Soft Launch: Fighting Over Vita Sales

Splitting hairs over Vita's launch figures disguises the real question - what does Sony need to do next?

As the industry holds its breath and waits to see what will happen to retail giant GAME, another question has raised its head for the consideration of gaming commentators - with PlayStation Vita now on shelves and in the pockets of consumers, has the system's launch been a whimper or a bang?

It's a more contentious - and in some quarters, more quietly bitter - discussion than you might imagine. Part of GAME's legacy in the UK market is that we don't get to see much in the way of figures from retail sales, which is why reporting on game sales in Britain is a faintly ridiculous Dance of the Seven Veils. "Game X has sold three times more than Game Y did, and Game Y sold 20 per cent more on Xbox than on PS3, and Game Z had the biggest launch since Game W back in January!" There's always the vague sense that you're meant to be solving the equation for X, but in the absence of any hard figures at all, the whole thing is rather pointless.

With PlayStation Vita, the initial reports that the machine had sold around a quarter of the numbers which the PSP managed at its launch (around 45,000 units) have been followed up with counter-claims from other sources (61k is bandied about a fair bit). Lots of people are pointing out that they've seen the Chart-Track figures, but they can't directly cite them, of course. Add to the mix the fact that Sony hasn't released any official figures, and that Chart-Track's figures need to be massaged a bit to reflect reality anyway, and you're left with an oddly heated debate over what should be a simple point of fact.

Sony is the darling of the media right now - at least in terms of Vita - the white knight who's going to rescue handheld gaming from the march of the iDevices.

Moreover, it's a debate over minutiae that completely ignores the actually important thing in all of this. Vita has achieved either one-quarter or one-third of the sales of the PSP at launch - does it really matter which fraction we're talking about? Moreover, it's achieved either one-half or two-thirds of the launch sales of last year's 3DS. Again, I'm not really convinced that anyone debating which of those fractions is more accurate has quite grasped the right end of the stick.

Let's recall, here, that the 3DS' launch was greeted with hoots of derision, the machine written off as a catastrophic gimmick and Nintendo forced into a red-faced U-turn on pricing as well as a massive acceleration of development efforts. You can split hairs over exact numbers all you like, but the fact is that the Vita's launch has been weaker than the 3DS', yet the reaction has been remarkably different.

Why the more positive reaction to Vita? Because gamers - and the vast majority of those who commentate on this industry class as such - want Vita to succeed. It's a platform designed from the ground up as a love letter to core gamers, and they've responded in kind, with love notes to the console clogging up the internet's leading sites over the past few weeks.

A big part of the kicking dished out to the 3DS at launch had less to do with the console itself than it did with the perception that Nintendo has "abandoned" the core gamer since the success of the DS and the Wii. Sony, guilty of no such sin and launching with a much more convincing range of software, is the darling of the media right now - at least in terms of Vita - and moreover, is the white knight who's going to rescue handheld gaming from the march of the iDevices, with their freemium games and casual players.

You know what? That's absolutely fine. Outside the minds of the internet's more moronic comment thread trolls, there's no law which says that writing has to be objective. If you're writing about games, it's probably because you have strong opinions on the matter (god knows that's why I'm here) and you're reasonably good at expressing them. You don't have to pretend to be Fair and Balanced; just know your own biases and be cheerfully honest about them.

However, there is a commercial reality to the PlayStation Vita launch which simply must not be obscured by sentiment and hope. Even given our lowered expectations - we all knew that PSP launched in the heyday of the handheld, before Apple turned our humble mobile phones into advanced portable computers - Vita's launch has been worryingly soft. Maybe the numbers pick up from here - let's not forget that the Nintendo DS did, after a similarly slow early start - but it's been a long time since the UK had a major console launch this weak, let alone one from Sony, a brand still much loved on these islands.

Nintendo's console had a massive price cut shortly after launch, which has told any consumer with even a little market savvy that handheld systems don't hold their price points.

Is there something above and beyond the pervasive influence of the iDevice which has caused this? Well, it's iDevice related, but if you want a more specific issue, launching an expensive handheld console the week before Apple is scheduled to unveil the hugely anticipated iPad 3 can't help much. If iPad 3 disappoints, perhaps the money burning holes in consumers' pockets will buy a Vita instead; I'm not convinced that hoping that Apple will launch something rubbish is a convincing line on a SWOT analysis sheet, though.

The influence of the 3DS is also an important factor. Certainly, consumers who have just bought a new Nintendo handheld are less likely to buy Sony's device - intuition suggests that the appeal of owning multiple handhelds isn't as high as the appeal of having multiple home consoles under your TV. More importantly, though, Nintendo's console had a massive price cut shortly after launch, which has told any consumer with even a little market savvy that handheld systems don't hold their price points. Why buy before the maybe-inevitable price cut?

Therein lies one of the crucial problems - pricing. The 3DS exacerbates it, the possible arrival of a cut-price iPad 2 next week will do so even further, but the fact is that the barrier to entry on PS Vita is high anyway. Yes, there are cheap games for the system, and that's absolutely crucial, but I'm not convinced that this fact has been conveyed strongly to consumers, perhaps for fear of undermining sales of full-priced titles. The RRP is high, and the price of the pointlessly proprietary memory cards drives the cost of entry higher still. It's a tough sell, and it'll take hell of a lot of press enthusiasm to sweeten the deal.

It's interesting, as a footnote, to observe that some analysts who are bullish on the Vita are already factoring an early price cut into their projections for the console. After this launch, even those deeply in love with Sony's new console would probably admit that that's more likely than not - however deeply it cuts the firm's already weakened revenues in the coming quarters.

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Latest comments (49)

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 10 years ago
The difference here and in Japan was that Nintendo were VERY quick, even at the cost of loosing face, to realise the price was nonsense. Their ambassador program then gave early loyal adopters a real sense that the company actually gave a damn about them.

