What went wrong for Sony’s second handheld foray?
The story of Sony’s time in the handheld consoles market is one that is full of ups and downs. The PlayStation Portable was their first foray into the handheld market, and though some might say that the Nintendo DS’ performance put it to shame, it’s hard to call it a failure. The PSP ended up selling over 80 million units, and by the time it called quits, it had assimilated an excellent library of games ranging across all genres.
With the PlayStation Vita, Sony was well positioned to cement its place as a force to be reckoned with in the handheld space- all they had to do was repeat what they had been doing with the PSP, but just do it better, and more consistently. By now, we all know that that’s not how things turned out. The PS Vita sold less than 15 million units, making it the least successful PlayStation system ever made, and though its library had a few good gems here and there, all in all there were many who found its offerings lacking.
Sony ended production of the system and its accessories, while it also looks unlikely that they’ll be making another dedicated handheld system ever again. So how is it that they went from the PSP – a system that, in spite of not being nearly as successful as its direct competitor was, was still a great success – to the Vita, which is the one and only unequivocal failure in the PlayStation family?
A lot of the blame lies with Sony, of course. To start things off, they made a string of bad decisions. The first and most obvious reason was the price. Launching at a price of $249 (or $299, if you went for the 3G version), the Vita was immediately an overpriced piece of hardware- no matter how impressive that hardware was from a technical standpoint, the fact that there were other options available that were significantly cheaper hurt the system a lot.
Its direct competitor, the 3DS, too, launched at what was considered a high price, but Nintendo would quickly go on to slash that price, which had a direct and positive impact on its sales. The PS3, in fact – a far more powerful system with a much more impressive and established library – was available at a cheaper price for much of the Vita’s early years, which affected its sales even further. Not to mention the fact that these were the years when mobile gaming was catching on as well.
Eventually, halfway through 2013, Sony also introduced a price cut for the Vita, while also introducing the cheaper PS Vita 2000 model- but there were other issues affecting the system as well. Another major blunder by Sony was how it handled the Vita’s memory cards. Rather than letting consumers use standard SD cards in their systems, Sony instead developed proprietary memory cards for the Vita- cards that were priced at ridiculously high rates. The way Sony chose to promote and market the handheld system also wasn’t ideal- in that they didn’t really market the Vita at all. Compared to the 3DS or even the PSP itself, Sony’s efforts to spread awareness about the Vita and to get people interested in the system.
All of these issues, however, could have been overcome – at least to some extent – if the PS Vita was a system that offered an attractive library of games, which, in the end, it didn’t. That’s not to say that there were simply no good games on the system, of course. The likes of Persona 4 Golden, Killzone Mercenary, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Tearaway, and a few others rank as the system’s best games, and that there’s no denying that they were solid experiences at the very least, and downright incredible in some cases (Persona 4 Golden is one of the most highly rated games in the series to date, and deservedly so).
But there were many other high profile Vita releases that just failed to impress. Resistance: Burning Skies was billed as a major console-quality first person shooter releases for the system, but it was, to say the least, abysmal. Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation wasn’t a bad game by any means, but it failed to do anything that stood out, especially at a time when its console brethren like Black Flag were taking the world by storm.
Some major Sony franchises were also nowhere to be seen on the PS Vita. The likes God of War, Ratchet and Clank, Gran Turismo were all huge Sony franchises that had a solid presence on the PSP, but Sony didn’t bother with new releases for any of them. Another huge miss was Capcom’s Monster Hunter- during the PSP’s ow slump years, it had been Monster Hunter games that had kept the system not just afloat, but legitimately successful. Losing the franchise’s exclusivity to the 3DS was a major, major blow for the Vita, and for Sony.
There’s also the assumption to be made that perhaps with the PS Vita, Sony eventually came to realize that maybe diverting their resources toward two separate and simultaneously active systems just wasn’t something they wanted to do. A concentrated approach on a single system with the best games they could put out is the philosophy Sony has adopted in recent years with the PS4, and it’s obvious that that’s something that’s worked out very well for them. For this very reason, it’s also quite clear that Sony most likely won’t be making a third portable system.
Which is really a shame. It’s a shame that all these factors contributed to the PS Vita’s failure, because right from the moment it was first announced, it was clear that it was a system with incredible potential. If Sony had handled it properly, it could have become a major success and would have solidified them as a key player in the handheld market. The PS Vita’s hardware and build quality remain impressive to this day – especially the OLED screen found in the original model. Later on in its life, the system went on to become a darling for indies (another title that Nintendo would go on to snatch away with the eventual release of the Switch), which helped it gather a small but extremely devoted and passionate fanbase.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.