The Same Boat
Nintendo released their fiscal 2011 financials today, and looking over the sells charts for the 3DS, it became readily apparent the effect last summer’s price drop has had in turning the misfortunes of that system around from the dismal start last spring. The effect is so pronounced even, that 3DS is gaining traction faster than the DS, or the Wii in all three major sells markets: North America, Europe and Japan.
Looking at that charts in fact, not only can you see exactly when the 3DS price change occurred, but how far 3DS adoption has climbed, both in reference to the DS and the Wii, has got me thinking that Sony may seriously want to reconsider the price point of the PlayStation Vita before it launches next month, or they may be looking at a repeat of the 3DS’ initial dismal performance, prior to last summer’s price drop.
Whether they want to admit it or not, both companies are in the same boat, attempting to compete with dedicated portables against a world ruled by iPhones, iPads and Android devices . . . this goes doubly so since you can now play full retail PC and console games on these multi-use devices thanks to all the emerging cloud services like OnLive, Gaikai, and PlayCast (and soon, even juggernauts like GameStop and Google). Doing what Nintendo and Sony are doing, is quickly becoming a really hard market to be in with single use devices that do little other than just play games. Every advantage they can give themselves to retain share in this market is essential. And as Nintendo is proving with last summers 3DS price drop, the market is very price sensitive – not just in the US, but globablly.
Despite being a more powerful system, and having a far better launch library at the ready when it ships next month, at $250, games that cost $50 each, and memory cards that are not only a requisite to play many games, but are also priced very high, Sony faces some problems that Nintendo faced a year ago when they launched the 3DS. And despite a general positive attitude by gamers the world over towards the Vita, reports coming out of Japan about the lack of adoption for the system, are just as deafening as they were a year ago when no one in Japan was buying the 3DS (a system which also had a positive pre-release buzz going for it globally). And while the effect may be less for the Vita due to it’s much stronger launch library, I still feel that the price sensitivity of the markets is going to force a price drop before the fall.
I think the lesson learned a year ago by Nintendo, and we can certainly see it in the chart , is that if you intend to have a dedicated portable game console in the marketplace, unless it is running Android, can connect to the Android Market, and run Android apps, anything over $200 is going to be a nonstarter. And this lesson not only applies to Nintendo, but I feel to anyone else looking to move a single-purpose game machine into the portable space.
I was right on the money a little over year ago, when in the 11th hour I canceled my 3DS pre-order, and made the decision that I would not purchase a 3DS until a price drop under $200 was forthcoming, as well as a second analog stick was added to it, and Nintendo got better games for the system (check my Joystic post history, if you do not believe me). And a year later, looking at the lack of Japanese sells numbers for the Vita, and finding out that Sony MAY have as much as $90 worth of wiggle room, once again I am preparing to cancel yet another pre-order. If the Vita does a repeat performance of the 3DS did following it’s launch, there will be a price drop under the $200 mark (possibly down to the price of the 3DS), by this fall. I think my decision a year ago to forego a 3DS purchase, paid off in spades – by the time I got one, I got both a $80 price drop, and my second analog stick – who say’s patience is no longer a virtue. And after looking at the 3DS sells chart, I’ve got a really good feeling that the same strategy is going to work out for me once again, when it comes to purchasing the PlayStation Vita. There simply really isn’t much room left in the market for a single-use, portable game system over the $200 price point. And like Nintendo, I got a feeling that Sony is about to learn that lesson the hard way. So hold unto your pennies, kiddies. That PlayStation Vita price drop is coming.
On further thought, I think there is one other option open to Sony to rescue the PlayStation Vita from suffering it’s current fate; the same fate the 3DS was suffering from following it’s launch last spring. Sony could opt to make the every PlayStation Vita boot Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich, and beyond) as an “Other OS” option, out of the box.
Admittedly, considering all the issues Sony incurred due to the failOverflow hack of the PlayStation 3 in late 2010, and the subsequent, and ongoing attacks against Sony’s online presence since they initially went on attack against George “Geohot” Hotz early last year, I can see where Sony would be extremely timid about including an open source OS as an alternative on each and every PlayStation Vita unit. However, given the design of the Vita’s architecture (a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore, married with a quad-core Power VR SGX543MP4+), and the basic nature of the portable marketplace in 2012, where single-use, portable devices over the $200 price point, are pretty much shunned universally by everyone the world over, Sony could easily overcome this limiting factor to market share gain, by including Android as a dual-boot option, effectively making the PlayStation Vita into an ultra-portable tablet PC. And after all, isn’t something similar what Sony Ericsson is already doing successfully with the Xperia Play smartphones? It’s not dual-boot, but because of the PlayStation Suite, does have some limited access directly into the PlayStation ecosystem. And gamers everywhere are loving it, as the Xperia Play serves both their smartphone, and portable gaming needs. A PlayStation Vita with Android as an Other OS boot option, would essentially take the success with the Xperia Play to the next level.
Of course like I said before, even though it makes a lot of sense, too much sense even, there is a less likely possibility of it ever coming to pass. But it is a legitimate option; one that Sony would not have to eat an expensive price drop on the retail price of the PlayStation Vita to insure the success of the system in an increasingly hostile marketplace to single-use, portable devices.