Sony on the other hand are seemingly trying the opposite approach. They are overpricing everything from the games to the accessories and seemingly have no remorse about doing so. Of particular note is the memory cards which even as custom parts, should cost a quarter of what they do. The real test is going to be how quickly they do a Nintendo, drop their prices by at least 75 quid and give the loyal early adopters some quality first party PSP and mini games to compensate.

I'm not holding my breath for any of that but, I suspect that not doing this will be sited in the post mortem as the reason the Vita died.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Peter Dwyer on 2nd March 2012 8:47am

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When 3DS launched, it was with similar hype. However this hype turned quickly to disappointment because there was just such a dirge of games. Except for street fighter, the almost deafening lack of first party games meant we had a 3DS that was parked in a shoebox for many many moons.

In contrast the Vita comes with a excellent lineup, and the only sticking point may be ease of access via the price point. Seeing as Sony are loath to repeat the PS3 experiment, there may come a tipping point where pricing may be reduced somewhat - although if they fix the non intuitive UI, all is forgiven
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 10 years ago
I think the difference between consumer/industry perception of the 3DS launch vs. the Vita launch is that Nintendo's handheld seemingly felt a little archaic and reluctant to embrace where gaming is headed, whereas the Vita feels more like it has its finger on the pulse of modern gaming. Plus, while the 3DS' launch titles were generally a little lacklustre, the Vita has a good line-up of blockbuster retail releases and cheap, addictive downloadable titles. Lastly, Nintendo continue to be reluctant to invest in new IPs, whereas the Sony is already supporting the Vita with the likes of Escape Plan and Gravity Rush - here's hoping there's more on the way.

Plus, when Nintendo launched the 3DS there was definitely a feeling of arrogance around them; the assumption that people would flock to buy it because they bought the DS. In their defence, they were very humble about it and took the right steps to win back consumer faith, but Sony on the other hand are very specifically aiming the Vita at gamers - gamers who likely already own a PS3, at that - and feel like they've made all the right moves with regard to appeasing this niche audience. It seems the only chink in the armour so far is not having any internal memory and the relatively high price of their proprietary memory cards. But for now it only remains to be seen if Sony can maintain this strong release schedule and get some games out there which can very specifically become the Vita's killer app software.
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Show all comments (49)
Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University10 years ago
Really Terence? I'm around 40-50 core-type gamers every day and there's little to no interest in the Vita. So little in fact that most were unaware it was out when I asked after launch. Those that are interested cite the price and the lack of games as their reasons for not bothering. Bearing in mind this is the COD/Skyrim type audience, it doesn't look good. Not 1 person has a Vita that I can steal a go on - they're actually more interested in Raspberry Pi for the most part (which is good, in a way).

On the topic of wanting to play one, I walk past Game twice a day - I don't get why they're not stood outside trying to put a Vita in my hands. Surely the biggest benefit of retail is being able to try before you buy; it's been years since I've been able to properly play something in a Game store. I like retail, I hope it doesn't die as per all the predictions - but Game aren't doing it justice.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Antony Cain on 2nd March 2012 10:14am

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 10 years ago

Likewise. I am in an office of hard core gamers and nobody has bought one.

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
My US based online community has embraced Vita pretty heavily but they tend to lean heavily on Sony products anyway.

Nintendo fell into a trap with the 3DS right away by combining a high price and no major 1st party software. But according to Nintendo, both were intentional. The former because of the gay market prices of the DS and Wii suggesting a retail value of higher than MSRP (RRP) would be acceptable. The latter because of the stigma that 3rd parties can't sell games in the shadow of 1st party titles and they wanted to give 3rd parties a chance to shine on their own. Neither worked quite as planned so cue price cut and 1st party software.

Sony on the other hand wanted to go the old Nintendo route by offering the price as low as possible and offer 1st party software on day 1. The plan works to a degree but it may leave them without many options if sales stagnate in the west as they have in Japan.

Rob, excellent always.
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 10 years ago
Fair enough guys; I am mainly basing my opinions from forums I frequent and a couple of guys I know who've bought a Vita. I myself would have one if I could justify the expense at the moment, but so far logic has won out.
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Nick Ferguson Director, ID@Azure, Microsoft10 years ago
I have no qualms admitting I think the Vita is a fantastic piece of hardware.

I know I'm not alone - many people I've spoken to who picked up a Vita have been surprised at how they've taken to it. It is a brilliant portable gaming device and convincingly demonstrates the limitations of gaming on a touch-only device.

The initial crop of titles is much more interesting than the 3DS launch line-up: I could only bring myself to buy Pilotwings back then, whereas I have about 6 Vita titles already.

I say all this fully aware that I'm in the (hard)core gaming minority, but it heartens to me to know there are at least 41,000 similarly-minded souls out there. Fly, my pretties. FLY!
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Private Industry 10 years ago
I cant completely agree Peter. I can agree on the high priced memory cards, but I dont feel that the hardware itself or games are overpriced except maybe Fifa since a lot assets surely where used from the console game and when it comes to Ubi Gameloft games that are just ports from iPhone. 3DS games are priced 35-40 and I'm sure they are cheaper to make than lets say Uncharted thats alongside Fifa the only game over 40. Other than that you can already get the awesome Motorstorm RC for only 6 euro or escape plan for a little bit more.

The 3DS was overpriced from the beginning for what the hardware can do and every person was happy when the 250 price point for vita was announced. The reason why I think people cry for a priece cut is just because Nintendo made one not because the Vita would be overpriced. The vita is far better than the 3DS hardware wise so I dont think they should sell for the same price. Unless you say the 3DS and its games is still overpriced and should see a price cut.
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Werner summed it up best.

For the piece of kit it is, Vita is correctly priced. IF I were Sony, I would stay the course and let the games and Vita do the talking
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Christopher Garratty Associate Counsel, Activision Blizzard10 years ago
I've got one. Bought it day one, as did one colleague, one sibling and a close friend. I guess it just depends on the circles you move in. As a PS3 owner most of my friends are PS3 owners and so they are all interested in Vita. I also see literally hundreds of the things popping up in the "Near" application.

