Are we nearing the end for dedicated portable systems in the U.S.?
Back in February, I thought the Vita would be the next best thing. It had a stellar launch lineup, barely sub-PS3 graphics, new ways to control games (front/rear touchpad,) and dual analog sticks. Fast-forward to October and I see the handheld struggling to find a place in a crowded mobile market and game launches that are extremely few and far between.
Something went wrong for Sony, very wrong. The Playstation Vita fails to attract the gamer that puts on a pair of Turtle Beaches’ and plays Call of Duty, or as I like to call it, the intended market. Even with the forthcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for Vita, Sony/Activision decided to give the game to Nihilistic Software, the developers known recently for putting the Resistance franchise in the grave with Burning Skies. FPSs are all the rage in the United States, making it even more puzzling that we’ve only seen one for Vita, the aforementioned Resistance: Burning Skies. The lackluster Black Ops 2 Vita trailer won’t sway fans of the series into dropping around $300 just to play a watered down Call of Duty on the go.
The main problem with the Vita is the fact that developers have no reason to invest in making a game for it. It’s not like Vita games are flying off the shelf, physically or digitally. Why not spend a lot less money developing an iPhone game that is available to millions of people. With the Vita, costs are much higher, there’s a much smaller chance of anyone buying it, and even if someone is interested in the game, they might wait for a price drop. With the $40 standard of Vita games, it would be much easier to sell 40 $1 iPhone games than 1 $40 Vita game, and that is a key problem.
In the article linked above, one of the interesting quotes is from Sony President Shuhei Yoshida, who is surprised by the lack of third party support for the Vita after launch.
"One thing that was surprising and disappointing to us was the [lower] number of third parties to come out [in support] after launch."
It’s not really surprising to see developers take a wait-and-see approach on a new portable system, especially after PSP games didn’t sell at all. You can’t just expect developers to make Vita games; you have to give them reasons to.
Its not like the Vita is the only portable system struggling, but it is by far struggling the most. The 3DS is outselling the Vita around a 5:1 pace, but still isn’t nearly a huge success that the original DS line was. Nintendo had to drop the 3DS price a mere six months after launch in order for people to start buying the system, something Nintendo has never had to do to sell its products before. Nintendo has the luxury of being more kid-friendly with their portables, the main reason that it sells more than the Vita.
When parents look for a portable system for their kids, they see all sorts of Mario games and a bevy of kid-friendly games and buy that system, even thought the Vita is much more technologically advanced. Nintendo also had the worst lineup, maybe in the history of video games, for the 3DS and the system still sold better than the Vita when comparing their launches.
Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones have put a huge dent in the 3DS and Vita’s usefulness, as people are more inclined to carry a phone or a tablet than a dedicated video game system around. For most, they browse the Internet and play quick games on their mobile devices, then play graphic intense games at home on their consoles. This gives the Vita and 3DS no hope to compete with do-it-all devices like an iPhone, where you can get games at 1/40th the price of 3DS and Vita games.
Unfortunately, I think the Vita will be the last Sony handheld. It wouldn’t make financial sense for them to invest in another advanced piece of hardware that won't sell. Sony’s financial troubles have been well documented, and will force them to ride the Vita out for as long as possible. Nintendo, on the other hand, will be able to continue the handheld tradition. Their cast of kid-friendly characters and more importantly, the name Nintendo, will keep getting parents to buy.
What do you think about the Vita and 3DS's chances for survival? Do you own one, none, or both? Let me know in the comments below.