Sony’s banking a lot on the holiday season as a big effort to boost PS Vita’s alarmingly slow sales performance. They pretty much spelled it out themselves when they asked people not to write it off before it went through its first Christmas.
Naturally, we feel that if Sony’s telling us not to judge them before the holidays, then they’re inviting us to judge them after the holidays – so if they’re hoping to turn Vita into a high-selling gamer magnet, they’d better do it soon. As for the holidays themselves – you can read on to find out what we think about Sony’s prospects.
Fortunately for Sony, they’ve got an awful lot of nice-looking software headed for the LittleBigHandheld, including Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and a handheld version of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Each of these games looks legitimately awesome, and all of them deliver on the Vita’s promise of a handheld PS3-like experience. That’s good stuff.
Unfortunately, given the depressed sales of Vita entries for such successful series as LittleBigPlanet and Uncharted, I get the feeling that releasing even more “PS3 in my pocket” games isn’t going to be enough to get people on board with Vita. These games are all sure to be hits with existing Vita owners, but I’ll eat my head if they become mainstream success stories.
It wouldn’t be the first time consumers rejected the “PlayStation in my pocket” strategy. This approach sure didn’t do Vita’s predecessor any favors – some handheld versions of popular franchises like Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy performed well, but PSP didn’t truly take off until it got a redesign and became the new home for the Monster Hunter games in 2007, which did wonders for the system in the West and in Japan, respectively.
This rule isn’t just limited to Sony, either. It wasn’t until DS and 3DS moved beyond N64 ports and started pumping out unique software that they started to pick up steam.
You may look at the cases of Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy‘s PSP success stories as the exceptions that refute the rule, but consider that each of the best-selling PSP iterations of both series released in years that were otherwise dry for their respective franchises: Liberty City Stories in 2005 and Vice City Stories in 2006; Crisis Core in 2007 and Dissidia in 2008.
That’s not the case here – each of the Big 3 Vita games is getting a Big Brother console release at the same time, and if pre-orders and even general buzz are any indication, the handheld editions are all getting effectively overlooked in favor of the PS3 versions.
This is an especially big problem for PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. If you already have a Vita, being able to take the game on the go is nice… but if you don’t have a Vita, is it really going to be worth $250 (or more) to get the exact same experience you can already get on PS3? I love Cross-Buy on principle, but I’m seriously concerned that it’ll actually hurt Vita rather than help it.
Sony has already admitted that most Vita owners are also PS3 owners, so basically all sales of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale on Vita are in reality going to be PS3 sales. They’d need gamers who own Vita and not PS3 for the game to gain any real software sales momentum for the system.
Don’t get me wrong: I actually want Vita to succeed. I think it’s a sexy piece of hardware. More importantly, I don’t think it’s healthy for the industry if Nintendo has a clean slate with no major competitors in the dedicated portable game-player market. But I can’t honestly look at what’s coming this holiday season and say that Vita is in the process of paving the path to success.
I think Sony needs to take a long, hard look about how they approach their games hardware business if they’re going to keep making new systems – and that goes not only for Vita, but for the hypothetical PlayStation 4 as well.