Yes, the Vita only has a few "must have" titles at the moment, Uncharted and Wipeout being two of them, but for launch that's satisfactory imho, and far more than the 3DS could muster on its launch.

The device itself is gorgeous. The games are great, it honestly competes with my PS3 and Kindle for my time when I'm at home and has replaced my phone as my go-to twitter device.

EDIT: I'd also take issue with calling the memory cards "Pointlessly proprietary". The cards are used to run games from, as such they need a high transfer rate. If you make the device compatible with SD cards, many people will go for the big cheap ones. The low transfer rate will cause a poor user experience and generate a lot of negative feeling. The Vita cards are essentially Class 10 SD cards and a bit of googling will tell you that they are not (massively) overpriced at that (there is a small SONY-Tax I'll admit).

Sony *could* have said "Only use Class 10 SD cards guys." but it wouldn't work. Not many people know that SD cards have different transfer rates and only look at how many gigs of storage they have, proprietary cards are the only way to ensure a standardised high quality user experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Garratty on 2nd March 2012 11:56am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 10 years ago
Germany's largest retailer media Markt did not include the Vita into its weekly advertisement so far. For a console launch, that is definitely a first.

The price is the price. Sony can never raise it, but always lower it, should the sell-through rate not be satisfactory.
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Tamir Ibrahim Programmer, Splash Damage10 years ago
Christopher has hit the nail on the head with "I guess it just depends on the circles you move in". I always find it slightly amusing and infuriating in equal measure when people judge how popular a product is, any product, based solely on what people they know think. Take it into account by all means, but a little more info and perspective is good.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Christopher, I've seen reports that the Vita memory cards put them between SD card Class 2 and Class 4, for read and write respectively.

Can you verify otherwise?
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Private Industry 10 years ago
Digital foundry got to those numbers using the content manager and nobody knows what the content manager does regarding de/encrypting. If you use iTunes to copy something its also slower than just opening the device as mass storage and copy it that way.
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Rob Fahey Columnist, GamesIndustry.biz10 years ago
Regarding the memory cards - as Jim says, the best reports available right now (including a pretty thorough one from Digital Foundry) don't place the Vita cards anywhere near the performance of Class 10 SD. Even if they did, that wouldn't excuse the pricing. We're not talking about a "small Sony tax" here at all; the 16Gb Vita card costs approximately four times more than a 16Gb Class 10 SD card.

I don't object to companies running the razor and razorblades business model, but I think it's a shame to see Sony falling back into the overpriced-accessories trap after doing so well to remove that from the equation on the PS3.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 10 years ago
There does seem to be a common confusion in these conversations by what people mean when they say the Vita is too expensive.

Is the price too high for what the console is a piece of hardware? Absolutely not.
Is the price too high so as to be a barrier to entry to many customers, given the market context? I would say so.

Also I find the general mission plan of the Vita to be incredibly blurry. I never understood what kind of experience Sony were trying to sell me the PSP and I don't see that getting much better with Vita. From my point of view the 3DS is doing better simply because it is more appealing for a number of reasons to a wide audience. I can't put my finger on why the Vita/PSP don't seem to have that appeal but they just don't...
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senar koraltan Product Owner (with game/digital design, project management & commercialization skills) 10 years ago
@Rob Nintendo have been guilty in the past of the same strategy with Wii controllers, They sold the console for very cheap and made the controllers overpriced to compensate, Iím not a fan of this approach but I guess Sony have to make their money somehow considering how much tech you are getting for the price.

I agree with most of the comments about the device, it looks like an amazing piece of kit! no one can doubt the line up either, I think itís pretty strong! I will buy one when the time is right for me not really interested in purchasing one at the moment though..
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
Interesting article Rob.

A couple of (pedantic?) points.

1. How sad is this industry when there's no external verification of sales? It's not even like trying to track software, with physical and digital sales - it's a bloody hardware launch guys.

2. The price *will* drop. All hardware drops in price - it may take 2 months, or it may take 12, but there's no doubt a decent number of people who are going to wait for more must-have games and a cheaper console; even the chance of picking up a Vita second hand. If the Vita is aimed at the more "hardcore" market, then it's that exact market that knows that buying on launch is expensive, and possibly unnecessary (depending upon the games that are out).

3. The economy... is bad. Hardcore gamers may have decent jobs, but a fair portion of the hardcore gaming demographic are also at university. Releasing a gaming machine when students can't be assured of a job come graduation, and have to put up with inflation just like the rest of us is a risky proposition. I know that I wouldn't have been able to justify such a purchase when I was even in first year, let-alone in third, with a dissertation being written, and no graduate position guaranteed.

Sony's chasing of the hardcore is risky - Nintendo could try and catch a larger demographic, with more disposable income, but Sony? There's going to be less stay-at-home mums with both money and time to burn who will buy a Vita.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 2nd March 2012 1:31pm

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James Ingrams Writer 10 years ago
I love how the media just takes it for granted that no one gives out sales figures. they have had 30 years now to campaign for them, but thy would still rather politely support them rather than report from a distance in a campaigning way for gamers!

I don't really know what is going on with the gaming industry. Put all the various reports we have seen recently about GAME, EA, Atari, Bioware THQ, etc, I am almost positive they are trying o commit hare-kari!
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Yannick Boucher Project Manager, Crytek10 years ago
Alright, don't have time (or desire! ;) ) to read all the comments, but I agree that the pricing of the hardware is perfectly adequate for what it does.

The only thing I wanna say is we all need to relax about launch figures, whichever way you want to make them swing, it's way too early to tell at this point. Yes, some games are much more expensive than an equivalent on iPhone, but that also means better margins for developers, and therefore more interest in the platform. Not only that but seeing how Sony is handling the PS Store on it, and with smaller excellent games (Super Stardust Delta, Motorstorm, etc), they are clearly ready for the market to swing either way: retail or digital, premium-priced or not.

