Just about everyone has heard about the PS Vita by now. It's a powerful piece of gaming tech with the capability to push game development much further for handheld platforms. Yet so far, the most powerful handheld on the market is struggling to garner sales, and many market watchers are wondering what can be done to turn the ship around. With its impressive graphics engine, beautiful 5 inch OLED screen, and first ever dual analog controls, the system has the hardware to carve out a niche for itself. So how is it that this slick piece of hardware has been the brunt of many a negative article and blastings on forums?
It all starts at the top. Leadership is the key component to their success or failure. Kazua Hirai took over the helm as Sony's CEO in April 2012, 2-3 months after the launch of the system. Very quickly, 10% of Sony's global workforce was cut to halt increased losses in all divisions. Kaz was recently interviewed and asked about what sales projections are in store for the Vita, given its poor sales to date. Gameplox recently quoted Kaz as giving a lofty goal of 10 million units sold in this coming fiscal year ((http://www.gameplox.com/2012/05/10/vita-10-million/). But given that the last confirmed sales were just over 2 million as of June 2011, this seems to be either a media stunt or a poorly promised statement not backed by actual numbers. Leadership is struggling with increased losses and not enough capital to make huge pushes in all their segments, which would make a full blown Vita campaign risky and expensive.
But it's not impossible to gain some ground and expand their install base if they can focus on pricing and marketing. Pricing has been the biggest holdback despite the tech that the Vita flaunts. It's more powerful than its handheld competitor - Nintendo 3DS - but less powerful than its console sibling - Sony PS3. Yet a gamer can buy a PS3 for less than the cost of a Vita by a good margin right now. The best memory offering is a 32GB SD card at a normal retail price of $100, the buy-in price increases another 1/3. Add in the higher price point for most games compared to the 3DS, and many gamers are avoiding the Vita like the plague, or are not spending anything more on their investment. Sony is also pushing get Vita users moving towards digital download, but because of the high cost of memory, most are shying away to save space.
This leads to the other big hurdle, which is their marketing approach. When the system launched, it was hailed as the portable system that would give you console gaming on the go, with a promise of cross play gaming between the Vita and PS3. Thus far, only a few games have delivered the home console experience, and only a handful have actual cross play functionality. There are a few stellar exceptions of solid console quality experiences, but for a system that aims to deliver on portable console gaming, gamers are receiving mixed signals. And therein lies the biggest issue. The content vs. the message are two different directions. And now any message Sony was looking to advertise has but disappeared altogether. This was true through the holidays, when Sony released the Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty bundles. They were supposed to revitalize sales and kick off the official rise of the Vita, but instead there was limited print advertising and almost no television spots, leaving sales short and speculation about the Vita’s future.
So it starts to become clear that what Sony's Vita is, and what Sony wants the Vita to be, are two conflicting visions. The commercial failure of Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified undoubtedly dealt a blow to the image of the Vita. The game was supposed to be the first, true console quality First Person Shooter for the system that would showcase the Vita’s true abilities (and that handhelds are capable of such feats). And it was supposed to sell Vitas like hotcakes. Instead the game was seemingly rushed to market, received very poor reviews, and scared off most everyone that was waiting to buy a Vita. The question now isn’t whether the Vita can handle these types of games, but whether developers can handle the full cycle of producing a high quality, well received, finished product. How Sony handles dealings with the developers will be the integral part of this. The Vita has to be given a chance to showcase the console experience. Dropping the ball on the biggest franchise in gaming is an all-time “doh” moment, and one that the gaming community will not soon forget. At this point, Sony needs to start with a permanent price drop of the unit and memory costs. To get their name and the Vita back in a positive light it’s a must, and it will allow them to market the product with a better direction. It worked for Sony on the PS3, and more importantly and relevantly, it worked for Nintendo in spades for their 3DS. After all, that is their competition, and sometimes following the proven direction to success is just what's needed to stay the coarse ahead.