A Year with the Vita
Before we talk about our main subject, lets talk about something different (don't worry, its related). Back in 2004, I saw an ad not just for the DS, the all new Nintendo handheld, and also the PSP, Sony's answer to portable gaming. I looked at the DS, and thought: huh? two screens? That's going to be weird. My friends all thought the same thing, and they were excited about the PSP. My loyalty lied with Nintendo, and I got myself a DS (if only because that was going to be the device where I can play Pokemon). Friends said I made a stupid decision, that the DS was going to fail, and that the PSP would continue to increase Sony's dominance.
At the time, I could've easily believed them. After all, Sony was the king of the gaming courthouse. The Playstation 2 was a absolute monster that went on to become the best selling video game console ever. And the PSP looked mighty impressive, practially able to play console games on the go. I had all the right to believe that the PSP was going to kick the DS' ass.
That didn't happen. Now the PSP was far from a failure, selling over 70 Million units and still popular in its native Japan. There were bumps in the road (PSP Go, the thing being a pirate dream machine, a huge lack of games appealing to Western audiences in its last years), but the PSP could be considered a success. But when you compare it to the DS' 150 Million, its no contest. While Sony still dominated the console market, tthe portable market remained Nintendo's home turf.
Of course, Sony had to try again, and try they did, when they, on January 27th, announced the Vita, then still only known as the NGP (Next Generation Portable). Again, speculation was rampant. Could Sony pull it off this time?
I'm not going to lie, I thought the Vita looked really impressive. For what it offered, it seemed affordable. Not just that, but it offered PS3 style experiences on the go, and the addition of a second analogue stick meant that portable gaming could finally a great version of gaming's biggest cash cow: the FPS. Things were looking good for the Vita.
Let's move forward a year since its worldwide release, and things have once again not been working the way Sony wants to. In a year, the Vita has sold only just over 4 Million units, and not one of the games has currently broken the Million mark (Uncharted: Golden Abyss is close though). Ammount of games coming on the system is slim. Vita is in a very poor position.
Compare that to its competitor's first year. Now its well known that the 3DS struggled when it came out of the starting block. There weren't that many games, people thought it was too expensive, and Nintendo looked doomed. The big N reacted quick however, quickly dropping the price (and giving free games to those that pre-ordered it like m yself), and cranking out hit after hit. When its 1st birthday came, the 3DS had sold 17 Million units, and hasn't selling since. The 3DS has become a real succesor to the DS.
But this isn't about the 3DS, its about the Vita. Why has it failed this poorly so far?
Pricing is probably a big factor. It seemed okay at the time, but 250 dollars is simply too expensive for a system that exclusively focuses on gaming. Not to mention Sony's extreme stubborness to drop that price. Only yesterday, did Sony announce that they would be dropping the price, but only in its native Japan. Some European stores have been dropping the Vita's price kind of uncerimoniously (at least here in Holland), but North America, one of the biggest markets, still has its price of 250 dollars.
And then there's the big elephant in the room: the memory cards. Unlike the 3DS, which uses a standard SD card, the Vita uses its own kind of memory card, which they say is to combat piracy, has only destroyed. While most of the Vita packs come with a 4 Gig card, some may want to increase the memory. An 8 Gigabyte card however, costs around 30 dollars, nearly as much a retail game on Vita. A 32 Gig card costs 100 DOLLARS. That is insane, especially since a normal 32 Gig SD Card costs around 30 dollars. So that's 280 dollars already done with, and you still haven't bought a game. For just a few more dollars, you can get a PS3 Bundle. I know what I would buy.
There's another problem, marketing. Playstation is one of the main sponsers of the UEFA Champions League, one of the most watched football (soccer) matches across the entire world, but its not enough to spread awareness. Sony has to be aggressive with their campaign, but instead they barely acknowledge that the thing exists, rather focusing on the console older brother. If there was a bigger marketing push, people would be more aware this thing exists and is worth buying.
Here is the biggest issue though: GAMES. Can anyone tell me why they didn't buy a 3DS at launch? Because the biggest game that came out at launch was Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort. Not exactly system sellers. However, when it got games like Resident Evil, Super Mario 3D Land, the Ocarina of Time remake, more people began to buy the device. Sony started out well with Uncharted, Katamari, Modnation Racers, not the least ammount of names. Since then, only very few games have come out that people care about. There was Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden, Assassin's Creed Liberation, and to a lesser extend games like Unit 13 and Ragnarok Odyssey. For the rest though, there hasn't been anything great. Games like Resistance Burning Skies and Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified turned out to be horrible games (it should be noted that despite the incredible backlash and appearing on several worst lists, Declassified currently is the 2nd best selling Vita game).
And what's coming out this year that could Vita's fortunes around? Well there's Keiji Inafune's Soul Sacrifice, Media Molecule's Tearaway, Killzone Mercenary (which is done by Guerilla, so there's hope that it will be good), and....... that's it really. Now E3 is still coming, and there will probably be more games announced there, but without any E3 announcements, 3DS owners are currently waiting for Castlevania, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Luigi's Mansion, Mario & Luigi Dream Team, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, Monster Hunter 3, Animal Crossing, and of course Pokemon X and Y. If there's one thing a console needs to sell, its software, and Vita currently doesn't have that.
I think there's a very simple issue why the Vita has this problem: its too expensive to make games for it. The reason the DS was so popular, and why iOS is so popular today, because it was cheap to make games on. While the 3DS obviously jacks this up a notch, it still shows that 3DS game are tinier experiences than those on the main consoles. The Vita however, offers bite-sized chunks of console experiences. Think about it for a moment? Would you rather go and get Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? Or will you get Uncharted: Golden Abyss? I think most of you would pick Uncharted 3. That's not a knock against Golden Abyss, but I think people would rather play the full experience, rather than a tinier version of it. There are very few games that need, and can only be played on Vita (only Gravity Rush springs to mind). Most of it could be easily ported to the PS3. Sony isn't supporting the Vita with the games it needs right now, which makes many important 3rd party companies to make their games on other platforms.
It does not look good for the Vita. Few games are coming for it, and Sony may be way too late with changing its price tag. The question is: Is the Vita doomed?
Surprisingly, after all the shit I said about it, I don't think so. Literally everyone I talk to who owns one praises the device. Its a cool system, they just find it annoying that they're barely any games on it, and Sony doesn't seem to do a lot with it. Remember how the PS3 struggled with a huge pricetag and a lack of games? Yeah that was a long time ago, but it happened, as shown hilariously in Screwattack's old Top 10 PS3 games. There's still plenty of time to turn the Vita's fortunes. It seems to be Sony's stubborness that seems to be holding the device back.
I want the Vita to be a success. Partially because I want Nintendo to have a legitimate rival besides the smartphone. Its more because I feel bad for the people who forked out so much money for such a expensive device, and then watching Sony do nothing with it. For many, its a $250 paperweight. The Vita has a incredible ammount of potential, but in the year its out, it has shown jack squat. The PS4 will most likely be announced very, very soon, but Sony should not abandon its handheld along the way. For now, all I can say is this: Happy Birthday Playstation Vita. May your 2nd birthday be a lot better.