. . . Without a Paddle
My immediate thoughts on the announcement that Sony is refusing to bring a price drop to the PlayStation Vita during calender year 2012. I think Sony’s problem is, and I think many Sony fans’ problem is, they are all making the mistake of thinking that the Vita is competing against the 3DS. And maybe, just maybe for the 10% to 15% of gamers who represent core gamers, this is true. But for the majority of gamers on the planet, the 3DS is not the main competitor keeping them from purchasing a Vita. The main competitor is iPhone, and Android, and possibly even soon the Win8, WinRT, and WP8 family of devices (especially if rumors are true that the Surface is going to retail for $199). Twice before I have written about this at length, in both cases before the Vita had even launched. The most recent being, The Same Boat, which I posted seven months ago. And in both cases I have been so spot on the money, that it is eerily insane that I can see something so obvious, but the people at Sony who get paid millions to steer the company in the right direction, cannot.
For crying out loud, you cannot even go a week around the net without reading a news article about how even major developers are jumping ship from traditional game development, to focus on the greener pastures that make up the mobile gaming space. There are signs everywhere of a huge shift that is currently happening to the games industry – and the portable games business is being hit with this shift hard. And soon enough, even the console business will be hit with the same shift, and must adapt, or die. And so long as SCE continues to fail acknowledge this shift, the PS Vita is always going to be in danger of simply dropping off the face of the Earth.
It’s been six months since the system launched (eight months in Japan), and the Vita has slowed (not picked up the pace) to under 200k units per month global sells. PSVita adoption is slowing down, not speeding up as it should be by this point. In today’s marketplace, I honestly do not think any software bundles are going to change the slowing pace of adoption by consumers of the system. Level it out for the Holiday season? Yes, but not reverse the dismal trend the way Nintendo did a 180 last year with the 3DS. But more on that later.
Sony projects to hit a total combined sells of 12 million PSVs and PSPs by the end of the 2013 fiascal year. But several problems arise when even looking at those numbers. The most obvious being that Sony had to combined the PSP numbers with the Vita numbers to actually come to a number that looked good on paper. The second, if anyone has been paying close attention to Sony financials over the past couple of years, Sony has a very bad habit of over predicting their projections by significant margins, and then having to come back later, and readjust those forecasts, downward. The chances of them actually hitting that 12 million number, is not very likely to happen. By the end of the FY, the real numbers are likely to be more along the lines of 8 million to 10 million – and that number is still the combined number of PSPs and PSVs; not Vita units by themselves. Vita numbers by themselves are going to be much lower. By way of comparison to put that into a perspective that core gamers like ourselves can understand. By the end of it’s first fiscal year on the market, Nintendo posted over 17 million 3DS unit sells. So Sony is literally projecting that by the end of Vita’s first FY, they will have shifted a COMBINED number of PSP and PSVs that are still 1/3 less than 3DS units sells during it’s first FY. And that’s assuming that Sony can actually hit their projections (for once), and do not fall short of them like they have on almost every projection they have made over the last couple of years. Even in a best cast scenario people, the situation for the Vita is not good. Matter of fact, if you compare the numbers fiscal quarter by fiscal quarter, the situation with the Vita is far worse than the situation with the PSP when it came out in 2004/2005. Which is probably why Sony has taken to hiding actual Vita sells numbers, in with PSP sells numbers. As even with the PSP currently in decline, it is doing as good, or better than the Vita.
But back on the subject of software bundles for the Vita that could truly give it the added value that Sony needs to pull the system out of it’s dire situation, without lowering the price on the system. There aren’t any games they can bundle with the Vita to change it’s fortunes. I mean, sure they can bundle, and at first it will seem like it is working, as more core gamers buy into Vita for the bundles. But what do you do when the core market reaches saturation, and you are still left with the 85% to 90% of the market that are not core gamers?
There is currently only one bit of software on the planet right now they could bundle with a Vita to turn things around, and that would be the latest version of Android as an Other OS option to the Vita – effectively making the Vita a 5″, Android gaming tablet. People would come for the 5″ Android tablet, and stay for the awesome Playstation Vita games. But after the fiasco with Other OS on the PS3, Sony quite frankly is too scared to attempt it again on any other bit of hardware they manufacture. And that’s a shame. There seems to be this problem that has been indicative of the old school gaming industry; this entire concept that if it did not work out well once, then it will always fail to work out (it’s pretty much the same attitude that killed off classic SEGA). Compare that to a company like Microsoft. Yeah, I know many Sony fans love to hate Microsoft. But like my parents used to tell me, just because you hate, or dislike someone, does not mean you cannot learn from them.
The original Xbox was a dismal failure at market; a lot of things Microsoft does, are dismal failures. But where Microsoft is king at, and why they are a large enough corporation, that they could buy Sony if they wanted to, is they have persistence. And as a result have become the kings at version 2.0. As I pointed out, so much of what Microsoft does ends in failure. But unlike Sony (and most classic video game companies) who simply give up on an idea just because it did not work out the first time, Microsoft combs over every inch of why the first time failed. They learn from that, and then they come back with a 2.0 version, which winds up dominating whatever industry they are in. So what the original Xbox was a dismal failure. The Xbox 360 which goes on to steal 45% market share, is instrumental in changing almost every aspect of modern console gaming (one could go so far as to say, is solely responsible for all the trappings of modern console gaming). And this is a lesson that Sony can learn from, especially in the case of Other OS. So what Other OS did not work out on the PlayStation 3. That does not mean that it was a bad idea. It just means that the execution was incorrectly handled. So you comb over every aspect which lead to the failure of Other OS on the PS3, apply what you learned, and bring Other OS in the form of Android, to every future Playstation device. And right now, because like I stated above, Sony is not competing against 3DS, but instead are competing against iOS and Android, the Other OS option is the ‘killer app’ that would put Vita sells over the top – all without having to lower the price of the system.
The main difference between the success that is the 3DS, and failure that is the current situation with the Vita, is that Nintendo after months of having the 3DS on the market, realized their mistake. They realized that Sony and the Vita was not their main competitor; that their real competitor was iOS and Android, and soon Win8, WinRT, and WP8. And so Nintendo did the only thing they could do in the face of that glaring reality – they bit the bullet to and they changed. If Sony cannot do likewise, then the PS Vita is already over.