Sony Computer Entertainment has started to sell its latest PlayStation Vita portable video game console in Japan. The new device clearly pushes mobile gaming forward in terms of technology, but it remains to be seen whether it will actually be a massive success as the original PlayStation Portable or Nintendo DS. The first two days of sales are not too optimistic.
Sony PlayStation Vita became available in Japan on Saturday, December 17, 2011, at ¥24 980 ($325) for Wi-Fi model and ¥29 980 ($390) for 3G/Wi-Fi model. PS Vita launch was accompanied with 26 software titles along with a selection of peripherals and accessories. PS Vita 3G/Wi-Fi model support data communication prepaid plans provided by NTT Docomo in Japan.
The PlayStation Vita is clearly more advanced than any available portable game console, smartphone or tablet in terms of performance and advanced features tailored specifically for gamers and gaming. Nonetheless, it looks like the device has failed to become an immediate hit. According to Enterbrain and Media Create market tracking firms (quoted by Andriasang web-sites), Sony only managed to sell through 321 - 325 thousand 7 PS Vita units in the first two days of sales (Saturday and Sunday). By contrast, Nintendo sold 371 326 units of 3DS in the first two days of sales in Japan earlier this year, whereas Sony itself sold from 166 to over 200 thousand of original PSPs in the first day of sales in Japan back in 2004.
"The shipment was abundant, so it seems that there were hardly any reports of inability to buy due to shortages. Regarding sold units, to be honest we would like to have seen it sell a bit more, but you can say that it reached a certain level of success," said Atsushi Hosokawa, chief executive officer of Media Create.
Sony officially did not unveil any sales figures for PlayStation Vita, but said that it will be shipping 500,000 units of the 3G/Wi-Fi model as a limited edition that includes 100 hours of free 3G access. Besides, the company did stress that the PS Vita is aimed specifically at hardcore gamers, which may be considered as an implication that the company did not concentrate on broadening the market of PlayStation Portable, but rather wanted to keep existing customers initially. The company does hope that by late 2012 it will also attract casual gamers, but the question is whether those gamers will pay $249 - $299 for a handheld game console [in the U.S.].
"We think we have created unequivocally the best handheld gaming system ever designed. I think that when people get their hands on it, it is a beautiful, near-HD experience. A lot of people have called it a PS3 in your pocket. [...] We knew mobile phones were going to get smarter, though--you can see that trend line even then. We really relied on the core strength of the PSP, those big game franchises. We opened it up to a more casual audience as we went along. I think that Vita will appeal to a core consumer at launch. [...] As we go into the back half of 2012, we fully expect to be able to convert a lot of the casual consumers that are currently playing on tablet and mobile because of the types of experiences that are accented so well and are so easy to play and engage with on Vita," said John Koller, SCE's director of hardware marketing, in an interview with Fast Company web-site.
However, market analysts are not so sure about the inevitability of PlayStation Vita success. Even though Sony's latest portable game console may be reasonably priced given the fact that it is packed with technology, $249 - $299 is a lot of money. Besides, since Vita comes with no built-in NAND flash memory (unlike most smartphones or tablets), gamers will have to buy expensive proprietary memory cards.
"The Vita is probably fairly priced on a sum of the parts basis. [...] $250 is a lot of money for increasingly cash strapped consumers. You can get an Amazon Kindle Fire for less, and that $200 price point is definitely the line in the sand for a lot of consumers. [...] The pricing of the proprietary memory cards will also discourage a number of consumers that just want things to work without add-on costs," said Asif Khan, chief executive of Panoptic Management Consultants, in an interview with IndustryGamers web-site.
The most important task for Sony right now is to create content of very high quality to offer clear advantages compared to games for Apple iOS or Google Android devices.
“It all comes down to content, and with strong third-party support, Sony should be able to delay any accelerated price drops. Competition is always a concern, but if Sony can release high-quality titles backed by a strong marketing campaign, we see no reason for failure,” said Jesse Divnich, an analyst with EEDAR.
It remains to be seen whether Sony and its partners among the third parties will manage to create $39 games that will look competitive and valuable compared to ~$0.99 ~ $4.99 titles by world's best game designers. At present, sales of the console itself do not impress.
Sony PlayStation Vita is based on a system-on-chip with four ARM Cortex-A9 cores, PowerVR SGX543MP4+ graphics engine (accompanied by 128MB of memory) and a memory controller. The new portable game console has 5" multi-touch OLED screen with 960x544 resolution, typical set of PSP buttons, two cameras (front and rear), Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, GPS, six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer), three-axis electronic compass, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR controller, integrated speakers and microphone as well as multi touchpad located on the back side of the system. For the first time, a portable entertainment system features two analog sticks, which enables a wider range of game genres to be brought into the portable experience.