Also factor in the attach rates (guaranteed to be higher on Vita already than on 3DS, this is the same debate as the Wii's "success").

All in all, count me in the pretty confident camp. I got mine 2 weeks ago and it has stolen time and mindshare from my PC, consoles, and even books. Very solid. As for those who are saying nobody cared, well Sony is perfectly aware that they need to get the Vita into peoples' hands so they can experience it for themselves. It really sells best that way.
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Robert Barrow Information Security Analyst 10 years ago
Whilst I can't comment in the sales of the Vita in other parts of the country my Vita tells me all about the sales locally. The town in which I live is small and doesn't sit in an overtly wealthy demographic. But it does seem to be full of hard core gamers or maybe casuals (if table soccer and MotorStorm RC are classed as casual games). On the first day I used my Vita it told me that there were 8 people on Near. The day afterwards it was 54 and lastnight that jumped to 87. I think it is a little more popular than is being indicated by the sale so far tracked.

My guess is that, like myself, all these Vitas that are appearing were ordered online and are still currently landing on peoples doorsteps as we speak. It really does seem to be selling itself. You only need a short session on Golden Abyss or Wipeout to show you how powerful it is and more tellingly, how impressive it will become once Devs have really got to grips with it.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Yannick, most retailers had a buy 2 get 1 free software deal to entice buyers. That accounts for the high initial attach ratio. Also to note, 3DS had less than a 1:1 ratio at launch (quite poor) but is now up to 2:1 (still poor but higher than Vita's 'high' launch ratio).

In due time, both will manage to reach 4-5:1 which is typical of a portable console.
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Rod Oracheski Editor, Star News10 years ago
People forget that analysts thought Nintendo was 'leaving money on the table' by offering the 3DS at $249. The market for a gaming-centric handheld doesn't seem to be there at the $250 mark, so Sony might be in tough - tougher, actually, considering you need to add the cost of a 4-32 GB card on top.

I don't personally see mobile phone games as coming close to what the Vita or 3DS can offer, but the problem is they're definitely 'good enough' to kill the time until I'm back home with the PC or console.

I like the three-odd weeks I've had with the Vita, but at $249 my recommendation to readers who don't have deep pockets was to wait for the almost inevitable price drop and/or Ambassador program.
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Lee Jones Studying Biology, University of Miami10 years ago
Peter Dwyer, I need a game developer to help us develop a more interactive game for our company. Can you give me some advice?
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
I'm not sure I really see the Vita's launch lineup as "massively superior" to the 3DS's. Both seem, to me, pretty horrible. The 3DS didn't have much variety, and it didn't have much that was unique to the platform. The Vita has a lot of variety, but also has nothing unique to the platform (ports and spinoffs), and almost every game has recieved very disappointing critical reception. Uncharted doesn't match the scale or scope of its elder brothers, and is full of gimmicky touch and motion controls, ModNation and Little Deviants are clearly half-assed and rushed, Wipeout fails to justify its price compared to its digital PS3 counterpart, and most of the remaining good software are ports of console games people already own (Rayman, Ultimate Marvel, Ninja Gaiden).

While all of that certainly adds up to better than the 3DS launch, none of it adds up to paying $250 unless you're a very devoted fan. This is compounded by the absolutely ridiculous memory card scenario, which has enough problems that I could devote an entire article to it. No, the mark-up is not small even for Class 10. You can find Class 10 32GB SD cards for under $40 on newegg, which, incidentally, the 3DS can use. In addition it seems unlikely that the Vita's cards are actually Class 10 speeds, given the massive loading times some games experience (Lumines is absolutely outrageous). Furthermore the scam-y pricing hidden buy-in costs of the platform mean that most people are not taking advantage of the digital store, a place where Sony had a lot of potential to make a lot of extra money.

In general I think this launch is a mess, but it's not going to be fixed by just a price cut. Sony has great first party software, but they don't put those development teams on Vita. Almost every Vita title they're making comes from some side-team, and none of the games are comparable to their main franchise entries. This is really where the 3DS pulled through and the Vita will not as long as Sony half-asses portable development. Nintendo develops 3DS titles with main teams, and they're no less meaty than console versions. Mario Kart 7 is larger and more robus than Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario 3D Land is bigger than NSMB Wii, and so on. They're also all made by main development teams, and have more platform selling power than most of Sony's franchises combined (quality is subjective, sales are not).

So no, I think Vita is currently making a number of major missteps, and in addition to a price cut and packed-in memory Sony is going to need to provide the system with powerful and excellent software unique to the platform. That doesn't mean pushing multiplat Call of Duty and console ports. I'm not going to buy those games twice, and I already have a PS3. You cannot sell a platform on those types of games to any but the most devoted of fans, and that's what Sony needs to overcome. If they want Vita to succeed from here on out, they need to commit real resources to development for it and provide significantly improved value for the consumer.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 2nd March 2012 9:39pm

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Private Industry 10 years ago
Critics are not always right, GTA4 is one of the highest rated games of all time and frankly I didnt think that high of it in my opinion it would have been 80 or maxium 85 while as example Alpha Protocoll was getting rather bad reviews but that game was at least for me more enjoyable. As for Uncharted I liked it a lot, it's a nice "back to the roots" game by offering a more grounded and believable experience than the last two games and is more like the first one. I love Uncharted 2 and 3, but it was a nice change of pace to not run from one huge set piece to the next one. Also 95% of the touch and motion controlls are optional besides the motion aiming is excelent and works amazingly well to that point that all games should implement that on the Vita.

With WipEout I found no issues concerning the price, the singleplayer campaign is very long and enjoyable and the multiplayer campaign is well designed. Its not a perfect game and could need some extra options and tweaking, but it offers more content than WipEout HD.

