“The Vita is doomed.” If you’ve ever even glanced at a gaming forum, chances are you’ve seen that phrase. Don’t think the negativity is exclusive to Sony’s handheld however, as it’s been attached to just about every gaming device in recent years (“the PS3 is doomed,” “the 3DS is doomed,” “the Wii U is doomed,” etc.).
What does this tell us? Well, that the Vita probably isn’t doomed, especially considering that we’re not even a year into the handheld’s life.
Now, that’s not to say the Vita is performing well. While Sony is content with sales, there are three notable barriers preventing the system from achieving better market penetration: price, expensive memory cards and a lack of games. Because Sony isn’t yet ready to acknowledge the first two issues, the company needs to focus on the last and most important of the three: games. And what better place to look than Japan?
Since the Vita’s North American launch, players have had access to a strong library of games – the only issue that is new releases aren’t coming out frequently enough. Between the months of June and August, the Vita only had two “big” releases: Gravity Rush and Sound Shapes. Compared to North American gamers, Japanese Vita owners have access to a significantly larger library of titles, including a number of games that have yet to be released outside Japan.
Between the North American Vita launch (February 15th, 2012) and December 31st of this year, a total of 49 Vita games will have been released at retail. Compare that to the Japanese lineup (from the Japanese launch on December 17th, 2011 to the end of this year) which will see 70 games (note: we chose to leave out titles like Passport Test that wouldn’t make sense outside of Japan).
Making matters worse, only 38 of the 70 Japanese Vita games are confirmed for a North American release. That means just over half of the Japanese Vita library will have made its way stateside by the end of the year. If Sony were to supplement the Vita’s North American library with these unreleased games, it would work towards giving the Vita the software it needs – as well as draw in an important consumer base: the niche crowd.
Japanese software is, of course, tailored to Japan; the release of Persona 4: Golden prompted a 150% surge in hardware sales – though that’s nothing compared to Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F, which caused Vita sales to jump almost 400%. These games perform well in the Vita’s home territory, though it’s likely they wouldn’t have much impact on hardware sales in North America. At least, not by themselves.
To see how Japanese software could help improve the Vita’s fortunes, just look at the system’s predecessor: the PSP. Sony’s first handheld has, at times, been called a failure by members of the gaming community, particularly in contrast to the massive success of Nintendo’s DS. However, the last recorded PSP sales figures put the system at over 70 million units worldwide – hardly a number to scoff at. There are many factors that contributed to the PSP’s success, with one of the most integral being the amount of Japanese software available for the system.
The PSP is still quite prominent worldwide, receiving ports of Vita games like Little Battler eXperience W in Japan, not to mention the handful of titles that are still being localized for North American release. If Sony were to help publish more Japanese Vita titles in North America, it would have a chance of recreating the PSP’s success by ensuring a strong flow of software that might draw in the niche crowd. While these Japanese games probably won’t cause the Vita to sell (3)DS numbers, they could help to keep hardware moving steadily in the gaps between big Western releases.
There is one barrier standing in the way: cost. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect publishers to localize all their Japanese games for the Western market, especially when there’s a low chance of making a profit. Localization isn’t cheap, and though publishers like XSEED are adamant about bringing Japan-exclusive titles to North America, it’s difficult to imagine that every publisher under the sun would be willing to take the risk. Ultimately, it’s Sony’s job to make the Vita platform as attractive as possible to third-parties, and thankfully, there are a few options that work in its favor.
For starters, the PlayStation Store can be used to bring some of the more obscure Vita titles to North America/Europe, as it reduces distribution costs, and eliminates packaging and shipping expenses. Sony itself is bringing PS3’s Tokyo Jungle to North America as a PSN title – that game doesn’t have much mainstream appeal, but thanks to the reduced cost of releasing it on the PlayStation Store, Sony can literally afford to take the chance. Additionally, Sony could potentially lower the costs of publishing games on its handheld by offering a “licencing discount” to third-parties, which would encourage them to bring niche titles to North America. Finally, with PlayStation Plus set to debut on Vita in November, Japanese titles could be added to the system’s Instant Game Collection, and the subscription fees paid by the program’s legion of subscribers would offset some of the expenses involved.
There are still plenty of North American Vita titles to look forward to this year and next, with the 2013 release schedule headlined by the likes of Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway. Until the hardware receives a significant price drop though, Sony’s going to need more software to move systems — and there’s an absolute goldmine just sitting in Japan.
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