Five Reasons PS Vita Will Flop
Sony has designed a beautiful handheld. It's too bad no one is going to play it.
Ten years ago, I would have played it. In fact, I'd be playing with a PlayStation Vita right now. I wouldn't have cared about all of the red flags that warned me not to buy it. I would have spent $250 on a Wi-Fi model (or more likely wasted an extra $50 to get the 3G version) and dove into every single game I could get my hands on.
That was the old hardcore me. The naïve hardcore gamer in me. The one who believed that if Sony (NYSE: SNE) can make the two best home consoles of the last two decades (PSone and PlayStation 2), then surely the company can produce the most exciting portable game system of all time.
That's what I thought when the PSP – AKA the PlayStation Portable – was released in 2005. I eagerly grabbed the machine as soon as I could get my hands it and played every game within reach. I had fun; I was inspired by the gameplay and graphic quality, which were closer to PlayStation 2 than any previous handheld. I loved the gorgeous widescreen, which displayed a free copy of Spider-Man 2 with the beauty of a miniature HDTV.
“What an amazing handheld!” I thought. “This is the next evolution in portable gaming!”
But it wasn't. Over the next five years, PSP provided me with more dust collection than entertainment. This was the handheld system from the leader in console manufacturing, and all it did was disappoint.
The good games were few and far between, especially from third-party developers. In fact, I have probably spent more time re-playing Final Fantasy VII (an old PSone role-playing game) on PSP than I have spent playing any other game on the system.
When it was first available, PSP was one of the most expensive handheld systems ever released. It also had the benefit of launching a couple years before the iPod Touch. So its extra features (such as video viewing) were fairly groundbreaking at the time.
Nowadays, it isn't uncommon for someone to walk around with a smartphone or some other device that can perform a multitude of actions. They may not provide the best gaming experience, but the average consumer does not care about that.
Here's where Sony really gets into trouble: I'm not sold on PlayStation Vita. Me – one of the biggest fans of PSone and PlayStation 2. I'm the guy who waited at Target (NYSE: TGT) for more than eight hours one night to ensure I would get a PlayStation 2 at launch. I'm the guy who constantly says that Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) sub-par “apps” do not provide a true gaming experience. I'm also the guy who was most excited for PlayStation Vita going into E3 last year.
But times have changed. In the nine months since the handheld's full unveiling, Sony has squandered its opportunity to make new fans while sending away those who were already on board.
Just this past weekend I canceled my pre-order at GameStop (NYSE: GME). The clerk asked why. And you know what I said? “There aren't any good games for it.”
“What about Marvel vs. Capcom 3?” he replied.
Really, clerk? Marvel vs. Capcom 3? You think I'm gonna drop $250 just to play an old fighting game – one I don't even care about – on a handheld device?
That is not how you get consumers to buy a new system! Sony should have pulled out all the stops and made sure that every developer in the company (and every third-party studio in the world) worked day and night to ensure that the system launched with the most impeccable lineup of games ever conceived.
Instead, Sony released this trailer to excite the masses last June:
Do you see a single game in that trailer that makes you want to rush out and buy a PS Vita right now? And if you do, is the game that excites you most actually available to buy? Or is it merely in the pipeline for a future release?
I've been through the promise of a pipeline. I was there for the midnight launch of Nintendo 3DS, which proved to be the most unexciting video game event I have ever endured. It was also the first time that I left the store without a single game in hand. In fact, a few other customers did as well, which either means that they were buying for the future (as I was) or they were planning to sell the system on eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY).
Either way, we all got screwed. The system flopped, killed Nintendo's (NTDOY) revenue, drove the company's share price into the ground, and made it all but impossible to have any faith in the publisher. And then to top it off, the company knocked $80 off the price, making us early adopter feel really stupid, especially since the best games (such as Mario) were not released until after the price cut. So I could have waited six months, purchased a 3DS for less coin, and missed out on absolutely nothing.
“Oh, you won't get that lucky with PS Vita,” the GameStop clerk insisted. “Sony won't lower its price anytime soon.”
He's right – the price isn't likely to be lowered. Sony is one of the most hardheaded tech companies in the world, which is the source of the problem. Instead of focusing on game content – the very thing that will drive PS Vita sales – Sony has spent a great deal of time promoting features that nobody cares about, just like Nintendo. And where did it get Nintendo? Did the 3DS go on to become a smash success with no games and a $250 price tag? No, it didn't. So why would PS Vita do any better?
Let's put things into perspective by taking a closer look at the reasons why PS Vita will flop.
5. It's Trying Too Hard to Compete With Apple
Sony would love for consumers to stop buying iPod Touches and get a PS Vita instead. Sorry Sony, that isn't going to happen. You can whine about Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) integration all you want. You can remind us that the system can do almost everything that an iPod Touch can do, and consumers will still choose the iPod Touch. The reason is because people who want an all-inclusive device are not shopping for whatever alternative is available.
Those consumers, for better or worse, are essentially shopping for Apple. This point was proven last year when every iPad competitor in the world released a tablet that flopped except Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). But Amazon sold its tablet on a cheap price and a prestigious brand name. Sony's brand name is strong with gamers, but it isn't that strong, and the price isn't that low.
4. It's Not Truly Innovative
The underside touchpad was supposed to be groundbreaking. But it's just another touchpad. Meanwhile, the touch screen is just another touch screen. The games are just another batch of games we've seen before, as are the apps, which include the same old content.
Oh, and where's the internal storage? Every non-gaming device in the world has some form of on-board memory, but the all-mighty PS Vita does not. That's ludicrous.
3. Battery Life is Reportedly Weak
I thought battery life was supposed to evolve with each new device? Apparently not.
2. The Price is Too High
I pretty much covered this with my comments above, but to be clear: $250 is too much for Sony to charge for PS Vita. I don't care if the company would have taken a huge loss to sell it at a lower price – the system isn't good enough to justify the existing MSRP. And when Sony begins to lose money because it can't sell the system (and in turn, it won't be able to sell any games), then what?
1. The Launch Lineup Stinks
This point cannot be stressed too strongly. While PS Vita is certainly more fun than the Nintendo 3DS was at launch, it does not provide the groundbreaking or mind-blowing experience that consumers expect from a new gaming device. Sony is trying desperately to sell the handheld with Uncharted alone, but the brand just isn't strong enough to win over the masses. It might help move a few units in the United States. But the system is dead in Japan, with sales declining on a weekly basis.
Expect similar results in the United States and most of Europe.
Follow me @LouisBedigian
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