Army corps of hell isnt a system seller but not a bad game and Escape Plan and Motorstorm RC are brilliant games that are cheaper. On top of that you can get even free stuff like Hustle Kings if you bought it already on PS3 and Sony already announced at least for that dungeon crawler rpg game that you get the Vita version for free when you buy the PS3 version.

I cant get enough of Everybodies Golf at the moment and its a great game but doesnt hold such a good metacritic rating either. So what are those reviews telling us exactly? I would say not that much, I have already 9 games for it and enjoy every single one of them and looking already forward to Unit 13 this month and Gravity Rush in June.

What unique games does the 3DS actually have besides of Resident Evil? All the N64 ports? Mario Kart isnt exactly unique either neither is Super Mario Land. They are not that new, yes they have no tracks or a new worl, but thats still a spin off or just a sequel and you cant say a sequel is so unique.

Sony has enough dev teams to have other people work on Vita games than the main team. Why would you split Naughty Dog into 3 teams and compromise the quality of all 3 games if you can just have a different studio do the Vita game. The psp God of War games where where amazing and that wasnt done by Santa Monica.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 2nd March 2012 11:18pm

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Will Wilson Web & Community Manager, NaturalMotion10 years ago
Hmm, I think most of what you're saying is true, Nicholas, but you may as well call any handheld version of a console series poor if you think WipEout 2048 or Uncharted are bad portable games. Indeed, WipEout is better than HD in certain areas (multiplayer, for one), while Uncharted - well, what other portable 3rd person adventure game gets close to it?

The problem is that times are hard - this isn't the mid 00s. People are losing their jobs daily (and others can't even get a job in the first place). Bills are stupidly high, rent is crazy, and wages aren't going up. A cheap portable console is out there - the 3DS - and a cheap music player/console with even cheaper games is also available (iPod Touch).

In terms of luxury goods, smartphones rank higher than games consoles (if you don't believe me, choose right now between your losing your mobile or your portable). It's not a surprise that so many people (including 'hardcore' gamers) are turning to smartphones for their gaming fix on the go when their belts are being tightened.

If the world economy gets better then I've no doubt we'll see a rise in those looking for that 'pure' gaming experience a dedicated machine offers. But it'll never be in the same numbers as before, given the all-in-one nature of a smartphone, and it certainly won't sustain any significant increase in cost of games development.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Will Wilson on 2nd March 2012 11:32pm

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As is evident from the comments here, Sony know their fanbase - and are targeting it. It seems to me the only people even considering a purchase are those who already have a PSP, PS3 (and most other gaming devices).

Its a different model from what Nintendo are doing anyway:

- sell VITA for a profit
- make development "simple" (cheap?) by encouraging companies to develop PS3/VITA games together (i.e. almost make it a portable PS3, extending the PS3 install base)
- encourage as much digital activity as possible, to drive consumers to their online portal/content

- build new 3DS install base (as large as possible)
- develop propriatory, original games for the 3DS
- drive as many software sales as possible, by supporting retailers (traditional retail program, ship maximum units to maximum retailers)

After spending a lot more time with my 3DS recently, I don't think there is any chance I'll get a VITA now: as pretty as the VITA is (graphically), IMO the 3DS competes really well against it (both RE games are gorgeous, and most offerings look good - not to mention the 3D), the 3DS has a really balanced lineup (chances are most good VITA games will also launch on PS3) - and any "gaps" are covered by the plethora of smartphones & tablets (just last night, there were 4 people here playing multiplayer monopoly ... each on a iPad2 :P).
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Private Industry 10 years ago
Most of the people I know who got one have also at least a PS3 thats for sure. What I observed however in near is that plenty of people that pop up there and that I added trough near dont actually have PS3 trophies. From that it would seem that there are a good amount of people who bought one that dont own a PS3 or they just use a different account for the Vita.

Either way its a PlayStation so who else should be the target group at the start than PlayStation users and I dont really think the 3DS is targeting a new user group its the people who bought a DS and old time Nintendo fans as is evident with all those N64 ports.
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Ged McMillan Retail Manager 10 years ago
In my store on launch day Vita sold a little over a third of the numbers we did for 3DS but it has matched it after 10 days sales with continued daily interest. Until the August markdown by Nintendo, pretty much all our 3DS sales were made on March 25th - it was dead in the water for 5 months - so perhaps we should sit tight and wait until the unknown, unannounced and much speculated first month Vita sales figures are in before writing it off....

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ged McMillan on 3rd March 2012 12:24am

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
@ Werner I absolutely agree about reviews. As I mentioned, quality is a subjective thing. I'm not at all a fan of GTAIV either, and I really love Yakuza 4, a game which had 7-range reviews. What reviews can indicate though is some degree of the ability of games to sell a platform. What I disagree on is that Mario Kart 7 or Super Mario 3D Land are exchangeable with other entries in their franchises. Perhaps Mario Kart 7 is to some degree, but it's also the only Mario kart game with competent online play with both friends and strangers, communities, and custom rules. Super Mario 3D Land on the other hand is wholly different from, say, Super Mario Galaxy. It's a unique mix of game styles of the classic and modern Mario, and was made by the same teams that make the big console releases.

I guess my point is that handheld experiences really shouldn't be just lesser versions of a console experience. No one really wants that. People bought the original DS because it had games that weren't anywhere else, and Nintendo is putting similar effort into the 3DS with Pushmo, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Kid Icarus, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Paper Mario, etc.

The difference is really in how they treat the market. Nintendo treats the handheld market as a major cornerstone of their business, and they use the same level of commitment to quality and high-budget on it that they do on home consoles. Their lineup of games is made entirely by the best teams in the company, and if Sony wants to compete in software quality (which they're absolutely capable of, as we've seen on the PS3) then they'll need to do that as well. As it is, they treat handhelds like an extension of their console audience rather than a unique market and platform in itself, which is a problem. The 3DS may have launched weaker, but it currently has a much stronger line-up than the current Vita line-up. You can't half-ass your way into a victory in that market, and their failure to support the PSP with unique AAA software was one of its largest failings and contributed heavily to the death of software sales.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 3rd March 2012 12:42am

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@Werner: As for the 3DS, for sure - that is one of the big issues with the industry (trying to get new gamers into it). The way I see it, the 3DS is a refresh of the DS - but with Nintendo trying harder to take more of the "hardcore" market from Sony (MH, RE, MGS, fighting games, etc). I think you'll see the same strategy with the WiiU - the casual market has really fallen away, and this has forced Nintendo to refocus on the hardcores.

