PlayStation Vita has now been available in Japan for roughly eight months. In the rest of the world, the system is coming up on its six month anniversary. Despite the handheld’s impressive technical specifications, and Sony’s extravagant marketing efforts, Vita has struggled badly in the marketplace — NPD figures for July, 2012, show that the system moved just 50K units, which puts it dead last on the charts.
Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida recently admitted that third-party publishers are simply not interested in developing games for Vita. As if in response, Sony Computer Entertainment President Jack Tretton has spoken out in defense of Vita, calling the system’s sales “acceptable.”
Sony CEO and President Kaz Hirai believes that “software is the key to success” for PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, that software has largely failed to materialize, though the end of the year promises a few eagerly anticipated titles: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. Will either (or both?) of those titles be enough to move the needle on Vita sales? It’s tough to say, particularly in a holiday season that will also host the launch of Nintendo’s latest console, the Wii U.
There is an argument to be made that if Vita sales don’t adequately surge by the end of the year — this will, after all, be Vita’s first North American holiday season at retail — the system will have blown its last chance for success. Tretton, however, doesn’t see it that way. In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Tretton offers his opinion on Vita’s performance so far, while acknowledging the challenges the system has faced.
“In this industry, you can’t get too high or too low, because it moves very quickly. I think there’s an acceptable number – and [the number] we’ve sold: That’s acceptable. If it was triple that, I’d be happier. If it was one-third, I’d be disappointed.”
“Anything with great rewards is going to come with great challenges. We felt if the tech was there, and the game support was there, then the audience would be there. … I feel much better about it now than I did four months ago.”
By my estimation, Tretton’s equation for Vita success (strong tech + plenty of games = big audience) is short on one key factor: price. Yes, the tech is there, but the games (by and large) aren’t, and third-party publishers aren’t going to get back on board with Vita until the system’s install base starts growing at something approaching a respectable rate. There is exactly one tactic that almost never fails to jump start hardware sales, and that is dropping a system’s price.
Analysts have been calling for a Vita price drop practically from the moment the hardware launched in North America. Sony, instead, has chosen to focus on increasing the content available for the system — but it takes time to deliver quality games, and time is most definitely not on Vita’s side. Each month that the system languishes at the bottom of the charts is a month of missed sales that Sony can never reclaim. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s 3DS amasses an ever-more commanding lead in the portable race.
Some may question whether Sony can afford to drop the Vita’s price. I’d wager they can’t afford not to. What do you think? Can Sony turn things around for Vita with the right software, or is a price drop the only way forward?
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