Will the PSVita be succesful?

A few weeks ago, we started a quick poll on /talk, to know what portable devices people in our community would be interested to buy next…


New World Order

The results are clear: 52% of the people who voted plan to buy a PS Vita as their next handheld. Android (tablets + phones) comes second with 25% of the votes, and iOS is in third position with 8% of the votes.  I won’t claim these results are statistically meaningful, or that I can analyze them precisely, but here are a few things to take into account. First of all, our community was almost 100% PSP focused less than a year ago, so it is not surprising that we’re seeing lots of people with more interest in Sony products than the average. Nevertheless, I was expecting less success from the upcoming Vita in our community, given how strongly we had reacted after the whole “Sony VS hackers” debacle. I guess 6 months is enough for most people to forgive Sony, and forget that they do the same thing every single time.

The first PSP has been relatively successful, selling more than 70 million units so far. This needs to be compared to 149 million units for the Nintendo DS, and 250 million units for iOS devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad). iOS and Android are of course the “new” competitors to the mobile game market, that need to be taken in to account. This sounds obvious today, but it was definitely not when Apple started introducing gaming on their devices. In 2007, gamers were laughing at the idea that people could ever play on a mobile phone (we still had the N-Gage in mind). In 2008, people started mentioning that phones would have better graphic chips than the PSP. There were still strong claims that the PSP or the DS could never be replaced, but phone gaming was beginning to be taken seriously. Today, my android phone has a 1GhZ chip, a much better screen than the PSP, has hardware 3D acceleration, and smartphone gaming represents a bigger market than dedicated mobile handhelds. Sony claimed the PSP would live 10 years, but let’s be honest, it’s been only 6 years so far, and the hardware is clearly obsolete, Sony is emptying their stocks in prevision for the Vita.

Long story short, the landscape considerably changed for Sony and Nintendo, so much actually that they are now the ones who need to prove they can survive in the handheld industry against iOS/Android, not the other way around.

In a world ruled by finance, this can be easily seen by the stock trends of the four companies behind our beloved handhelds (don’t get these graphs wrong though, they are for entire companies, not for the gaming or mobile sections. As far as I know, Playstation is doing much better than overall Sony).

Sony’s Assets

Nintendo is focusing on gaming with the 3DS, trying to milk their franchises (Super Mario, Zelda, etc…) to the last drop, including game micro transactions, and the possibility to buy and play old games from their store. With the competition of casual gaming on mobile phones, but also facebook and other “in browser games”, I personally think Nintendo will have a very hard time growing from now on. They might stay a good gaming company, but they don’t have any infrastructure to let their market become bigger. A console manufacturer without any money will not grow a large audience, and will not make money, therefore will make less games, etc… The 3DS seems to be overall a failure in sales (although Nintendo seems to think they will sell more 3DS in its first year than they did for the NDS), so I don’t foresee a bright year for Nintendo.

Then again it might be clever from Nintendo to focus on gaming, and I’m famous for being super bad at forecasting companies’ health. Sony is taking a very different approach, they’ve been trying for a few years to compete against Internet giants such as Amazon, Google, or Apple. And they have lots of assets that could make them successful. After all, they own Sony music, Sony Pictures Entertainment, have a fairly well installed hardware base (TVs, mobile devices,…). Overall, they’re probably making way much more money than their competitors.

Repeating the errors of the past?

Until now however, it seems to me they have failed at making a viable ecosystem with all these assets. And I don’t have to be clever about this: again, based on the stock trends, people who have money don’t seem to trust Sony’s ability to win the cloud wars. The PSP completely missed that. It had internet access, but it took too long for the PSN store to have interesting content, QRiocity was introduced too late in the game, etc…

And this is only one facet of Sony’s failure to predict the market. Historically, Sony has been doing great on the Japanese market (this year too, the PSVita preorders got sold out in less than 24 hours), but not so great outside.They’ve been trying to reproduce the success of the Walkman for the past 30 years, without much results. the MiniDisc was a failure, 100 times more SD Cards are sold than memory sticks, the UMD is born dead. The only major format success from Sony in the past 15 years is the Blu-Ray, but it’s also a doomed format, in an era where most people already moved to streaming and non-physical video formats. The PSVita is no exception, with yet again another format of cards that will be forgotten by everybody in 5 years. Overall, it’s a shame for Sony that despite actually owning the content (sony music, sony pictures) they failed over the years in the markets of mp3 players, of mobile gaming, of digital music/video distribution, of ebook readers against Amazon, Apple and Google. Even their protected field, the hardcore-gamer console, is being seriously endangered by Microsoft. And it’s been the same mistakes over and over for years.

Hopefully for Sony, except for the proprietary memory card bit, the PSVita might not repeat all the same mistakes, and Sony will definitely try to leverage their existing services. People buying a PSVita will have access to much more interesting online services than there used to be for the PSP. Sony is also probably taking the right approach with the Playstation suite, which will allow to play some of their games on non Sony devices. About the Vita itself, I’m still not entirely convinced. It seems to offer a great value as a game device, but from my experience, people who have money tend to buy a “classical” console (such as the PS3 or an Xbox360) for their gaming needs, and a smartphone (which now offer good casual games) for their mobility needs.