As for "N64" ports, I'm not sure how you can say that: Pilotwings? Super Mario Land is definitely unique, and sure Mario Kart is "formula" - but its what people want to play. Zelda doesn't fall into "port" category for me: I just finished it on the 3DS, and its an amazing game in its own right.

If there is any criticism of the 3DS lineup (and its the same as the VITA one) - its the lack of truly original games (PullBlox although simple, is a great example on the 3DS).
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Private Industry 10 years ago
When I talk about N64 ports I mean the likes of Star Fox 64 3D or Ocarina of Time. I give you Monster Hunter and Resident Evil (altough rumour has it Vita is getting a MH as well). MGS is only the third game and that will come to the Vita as well in the HD collection wth MGS2 and Peace Walker and the Vita already has a fair amount of fighting games and more soon to come. And on the remake note the Vita will also get FF10, Zone of the Enders and a remake of Persona 4 and if P3P for psp is any indication it will turn out greatly improved and reworked to fit the platform.

Well Nicholas obviously the 3DS has a better software lineup than the Vita now, its out since a year if they would have a weaker lineup they would have really missed the boat there. Reminds me of the PS3 launch when the 360 people where saying "but we have more games on it than you on the PS3"

I have the feeling Sony just gives their developers more freedom in what they do instead of forcing Naughty Dog to work on Vita they leave it up to them and kudos for that. Yes they own the companies but that doesnt mean they have to dictate them what game they have to do for what platform and it would be a waste of resources to some extend given how well Naughty Dog can work with the PS3 now. For the other studios we dont know if they work on Vita games or not, maybe Santa Monica works on a Vita game or Sucker Punch. I'm all for other studios doing games of known franchieses, Ready at Dawn did an amazing job with God of War and that wasnt a half assed job. Its a good way to build up studios that are not as big as the main developers and Bend did a great job with Golden Abyss that got not so great reviews just because it was different than Uncharted 3 not because it would be a less good game. Reviewers always complain "it feels to much like the last game" or similar but then there is a game in the franchiese and they complain that its different and not exactly like the last 2 games.

I dont know if Miyamoto is that excited about making Mario #34 and Zelda #12 (just random numbers). The last great new Nintendo game I remember was Pickmin and that was on the GameCube. Nintendo got very focused on their main franchieses Mario, Zelda, Sports/Party, Donkey Kong and to a lesser degree Mefroid Prime where they didnt bother to develop it in house and instead outsources it and strangely the next Pockemon game is for 3DS and thats not that well received by the 3DS user base. In contrast Sony has so many viable franchieses where they didnt make a game for since ages(i.e. destruction derby, g-police or I could even imagine a Colony Wars coming back), some great franchieses where not touched since the PS1 because they leave a lot of free space to the devs in what they can do.

Without a doubt Nintendo has great games and they are systen sellers and they sell great, but they focus on their set amount of franchieses without much of new stuff compared to Sony who has also a certain amount of franchieses (mainly Gran Turismo and WipeOut as the only games I can remember coming for all consoles) but a lot of new franchieses with each Generation. They are seperate no system seller except maybe GT, but combined its an extremely strong package thats a lot more diversive than what Nintendo can offer with their games. Thats my opinion, Nintendo lost me as a customer a while ago. The last device I bought was a DS and since then I skiped their systems and I'm not that sure I will get a Wii U either because I wont get multiplatform games of existing franchieses on the Wii U and get them on the system where I played the previous games in the series.

As for the "downfall" of the psp, not sure if piracy wasnt the bigger problem and the reason for the lack of more AAA gamesit was just so easy to pirate for it and in that sense the memory cards might be the lesser of the two evils. It stillbsold over 70 million and while by far not as much as the DS I dont think it can be considerd a failure compared what previously happened with handhelds that went up against the GameBoy. In Japan the psp was and still is doing well and give piracy isnt that much of a problem over there I would look for the western trouble in that field where piracy is very very common. Thats one of the reasons I dont think the Vita will be in so much trouble over here and will see alotmore support.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Private on 3rd March 2012 2:35am

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
@ Werner I have huge respect for Sony's first party development studios, and when they put their best foot forward in the case of Naughty Dog or Team Ico they produce some of my favorite games every made, but I do think there's a clear line between those guys and Sony Bend. It's not that Sony Bend is bad by any measure, but they don't make games that really ignite that kind of awe-inspiring interest. Really outside of the games made by Ready at Dawn Sony published very few particularly well-received PSP games.

I think piracy is an easy thing to blame for poor PSP software sales, but I also think it's the wrong thing to blame. The DS was pirated even easier, with flash cards even today working perfectly for any DS game and they didn't require the potential bricking of cracking your PSP. I think PSP software sales were poor because of large draughts of content between quality releases, horrible advertising throughout the platform's life, and a lack of strong and unique software to make the platform stand out from the PS2. I own a PSP, and I love it (especially P3P, Valkyria Chronicles 2, and Jeanne D'Arc), but I would go many many months between major releases on the PSP, which isn't a problem the DS had.

I don't think Nintendo necessarily "forces" development of the 3DS. I think Nintendo views all markets as equally valuable, and their studios actually enjoy branching out across different hardware. I would absolutely love to see some of the great studios like Team Ico or Santa Monica do the same on Vita, and I genuinely believe that if the Vita wants more software sales success than its predecessor it will HAVE to, because people will not buy multiplats on it for the same reason you don't think you will want to buy them on Wii U. Why would you, when you can buy them on PS3 and 360 where you already have the previous versions? Especially since the Vita, unlike the PSP, has no video out to play them on your TV.

