It is well known among the gaming community that Sony let the Playstation Vita wither on the vine, despite this though the powerful handheld has found a niche around the world. This has inspired a passionate community of fans of the small but powerful device that has long maintained Sony’s mishandling of the Vita was what doomed it, not the device itself. Recently reigniting these tensions Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO recently said this at the Tokyo Game Show:
“The Vita experience was that outside of Japan and Asia, there was not a huge demand. The lifestyle shift toward the dominance of smartphones as the single key device that is always with you, was the determining factor.
Of course he is right on a superficial level, there was no demand for the Playstation Vita, as demand is not an automatic thing. However once again Sony tries to absolve themselves of issues surrounding the Vita. As such I will attempt to list the ways that Sony screwed up the Playstation Vitas launch and beyond.
At a launch price of $249.99 for the WiFi enabled version and $299.99 for the 3G Version (USD of course) the Vita was set to launch at the highest price point for a handheld ever. Considering the sales beating Nintendo took when the 3DS launched at $249.99 it was a surprise Sony priced the console so high to more casual observers. Now this might not have been an issue had Nintendo not just one month later following Sonys reveal of the Vita cut the price of the 3DS by $80.00 USD, causing a rally in sales the Playstation Vita could never keep up with.
Furthermore the very existence of two models of the Playstation Vita was another strange decision. While on the go online gaming seemed like a good idea on paper in practice it turned out to be anything but. The $299.99 model was treated similarly to a Cell Phone with only AT&T (in America) being the designated carrier, this monopoly caused data plans for the already costly Vita to be high compared to its cellphone competition. Furthermore if anyone has used 3G before one knows it is not the most reliable service, certainly not conducive to online gaming. Outside of America this model sold even worse with data plans reaching as high as $25.00 a month for a few gigabites of data.
While technically an issue regarding price the Data Cards were and remain today too much of a f*** up on Sony’s part to not be singled out. When asking for an upfront $249.99 its pretty bad form to then force your customer to also pay over $69.99 for any reasonable amount of storage. Yet this is what Sony required every Vita owner to do, making the actual cost of their system well over $300.00 in any territory.
While a decade prior proprietary storage was not anything to be surprised about, every system used some kind of it. A product launching in 2011 when micro SD cards were both affordable and plentiful was kind of a slap in the face, as it was clear Sony could have used the format. They merely choose not too. Furthermore when compared to the 3DS with a new price point of $169.99 and the ability to use any micro SD card you wished, the Sony system was becoming a luxury item much quicker then they could have imagined.
Sony for years had been trying to move towards a more streamlined digital distribution channel to catch up with competitor Microsoft. Luckily in the handheld market Nintendo had shown itself to be as incompetent online as it was in the home console market, providing an opening for Sony. However the Vita had a few key flaws preventing it from capitalizing on this opening. The first and most glaring was the storage issue as many PSV owners tended to have smaller memory cards due to the exorbitant prices attached to storage.
This caused a minor problem to become a major headache for the system. A system designed with digital distribution and digital games in mind found itself struggling to do just that, mostly due to lack of storage. Add on top an overly cumbersome and time consuming process of downloading or transferring games to the system itself; what should be one the most simple process a game system could do became one of the systems biggest chores. How Sony didn’t optimize a sale to play procedure is still beyond me.
The Playstation Vita was also further isolated with the release of the Playstation 4. While marketed as a companion for the new system through the (actually good) remote play feature the Playstation 4's PSN Store did not sell Vita games. As more and more consumers were transitioning from the the Playstation 3 to the Playstation 4 a virtual storefront was closing with them.
Nintendo with the 3DS and its predecessor the DS was more then happy to let the console stand on its own. While it intereacted with successive Nintendo home consoles it never was a requirement to own one to use the handheld to its full potential. This was not the case with the Playstation Vita as Sony right from day one had marketed the system as a companion to the rest of the Playstation family.
Right there this created a barrier to entry for the Vita as the chance of a person who did not own a PS3 or PS4 picking up a Vita was automatically smaller. Furthermore due to the cumbersome process of the Vita and limited storage actually buying and storing games on the Playstation Vita was easier done through the PS3. In many ways through their own actions Sony never allowed the Vita to stand on its own.
It has becoming quite clear over the years what the Vita always was and was going to be and what Sony thought it was and wanted it to be were two very different things. The Vita was never going to be a mass market device like the Wii or the 3DS; much like the PSP its predecessor the Vita was always going to be a console for the hardcore crowd due to its price, size, and presentation. To their credit Sony did see this sort of, the issue is they targeted the wrong hardcore demographic. The issue is they were surprised by the smaller market size the Vita was launched in.
By focusing on shooters and action games early on Sony missed out on seeing what the Vita’s true strength was always going to be. Japanese Role Playing Games, Visual Novels, and Indie Games. For as long as handhelds have existed shooters have just not worked very well on them, trying to emulate a home console experience on a handheld is difficult. Effectively if a person is going to play a shooter they will almost always choose the better experience: the home console.
This resulted in games marketed as core Vita experiences such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Killzone: Mercenary as being sub-par. When a system is marketed as a home console in your hand but the most console like experiences are not very good that is a problem. This marketing blunder is especially infuriating when you realize that in Persona 4 Golden the Vita has one of the best role playing games ever made, a system seller if there ever was one.
This is less a mistake then just an acknowledgement of the truth. The Vita was left to die and only by happenstance has it actually succeeded in small but key areas. If one reads Andrew Houses quote again his point about how Smartphones are “the single key device that is always with you, was the determining factor”. By bringing this up he was implying the Vita was supposed to fit in that niche somehow as the Vita was competing with smartphones. Indeed by looking at the header I choose it appeared Sony saw the Vita as a multimedia machine first and a gaming device second. Fans knew this was never going to be the case, it seems Sony never picked that up.
It makes sense after all the initial headwinds the Vita faced in 2011/2012 why Sony would virtually pull all support for the system. Except in some small ways such as continually diminishing E3 presentations. However it did not need to be this way, the Nintendo 3DS for example faced similar headwinds when it was released. Nintendo saved it by cutting the price and releasing a slate of strong games, this push never came for the Playstation Vita. The system only received a model refresh later in its lifetime though by now it was far too late.
Interestingly the Vita while not succeeding in major ways likely has succeeded in one major way despite the actions of Sony. Attach rate. While the exact number is a mystery (Sony has said 10:1 in 2015) the likelihood of it being quite high is also high. As even now Vita games are still being released at a relatively solid clip despite its sales roughly equaling the Wii U’s. So while Sony abandoned it many Japanese third parties still continue to support the little system that could.
I think the greatest legacy of the Playstation Vita will be found in one of its companions the Playstation 4. Basically everything that Sony did right with the launch of the Playstation 4 seemed to be the opposite of what they did with the Vita. Focusing on games, a competitive price point, open hardware options, focusing on their captive markets (Japan and Indies), and providing a streamlined experience. It is clear that despite not talking about the Vita much, Sony learned a lot from it.
Furthermore despite its small install base the Vita continues to live on. Mostly thanks to Japan releasing quality titles such as Trails of Cold Steel, World of Final Fantasy, and Ys Lacramosa of Dana in short order. While the Vita may not have found a lot of love with consumers at large those few who found the Vita certainly still love our system.
So what do you think? Did I miss any major or minor mistake Sony made with the Playstation Vita, let me know in the comments.
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