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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.

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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