PS: Not sure which Pokemon games you're talking about, but if you mean Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, those are the expansion titles for the current generation of Pokemon, not the new generation which will be on 3DS. Every generation has a game like this (Yellow, Crystal, Eemrald, Platinum). This is just the first time they've made two versions of the expansion game.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 3rd March 2012 4:03am

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Private Industry 10 years ago
Well besides of GoW, there where still Syphon Filter, WipEout, Ratchet and Clank, Little Big Planet, PixelJunk games, Patapon and others that came from Sony and where very well received (at least by critics). Looking at metacritic the DS doesnt have that much more 80+ games comparex to the psp.

I just wish they would get all the good psp games on the Vita store like Crisis Core, Valkyria Chronicles or Kingdom hearts, buts thats up to the specific Publishers.

I dont expect too many multiplatform games and for some it would be a better fit. Fifa is a much better fit on Vita for me than on home console. An Assassins Creed obviously I rather play on home consoles if its the same game, but thats not to say I wouldnt play AC at all on Vita. If they make a good and meaningfull spin off that ads to the overall story I'm more than happy to get on the go stabby.

As it stands now there is little information on whats to come, we know some HD remakes, persona 4, gravity rush, killzone and some other games. Thats the biggest problem that I see. There just isnt that much announced outside of the inital launch lineup. They should already announce games that come in fall and winter and try to get Wii U like features that can be used with the Vita in combination with the PS3. I can see people holding out because not much is announced compared to the 3DS where a lot of stuff was announced that came out later.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 3rd March 2012 11:34am

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Cobey Jones Studying Game development, University of Advancing Technology10 years ago
The reason Sony developed a proprietary format is to protect developers from piracy and encourage them to embrace Vita development. As an aspiring game developer, I support Sony in this regard. I picked up my Vita on day one and I have to say that not only do I consider this device to be a triumph, but with the buyout of Ericcson and this Vita OS, Sony is well positioned to enter the smartphone market and do well. Since I've had the Vita, I've taken it with me everywhere I've gone and I prefer it over my iPhone 4 for Twitter and movies/TV shows. If I can figure out how to get my podcast on it, I'll be all set.

Sony would be wise to adopt a somewhat open platform and make the Vita SDK accessible to snake development studios. This would cause a great number of developers to publish on PSN and the Vita.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
@ Cobey That might be why they made their own memory but it's not why the memory is marked up 3-4 times the market standard for flash memory. I can also guarantee you it will not protect the Vita from being cracked. The best engineers Sony can hire will never be as good as the best hackers. There has never in history been an uncrackable system or unbeatable DRM. They're always conquered, and I would give the Vita less than 12 months. Piracy is fought with value, not with "protection."
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Private Industry 10 years ago
Standard flash memory is more mass produced and the more you produce something the cheaper it is. Also made in Taiwan might have an impact on the costs with a lot factories there having had the issue with flooding.

Everything can be hacked but the harder the better. Yes DS was easy to hack and still a lot sold compared to psp, but the psp like vita isnt targeted at the casual segment. Your 12 year old little kid wont have a clue what R4 is, but your 18+ core gamer is a lot more tech savy and knows more about how to get pirated games.

Your game can be perfect but there are many people who are just not willing to pay for them in order to play them and tbey will pirate if they can or to be precise they will wait to buy a system untill games can be pirated for it. I dont tink quality and value will stop piracy, because people are cheap and they want to spend the lowest amount of money possible and zero is the lowest. The more annoying you make it on the other hand to pirate the more they will think its not worth it except probably the die hard pirates. Plus you can always add some things into the game like in Batman or ArmA that introduces bugs into ilegal copies. There will always be piracy but you can at least try ti make it hard for them to pirat and to have them jump trough a lot of hoops.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
Question: Why would Sony bother to use proprietary memory cards to combat piracy? They already have a system of firmware updates that do much the same on the PS3. The PS3 was cracked because of incompetent mathematicians/engineers, and I would hope that the decrypt key for the Vita is actually random this time. At which point, it's a fairly hard machine to crack (certainly, a longer time-frame than the 360 and DS).

Moreoever, the memory card won't hold out for long. Almost certainly there'll be a grey-market of Vita-to-SD-Card adaptors within months, at which point the only people who are inconvenienced by the proprietary Vita card are legitimate consumers. Oh, look, once again, legitimate consumers are screwed because of anti-piracy techniques.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 3rd March 2012 4:47pm

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
You can't "beat" piracy. You can reduce it with value and a better experience for legitimate consumers. If you look at Ubisoft on PC, they're a perfect example of this. Their PC sales since they increased their DRM levels are in the toilet, and pirates get a better experience on their game than the legitimate consumers do. It really has nothing to do with age demographics either. The DS appealed to a wider demographic than the PSP but it also maintained a higher attach rate; something which only comes from large core market appeal. The 360 was pirated much easier than the PS3, appealed to a wider demographic than the PS3, and still held a better attach rate than the PS3. The reason people were more willing to buy games on Xbox 360 is they saw Xbox Live as a proposition of value (something I don't really agree with, but the majority of the market considers it a selling point for the platform).

Steam has had similar success with reducing piracy for the very same reasons. People WANT to play games integrated into Steam, and because that experience is better than the pirated copies they're more likely to buy there. Add in the sales which make in-roads into people who would otherwise have NEVER bought the game because of the high prices and Steam has done more to reduce piracy and increase sales than decades worth of DRM.

