It's no secret the Vita isn't doing so well. Chances are if you're reading this blog you'll have read around 15 articles and blogs about the death of the Vita and various ways to save it. This blog isn't entirely different, but I'm going to write about the ways the Vita is failing and the ways it's succeeding, and how the road to recovery doesn't really seem that complicated.
Price is a big factor in hardware sales, but this isn't the main reason the Vita isn't selling well. Playstation 3 outsold Xbox 360 despite being more expensive, the Xbox one is a doing a commendable job of keeping up with the Playstation 4 despite being more expensive, and the PSP sold a very respectable 80 million units whilst being more expensive and being up against the best selling handheld of all time. There's a common misconception that the Vita is priced way higher than the 3DS, this was true a while back but as of today the difference in price between the most basic bundles (3DS XL) on amazon.com is a meagre 10 dollars.
Now what is terrible overpriced are the memory cards. £65 for a 32GB is an insane amount of money. I'm confident that if the prices drastically dropped tomorrow there would be little to no change in sales. However that's not really the point. Memory card prices shouldn't even be a problem, sort it out. It's greedy.
Sony drops the ball time and time again when it comes to marketing. Great games are sent out to die that could have performed well, Sly Cooper 4, Twisted Metal, Starhawk and Tearaway for example.
The Last Of Us wasn't one such game, why was this? Because The Last Of Us was shown at every opportunity, it had adverts, it had trailers, it had headline spots at their conventions. The Last Of Us was a brand new IP released late into the generation with horror elements, slow gameplay and a prominent female main character. In theory it should have bombed, but Sony made the effort for once and it went on to sell over 4 million copies. Beyond: Two Souls, a game that received mediocre to positive reviews recently sold over a million copies, because it was advertised.
So why no love for the Vita and it's games? Why are games like Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway shoved aside for lesser games like Knack?
Then there's the hardware itself. Nobody wants a Vita because a lot of people don't even know what one is. Calling it a PSP 2 would have been a better idea. At the moment it's been shown as a companion piece to Playstation 4, this may help boost sales a little but to really succeed it will have to stand on it's own two feet. Let them know the price gap between it and it's competitor isn't as large as it once was. Show the Vita off, let the majority see the graphics of Uncharted, the ability to play PS1, PSP and Playstation mobile games that you've already purchased on your PS3. And whilst you're at it, show off the Touch-screen, camera's and back touch-pad, casuals love that kind of crap.
Lack of mainstream titles and strong competition from Nintendo:
This is probably the biggest reason for the Vita's woes. Everyone with a Vita knows it has great games, but It lacks games with widespread appeal. Nintendo has the best selling games in the industry, games like Pokemon and Mario sell millions regardless of whether they're a main title or a lazy spin-off. This is what Sony are up against right now, and Nintendo are pouring quality games with family friendly characters onto the 3DS. The Vita is very much a niche console, and the casual market is key to many of the 3DS' sales. Believe me, nobody's Grandma is buying their Grandson a Vita because they saw Soul Sacrifice, and nobody bought a Nintendo Wii for Muramasa either.
Now Sony may have games like Little Big Planet, but what's missing are some of the key exclusives that sold the PSP all those years ago. There are few games to combat juggernauts like Mario, but what Sony can offer is a selection of games that would only be possible on the Vita.
I'm talking Metal Gear Solid, God Of War, Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto. These games would play a key role to giving the Vita a solid boost.
There is a fair bit of 3rd-party support for the Vita already, Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified and Assassins Creed: Liberation sold really well. The system's sales have only gone up since then, so where are the (improved) sequels?
Games like Toukiden, DanganRonpa and Freedom Wars are some of my most anticipated this year. But I am not the mass majority. I am just one man browsing the very Weaboo-centric Vita tab on N4G. It's great to see these small Japanese games getting localised in the west, but if Sony really want to compete they're going to have to widen the net and bring some heavy hitters.
Where to go from here:
So where do we go from here? What changes need to be made to the Vita? First of all, the Vita needs it's own identity, it may be the best friend of your brand new Playstation 4. But that isn't going to cut it when people see the price tag. Compatibility with PS4 is a great idea, but there needs to be a healthy balance between being a companion app and being a stand alone device.
Give consumers choices. People laughed at the 2DS when it was first released, I did too, it looked like a wedge of cheese. But what most people missed is it's not aimed at you or me, it's an alternative for people who don't care about the extra features that more expensive versions would get them. The Vita slim is rumoured to be coming to Europe and America, this is a good start. We may scoff at the LCD screen, but in a way it's a purposeful downgrade, the man on the street couldn't care less about the OLED screen of the original if this newer model will save him £30.
Games games games. This one is a no brainer. The Vita needs games, major retail games built from the ground up with the Vita in mind. As mentioned previously, third-party played a big role in the PSP's success, and since a lot of them have their hands full with next-gen titles, it's up to Sony to keep the stream of games coming. It may be a while before we see Final Fantasies and Metal Gears, if ever. But there's no reason for the Vita to NOT have a Syphon Filter or God of war by now, other than the fact ALL first party studio's are working on PS4 titles. Genius idea Sony!
Show off the strengths of the Vita. Again, a large portion of this comes down to marketing campaigns. The Vita is a Swiss army knife of a handheld, it's equipped with apps, a slick, fast interface, customisable options, screenshot functionality, very capable online multiplayer, two camera's, two analog sticks, a touch-screen and a touch-pad. And on top of that, it has the horse power to boot. There is no handheld that can boast that many features, let people know this.
I believe a nice balance of the 4 aforementioned points could give the device the shot in the arm it needs.
So there you have it, my personal views on where the Vita is at right now. 2013 was the year I bought a Vita, and 2013 was the year I played almost nothing else.
I know I, like many others, would be sad to see the day where the Vita becomes nothing but a PS4 companion. Never has a handheld had so much untapped potential.
I know I will continue to support the Vita well into 2014, perhaps I'm underestimating the impact PS4 streaming will have. Or perhaps the system really is destined to die a slow painful death...
...The Dreamcast of handhelds.