It is already established that the Vita’s hardware will be great, but history proved us that it’s not what people are really after in this market. I think two factors will determine the success of the Vita: the amount of exclusive games (I unfortunately expect, once again, Sony to focus on Japan for this, and progressively forget about their US/EU clients… the PS Vita will be released 3 months late outside of Japan), and how much money people spend on “additional” services (music, movies, whatever the Vita has to offer). The question is then, will people be willing to subscribe to Qriocity, etc… when competitors in the cloud have better offers? Either way, based on our poll, it seems the community at /talk will be quickly migrating from the PSP to the Vita, and of course we’ll be here to investigate the “less official” uses of the console (come on, how many of us already dream of running Android on the Vita?)

  1. svenn’s avatar

    Vita might do good on a short time; but on the longer run this console will fail hard. Its to expensive for the amount of time it will be “up-to-date”.

    Everyone needs a phone, why would game producers make a exclusive game for VITA when it can reach 100 times that amount on mobiles ? And we all seen what crappy ports we got on psp right now.

    If you need a mobile, why not spend the money you’d give to a new psp on that mobile ? Android phones with GPS, wifi,… have dropped in price under 100 euro.

    So why in gods name would you buy a 250+ euro device, that can’t even send sms around.

    The stock charts however don’t really fit in this article, company’s stock value don’t represent 1 device, but that’s my opinion, I’m not a stocks analyst.

    Reply

    1. wololo’s avatar

      Thanks for the detailed reply. I believe the stock charts reveal the “trust” investors put in each company, and clearly Sony and Nintendo have progressively lost the trust of their investors.

      It means they will struggle to get money, and therefore they will become less and less motivated to innovate in “difficult” markets.

      Which to me says they will focus mostly on Japan and will forget the US and Europe, which will reduce their user base, and therefore reduce game programmers’ interest in the device.

      That’s just my opinion, of course.

      Reply

    2. cabbrick1243’s avatar

      Is that not why Sony continues to hint at dedication to the Android platform?

      Reply

  2. sony can kiss my ass’s avatar

    the vita will start to be intresting when it is hacked and we can run homebrew on it. sinds the psvita has a powerfull gpu and cpu is it perfect to run emulators on it. (like n64 or even gamecube). but for official uses is not very interesting for me. besides am i still on a sony boycott. so the chance i will buy the vita is small anyway, even when it is hacked.

    Reply

  3. rafael707’s avatar

    ps vita will be successful like the ps3, until someone hacks it, then it will decline just like the psp

    Reply

  4. chris369’s avatar

    -mm, well, here, in my country, i don´t think it will be very successful. Although it seems to be a very good portatile console to get.

    -I can be sure it will overcome its real value, at that point, many people won´t buy it.

    -At least,I can be sure that most of the people who lives outside japan (US, Latin America, Europe) will think twice before buying a such expensive article than a mobile phone, tablet, etc., that can offer the same features and even more, well that´s my opinion.

    Reply

    1. Eddie-e’s avatar

      Please DO NOT PUT US IN THE SAME LEAGUE as the U.S., since the PSP is very popular in country (I’m from Mexico, BTW)

      Reply

  5. ASKidwai’s avatar

    Well, phones have way tooooooooo many manufacturers so there are always more powerful phones releasing every month or so. However, Vita/3DS will have the same hardware for at least a year before they make a slimmer and lighter etc. Vita/3DS…

    So, that’s a bad thing. however, if Sony had opted for Android, there would already be a great market of non-gaming apps and then the official Vita games. That would have been epic.

    /that was rather rambling.

    Reply

  6. leupold’s avatar

    IMO this PSV won’t be a success.
    The reasons for that:
    - Limited number of really worthy games. PSP had about half a dozen of them, e.g. Tekken 5, Gran Turismo and couple of others.
    - Another new proprietary memory cards for data storage (surprise, surprise… it’s a Sony). When the whole world uses micro-sd, Sony’s been struck by another brilliant idea to swap one proprietary format (Memory Stick) for another.
    - Terrible limitations (3G speed), VGA camera (is it y2011??), some other “features”. Sony doesn’t want to learn from its own mistakes. All those artificial limitations (proprietary connectors, slots etc. etc.) ruin all the device’s potential. At least thanks for not having some fast-port-kind-of-stuff instead of 3.5mm jack. Appreciate it :\

    I myself own a PSP-3000 and most of the time use it to play emulated games: nes, snes, genesis, gba, neo-geo. I will consider buying a PSV only when it’s hacked to run HENs. Cause it’s a really nice platform for emulation and touchscreen is great for plugins and homebrew. And i’m not ready to pay for the accessories and\or games. Only for the platform itself. PSP is good enough as a portable game device. PSV games are too advanced to be portable, but too primitive to be compared to stationary consoles of the 7th generation. IMHO.

    Reply

  7. Andrew’s avatar

    The trick of pirated games always was the key for success of a Sony console.
    So i’m waiting for a “leak” that will enable cfw and pirated games on Vita a short after it’s release.

    Reply

  8. Asmith906’s avatar

    I don’t know why the vita gets so much hate. I’ve never been more excited for a console. And people were willing to for out $250 for the 3ds but for some reason a device that is 3 times as powerful for the same price is considered overpriced. Also I have an iphone and an ipad. If the games aren’t specifically made for touch then they try to compensate with on screen controls which suck. so hopefully the vita will have the best of both worlds.

    Reply

    1. svenn’s avatar

      Hate is a big word; I believe we did all expect a smarter move from sony. What is the use of a super CPU/GPU/… if we can only use it to play tetris ?

      homebrew has been more creative then sony themself, yet again, after lawsuits, they forget where real potential is. (look at Apple, beeing super-greedy and getting away with it.)

      Western markets love “free-to-play” or as someone wrote “pay-what-you-want”.

      Reply

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