Flip that back to the Vita, and it's the legitimate customers who are being hit with ridiculous memory card prices to save a pathetic 10% on digital game sales. You would have to buy 25 digital games to make up for the costs of that 32GB memory card, and since it can't even fit 25 digital Vita games, the value proposition behind the memory cards is incredibly low. Meanwhile, in 12 months when people have SD to Vita adapters ala R4, the pirates will be able to buy cheaper memory and load games on with ease. The Vita's memory cards will do huge damage to its online store's potential sales, and will not do a thing to limit piracy.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
@ Nicholas

I couldn't have put it any better myself. To be honest, I'm shocked people are still touting the argument that making it harder to pirate games will stop piracy. How many times does Gabe Newell (as an example) have to actually say that value and experience are what the customer wants? (He's even got the metrics to prove it).
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Private Industry 10 years ago
You see Steam, XBL and so on as adding value, but I see them as a different form of DRM one that is less direct than what Ubi did. You want to play online? You need to use the services and a legal copy, because with ilegal copies your account will be baned from the service. They dont add anything to the game experience that isnt there, but if you dont have the services they can remove things from the game experience depending on the game if it is just an offline singleplayer game or not. On console you have the choice of A) hack your system and play pirated games but dont connect to the internet or B) Dont hack it, buy games and be able to play with your friends.

The PS3 custom firmware could do some interrestig things including now remote play any PS3 game via vita, but the possibility of getting the account banned made it a clear no go to use it for me. And I think having so much connected Online and with your account including save games is a very good way to have a "hidden" DRM.

Its actually 20 games as the saving on digital games is 5 Euro (except for publishers like Square that have the game retail and digital for the same price). I got 9 games and 3 are retail while 6 are download, I decide on what I want to keep and what I might trade back in. So games I know I will like and play a long time I simply download. While games I'm not sure I get retail.

And I did already find an extra DRM on Vita that functions very similar to Steam and XBL, anything you download and want to copy over is attached to your account and works only on the downloaded account and I dont think this restriction was present on the PSP because as I recall I could download demos from the Japanese store and just copy them over to the PSP. Thats not a 100% secure way and sure will get hacked at some point but it probably takes a while.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 10 years ago
Well, differing opinions and all that... You see Steam as just a different form of DRM (it is). At the same time, it adds value that isn't there - a chat system that has all my social circle and then some. Achievements. Saved games in the Cloud. A (not great, but at least it's something) anti-cheat system with VAC. Built-in server browser and decent match-making. Steam Workshop. All these things, for me, turn it into something that makes me want to buy a game on Steam. And that's the thing - make something that the potential pirate will perceive as value, and they'll buy your form of DRM. Make something that they perceive as removing value (limited install/hardware-related DRM like Ubisoft's), and they won't. It is all perception - I don't rate Microsoft's achievement system on the PC in G4WL games. But Steam's? Got to get them all. :D

With regards to custom firmware, well, that's the thing. People use custom firmware to add value (the OtherOS option, for instance); a valid reason to "hack" your PS3. But Sony treats someone like that as a pirate - diminishing value to the legitimate user, and thus diminishing the desire to buy into their products. Treat me like a criminal and I'll act like one, since there's no reason not to (personal ethics aside).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 3rd March 2012 6:52pm

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Private Industry 10 years ago
Well I just casual play on PC very infrequently and I dont think much of achievements or trophies :) In the old days before Steam I never had problems to organize some rounds of CS :) The cloud saving is nice though.

I can understand why one would try to get custom firmwares shut down. Yes they can do good things bad also a lot of bad stuff and if you put yourself in the shoes of Sony that is business and has to make money I guess you would do the same.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd10 years ago
@ Werner Steam does add quite a bit to games that games that don't use it don't have. Auto-updating and patching, cloud saving, game trading and gifting, voice chat, text chat, group chat, pre-installing games before release, and now you can even search and install mods which are kept up to date as well. Steam removes the largest hassles of PC gaming. Now, ironically, it's consoles where you have to deal with the hassle of frequent patches, installs at launch, and horrible storage space management. Steam certainly is a big deal to many people (myself included). The only PC games I will even buy outside of Steam are Blizzard's, and there may come a day when I won't even buy theirs (They really need to get the Steam overlay working in Diablo 3 because it doesn't right now).

The point is, there are a lot of people like me who see things like that as added value, and see things like Vita memory cards as a significant loss of value.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 3rd March 2012 8:55pm

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Private Industry 10 years ago
Well auto updating and cloud saving is also available on consoles. :)

I dont see the memory cards as a loss of value and I would have loved a 4gb internal storage just for save games and I think that would have been a good solution next to memory cards for games, music, video and picture storage, but itsvnot there and I can understand that people arent too fond of the idea of buying memory cards at the current price range. But I can also understand why Sony is doing that as they have to protect their games and the games of their partners. Not too concerned that the Vita wont sell healthy numbers, if necessary they can still drop the price if they feel they need to sell more to keep devs on board, but if their system isnt secure its a much bigger problem than slightly lower than expected sales. If I would invest in tbe system by making games for it I would prefer a secure platform that didnt sell a huge amount but still a decent amount compared to one thats unsecure but sold a bit more.

We will never know if the PSP would have seen more support if it wouldnt have been so easy to pirate despite using the same firmware system as the PS3. We could speculate all day about that :) Same goes for the Vita, what we can do right now is sit back have a cup of coffee and see how it goes :)
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Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology10 years ago
Without getting into the weeds of the debate, I disagree with the way you construe the press' attitude towards the Vita. It seems to me that they've been at the front of the marching line pronouncing A. the death of dedicated handhelds, and B. the flaws in Sony's approach with the Vita (proprietary memory cards, etc). Your piece here seems to be setting up a giant straw man so for your supposedly against the grain argument to be a foil to.
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Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology10 years ago
Without getting into the weeds of the debate, I disagree with the way you construe the press' attitude towards the Vita. It seems to me that they've been at the front of the marching line pronouncing A. the death of dedicated handhelds, and B. the flaws in Sony's approach with the Vita (proprietary memory cards, etc). Your piece here seems to be setting up a giant straw man so for your supposedly against the grain argument to be a foil to.
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