The PlayStation Vita – A Handheld With a Dwindling Audience

The PlayStation Vita is coming! Following a Japanese launch performance described by Sony as “terrific” (emphasis on the bunny ears) the new handheld will officially find its way to the rest of the world in February. Tomorrow (Monday), I’m off to PS Vita Rooms in Glasgow to spend some time with some of the launch titles, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the only time many people will have with the Vita for a long, long while. The biggest barrier to purchasing one? The smartphone on your desk, in your hand or in your pocket.

The shift in attitudes to portable gaming has changed wildly since the introduction of that obvious catalyst, the iOS App Store. Gone are the days of buying a dedicated device for gaming now that we can get fully realised and deep time-sinks with 3D graphics for what is essentially spare change. These days, asking for £40 or $60 for a game designed to be played on the bus is seen as too much – handheld games, essentially, are seen as a cheaper, quicker-to-thrill alternative to full-blown home console titles, and cheap, easy-access titles available on mobile devices are the cause.

Nintendo are all-too-familiar with this situation, having seen the 3DS suffer heavily from its early 2011 launch until the price was dramatically slashed closer to the Christmas period, and some stronger titles were introduced to the console’s lineup. The Vita shouldn’t struggle when it comes to software strength, with titles such as WipEout 2048 and stellar adventurer Uncharted: Golden Abyss all set for launch day, but the changing attitude of consumers may well have a say in how well the device performs.

To call the PlayStation Vita a “portable” is to probably do it a disservice, since carrying a case of several game cartridges isn’t exactly as mobile as carrying a phone – nor is, as it happens, bringing a bag with you wherever you go since the device is too big to fit in your pocket without fear of snapping it in two. The Vita is a handheld console in every sense of the word, delivering PS3-level thrills and spills in a smaller, palm-friendly format down to the dual analogue sticks and ability to play Killzone using a remote internet connection.

It’s a true little brother to the PS3 and, I would say, most likely to find success with those who don’t own a full-blown console at home. If I were to own a Vita, it would probably get played indoors most of all, with commuting being time reserved for Kairosoft’s latest management sim and a spot of Cut The Rope.

The Vita is a wonderful device, with some excellent, pretty games on offer complimenting the staggering array of razor-edge technogubbins lodged inside the unit. The problem is that the Vita is designed for an audience that is rapidly shrinking, as evidenced by the 3DS’ initially dismal performance pre-price cut. With no signs on the horizon of an intention to cut the price and this could prove to be a hazardous, if not fatal, misjudgment. The Vita will sell, without a doubt, but it will not sell well – not when Infinity Blade does the rounds for the cost of a decent pint.

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  1. Cydler

    I would love to own a Vita. But there’s a saying that the best camera is the one that’s with you. The same is true for a gaming system. If phones continue building a library with titles like Infinity Blade, Modern Combat, GTA III, etc my desires for a Vita will remain just that.

  2. Someone

    This is very much the way I feel. Games use too much battery for something that is still primarily a phone at the end of the day, and the controls just aren’t there for anything but very simple games, or games with very clever implementation. Until the distinction between mobile gaming and handheld gaming is lessened the market for handhelds will still be a worthwhile venture.

  3. madmad90

    Wow, awesome analyse, exactly what i tried to preach , now that someone explains it with better words, i am really happy to know that playstation fans get the situation.

    Vita is a great device, there is just not such a big market for a hardcore gaming device.

  4. MattDBG

    I find it hard to draw a comparison between the 3DS and the Vita. The 3DS really didn’t have that much going for it from the start, sure 3D is a great feature but the lack of decent launch titles and the lack of much other innovation was a pretty big factor to its price drop. It just wasnt that much of a step up from the previous DS iteration.

    The Vita on the other hand is a major jump from the PSP, regardless of how you feel about touch screen controls on it. The PSN side of the Vita is completely different to anything that has been done on a handheld before, not to mention the potential of apps like Near and even the 3G pseudo-multiplayer functionality in games like Wipeout 2048.

    I probably sound like a Sony PR rep from this comment or even a fanboy but I just think the merits of the unit will definitely carry it through. Smart phones and tablets are great but a touchscreen just can’t compete with proper physical controls, maybe one day there will be touch screen technology with some kind of force feedback but it’s not on the radar yet. Oh also I don’t mean to write off the 3DS I’m just saying there are legitimate reasons why it had that price drop and I don’t believe those issues are present with the Vita.

  5. FallenHeero

    Hm i have very mixed feelings about the Vita, your article brought a good point that the market for such a device is shrinking rapidly but I’ve heard from so many people how they miss physical controls and there is a large market that goes to the iPod touch for touch based games but they also want proper games so maybe the Vita will gain some followers from those people. The Vita seems to do everything and Sony seem to be gauging what would stick. I really like my DS and PSP but often i leave my DS at home or in my bag so that I’ll play it at uni but I just dont…
    I dont think the Vita will tank but as you said it probably wont do as well as the PSP. Im struggling to justify getting one since i still have games like MGS Peace Walker and Pokemon White to finish off so I’m really not too sure as much as I love it as a gadget…

  6. Darth Nutclench

    I still have it on pre-order, but my hand is wavering over the ‘cancel order’ button. I’m still playing my way through peace walker, and I can’t help but think my enjoyment would increase, playing that sort of game with dual sticks. I may just invest in a universal wireless remote for £40 and play onlive on my Android instead…

  7. Demetrius

    I think the $250 will be hard to swallow this day and age (plus the price of the games.) Sony will not swallow their pride like Nintendo did with the 3DS any time soon. Only time will tell.

  8. Lukas Heinzel

    Sean, its awesome that you defend the vita, you bring up good and valid points and for you the counter arguments doesnt matter as you will buy a vita, enjoy the games, features and you dont seem to need a big memory card.

    Thats cool.

    However, there are more people who are notlike you. The Discussion if the vita will sell, and THATS THE DISCUSSION not about he better gaming device ( where i absolutely agree the vita is superior to a smartphone), and for the reason Jon Feacies mentioned it will not sell that much.

    It may sell to make a profit, sell much to be considered as a sucess, sell much as a oppurtunity for the developers to produce console like experiences and even sell numbers like the psp ( mh vita of course ).
    But it WILL NEVER SELL AS MUCH AS THE 3DS or a Smartphone.

    -price too high ( you are right, 250 for itself arent that high, but if you compare it to a 3DS price or a android/iOS device it is too high, when you realize that you can oly use it for gaming, AGAIN; AGAIN AND AGAIN the vita is definetly worth 250$ but the market is just not that big and the fact that a playstation enthusiast as Yamster realized that should make you think

    -Gaming prices Yeah, the qualitiy of vita games may be higher , but you know what? Consumers dont care. Candice may have pointed out that you end up spending even more money for an app game, but the reality is that people will buy 40 one dollar games morethen they will buy one 50 dollar game, if there isnt mario or pokemon printed on the cover 🙂

    We really will know when that thing launches, but i doubt the usa numbers will differ much from the japan sales.

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