There has been a lot of attention paid lately to the rather tepid response for the PlayStation Vita over in Japan. According to Media Create data, a mere 18,361 Vita units sold last week. That boosted the number over 500,000 units overall, and it took just shy of a month to reach that benchmark. It's likely that you've read the doom-and-gloom stories about the Vita and how disappointing that sales have been over there. Some analysts are worried, some consumers are worried, but Sony isn't worried yet.
Nobody should be worrying yet, in fact.
Indeed, the Vita will face a big comparison test right out of the gate. There's already a number in place for Vita to match: 400,000 units. That's the number of 3DS units that Nintendo sold in its first three days on the US market back in March of 2011. The target for Vita should be no less than 380,000 units. If it sells less than that number, given the better software lineup, then issues with perceived high pricing come into play... and that's something that Sony doesn't want to have to deal with. Sony really can't afford to sell the Vita for less than what the MSRP is set for, either.
I do feel, very strongly, that the price is going to be a significant hurdle for Sony to clear with the Vita. The Vita is undoubtedly an impressive device; I had a chance to spend time with a Vita during E3 last June and was impressed with my experience back then. I can only imagine that things are better now that the software is complete and the hardware is in its ready phase. The Vita is worth $250. The problem is that $250 is perceived to be a lot of money to spend on a dedicated portable video game platform now. Nintendo's price cut for the 3DS last August shifted the advantage in its direction, and when that lower price is combined with two strong Mario titles, it creates a sales monster. Now the Vita seems exorbitant, despite its more impressive hardware and feature sets.
The high price is complicated by the need for a separate memory card purchase, which can add between $20-$100 extra to the cost of the hardware. Sony's final pricing for the near-mandatory memory cards did come in less than expected, but the fact that even a small card isn't included in the package will cause problems at retail with some consumers. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is perhaps the killer app for the Vita, but it will not work without a memory card. Consumers who fail to realize this will be unhappy at the very least.
If the average consumer looks at pricing alone, Vita becomes a tough sell. Look at the difference:
- PlayStation Vita: Hardware costs $250-$300. 4GB memory card is $20. Average game price is $40. Total is $310-$360.
- Nintendo 3DS: Hardware costs $170. New games still run about $40. Total: $210. Difference: $100-$150 less than Vita.
$100-$150 is a lot of money. Yes, the Vita is a more powerful piece of hardware... but is the difference worth $100 to the mass market? That's the challenge that lies ahead for Sony: Convince consumers that spending $100 is justified. Even with Uncharted at the forefront (which is also the most expensive Vita title at launch), I suspect that it's going to be a tough sell.Even if Vita launch numbers come in at 350,000 or less, the platform's viability should not be immediately dismissed. Sony has been a runner-up to Nintendo before and has still managed to keep its PlayStation Portable relevant for over five years. Over time, and with popular IPs like Mortal Kombat and Call of Duty on the horizon, more consumers may buy in outside of the launch window. It's important to keep extreme judgments in check for at least the rest of 2012. The Vita almost assuredly won't "fail" before the end of the year. It would take some dire numbers—like less than 50K sold for three straight months—for something drastic to happen.
The Vita launch will be fascinating to observe and analyze. I believe that the platform is set up to fare better outside of Japan, given the software lineup, but it will be up to consumers to decide whether they feel $300+ is a solid investment—and something that they can afford to do in this still-trying economic climate.