMD Passport issues make it feel problematic all over again. Some people do seem smitten by it though, even after having similar doubts, so maybe all it needs a little warm up period. I myself will be getting it simply for the latest Lumines, but it’s going be awhile, when there’s a price drop.

    I’m also disappointed by these doom and gloom articles you see all over the place, about the death of gaming-centric devices. I’m sorry, but not all games should be on a touch-screen-only device. It’s just not hospitable to all the games I love, and would be the worst thing to happen if systems like the 3DS and even the big consoles die out. I’m sure that’ll never happen, but one has to wonder. Most companies seem to think the future is found on the iPhone. Company financials are buoyed by social or mobile games. How long will it take for them to focus solely on that market, and simply forget where their original fans came from?

    I’m glad that Sony seems to be targeting the Vita to their console fanbase instead of the “everyone and their grandmother” fanbase Nintendo went with for the Wii (which, I feel, is starting to hurt them now). Just refreshing to see game companies target people that are passionate about games for once. It wasn’t but 10 years ago that that was the norm, haha:)

  3. Cunzy1 1 said on February 20, 2012:

    I think there are still a lot of PSP owners who haven’t picked up their PSP since Liberty City Stories and Fifa (Madden in Yank Land) and don’t see why the next generation is worth picking up at all.

    Hopefully, consumers are finally voting with their wallets and not just snapping up new tech just because it is new which is what Sony and game retailers have built their business around. 3D is an easy sell but a back touch panel thing? On top of this the games out of the gate aren’t exactly stellar and to the average gamer don’t really set themselves apart or make the system worth owning (lets call it PS3 syndrome).

  4. pat said on February 20, 2012:

    the memory card thing seems like the loss leader/razor blade strategy. they probably dont make much on the hardware itself, and then try to make it up with larger margins on the less obvious but also necessary memory cards. its a good way to piss off your customers.

    what games do i want to play on this? gravity rush and…?

  5. christian said on February 21, 2012:

    Count me in too as someone who liked his PSP for all the weird niche stuff.

    Problem I see is as Jay mentioned – Sony has a history of rejecting weird/niche/2d games when their consoles are new, and over time, when they want to squeeze out more support, they give up and let anything go. At this point in time, we’re all familiar with their pattern of behavior, so it’d be nice if they’d just give it up and stop trying to curate each platform’s game library to be consistent with whatever image they want to align with.

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