The Playstation Vita, Sony’s portable successor to the PSP, hits stores late next month. It’s likely that most of you don’t know that as it’s not getting much in the way of buzz. That should be your first indication that something is wrong, but there are many signs that things won’t go well for the chunky little system. Let’s dig a little deeper...
Price is a bigger concern than most will think. Sony’s releasing the Vita at $249 for the regular wifi model, $299 with AT&T 3G service so you can play and download games anywhere with a signal. It certainly doesn’t seem like a bad price for a portable system that’s got lots of nifty features and can output graphics comparable to its big brother, the PS3.
But a retail title for the Vita will cost anywhere from $30 to $50. That’s pretty steep, especially for gamers who have spent years paying a few bucks for games on our iPhones and Android phones. Plus, don’t forget to add the price of a memory card to the system...
This is tied into price, but the system doesn't have any internal storage. To download a game from the Playstation Network, or even to save certain games, you'll need to buy a memory card. The system doesn't use SD cards or even Memory Sticks either- no, that would be too convenient. The Vita uses a proprietary card that’s pretty pricey, ranging from $20 for a 4GB card to $100 for a 32GB.
While games come on flash cards that sometimes allow for saves to be saved right to the card, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the new title in the franchise that's guaranteed to be the system's best seller, will require a memory card to save games. It just doesn’t have enough room for saves or any inevitable DLC.
As we move further into digital media storage becomes a necessity, and it’s great that we will be able to download full retail games from the Playstation Network. But it’s useless to us unless we stock up on one of the more expensive cards as games can run in the multiple gigs to download. Add the cost of a card to the Vita and all of a sudden you’ve got a system that’s pricier than the PS3.
- Everything that it has, your cell phone has too
Multi-touch touchscreen! Bluetooth! Gyroscop! Wi-Fi! Front and rear facing cameras! Downloadable games! Web browser, social networking apps, Netflix!
New and exciting? They're certainly cool features, but just about the only thing it features over the device currently in your pocket is the rear touchscreen, dual analog stick design (finally!) and buttons.
While the games look fantastic and Sony is boasting an impressive lineup of 25 titles at launch including Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Hot Shots Golf 6, and Ridge Racer; the biggest name they have is Uncharted. Popular though the series may be, it doesn’t have the name recognition (or rabid fanbase) of a Mario or Zelda.
The future looks a little brighter for the system though, as it's going to get portable version of huge games like Bioshock, Call of Duty, LittleBigPlanet, and the most overrated Playstation franchise, Killzone.
- Look to Japan
Sales in Japan started off fairly strong at launch with 324,859 units sold the first week, but sales dropped off significantly the very next week. Week 2 saw Sony move 72,479 units, with each subsequent week dropping more and more until last week's embarrassing sales of 15,219 units, which was well outsold by the 3DS and every other Sony system including the PSP, which has outsold it the last two weeks.
This is its home turf.
Then there’s also the issue of the 3DS, a portable system that had a much higher-profile launch at the same price point as the Vita. It was a failure. A mere five months after it was released Nintendo dropped the price by 80 bucks, and only then did sales really start to pick up. They picked up even more when they bundled the system with pretty new colors and two of its most popular titles for an even cheaper price, but system sales have still been under expectations.
And the 3DS does something that no other portable system or phone can with its glasses-free 3D gaming. Gimmick? Sure, but when has a gimmick ever stopped Nintendo from making tons of money? The Vita doesn’t even have that to offer- just prettier games. The Nintendo DS crushed the PSP in sales (and arguably better titles) and there’s no reason to think differently of this generation.
- They’re working on a better version already
Early adopters always get screwed. Playstation Vita (and Sony Walkman!) designer Takashi Sogabe has already mentioned that the original design of the system was much thinner, something that they'd like to do in the future.
It’s quite likely that we’ll see a Vita Slim of sorts hit right before Holiday season in late 2012, probably at a cheaper price point (around $200?) as well.
Do I want to see the system fail? Of course not. It’s a tremendous piece of hardware and I don’t think that a cell phone can take the place of a dedicated gaming system, at least not yet. Hardcore gamers will certainly dive right into it, but to sell the system to the public they needed to demonstrate that it’s more than a slightly advanced PSP with better graphics, and they haven’t.
The Playstation Vita hits North America and Europe on February 22nd.