The last time Sony launched a console, it didn’t quite go as swimmingly as desired. Now more than ever, with overall company losses of €2.2bn predicted for the latest financial year and a recent downgrading of its credit rating from financial agency Standards & Poor to BBB+, the Tokyo-based company needs to pull together, meaning the pressure is on PS Vita to strengthen its video game subsidiary. By looking at its own last console launch, PlayStation 3, and rival handheld Nintendo 3DS’s starting point, has Sony learnt some life lessons for the launch of Vita?
Who can forget that infamous PlayStation 3 launch price of USD $599 (£425 GBP)? Vainly hoping that consumers would work more hours in order to afford it, Sony aimed high and received plenty of scorn for the arrogant price tag. Though perhaps not as badly, Nintendo also marked the cost of entry to 3DS above expectations after the success of DS, going for USD $250 / £229.99. After suffering slowing sales, Nintendo cut the price by approximately a third.
PS Vita doesn't reach the heights of PlayStation 3’s price, thankfully, but it does match or exceed that of Nintendo's original 3DS offer depending on whether you plump for the Wi-Fi model ($249 / £229.99) or the 3G edition ($299 / £279.99). For the raw performance it’s quite an impressive price, but if a new Nintendo handheld had difficulty at that level, how will Vita do?
On top of that there’s also the added need to buy a separate proprietary memory card, the cost of which goes a way towards subsidising the hardware; a problem not shared by 3DS, which included a free SD card in the box. Early reports from America are good, but the portable is currently experiencing trouble in Japan — will a significant price cut come sooner than expected?
PlayStation 3 has been available in multiple configurations from day one. The first 60GB model featured built-in Wi-Fi while the 20GB did not, and differing hard drive sizes have been apparent throughout its life cycle. Just as with PS3, PS Vita has split SKUs at launch: Wi-Fi only and 3G options. Already 3G-exclusive applications like GPS-enabled graffiti app Tag have been announced, and social functionality such as Near is likely to work better with a consistent 3G Internet connection.
By only releasing one model of 3DS, Nintendo has given itself room to focus all energy on the one product; Sony, on the other hand, will now have to work to ensure that neither SKU is left behind and that each receives a good amount of support. Time will tell how this affects Vita.
A repeat of PlayStation 3’s delayed release in certain territories has been avoided with Vita. Whereas the home console arrived on Japanese shores on 11th November 2006, plus North America not long after on 17th November, Europeans shockingly had to wait until 27th March the following year due to hardware shortages.
Vita instead more closely emulates the success of Nintendo 3DS in this regard. 3DS released first in Japan on 26th February 2011 before rolling out to the other major territories a month later between 25th - 31st March. While it's been two months since the Japanese Vita launch (17th December 17th 2011), Sony managed to get the system out in other territories near simultaneously: 22nd February 2012 for Europe and North America, 23rd February 2012 for Australia, a big improvement over its last all-new console launch.
Nintendo 3DS launched without an online store, as Nintendo added the eShop at a later date. Sony made no such mistake, with the PS Store available and brimming with content on Vita right out of the gate. This is partially thanks to the shared store across each Sony console, though there are plenty of Vita-exclusive goodies immediately, from demos to full retail games and applications.
Since the eShop arrived 3DS has steadily improved on this front, but right now Vita has it licked, including on pricing. By looking at the growth of apps on smartphones and Nintendo’s digital prices, Sony has reached an appealing compromise between the two markets on its download-only titles.
Each system moves in its own interesting direction when it comes to social functions, though. 3DS has StreetPass and SpotPass, exchanging information with passers by and downloading new data while in sleep mode; Vita’s Near shares data about games played, and optionally gamer tags, with other Vita owners within a ten mile radius. Each has its own potential for community building. More traditional social networking in Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare make themselves known on Vita, too.
Line It Up
Most importantly, Sony has clearly educated itself when it comes to putting together a stellar catalogue. PlayStation 3 lurched into retail with a rag-tag launch featuring a weak first party line-up augmented by a host of ports from third parties, leaving Resistance: Fall of Man to hold things together. 3DS fared far better and delivered a variety of titles to cater for all, from nintendogs + cats and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, but then lagged for a few months as Nintendo and other publishers found their feet.
We can’t tell exactly how well PS Vita is going to do on the software front just yet, but with a promise of a consistent stream of first party titles and a day one line-up that surely must constitute one of the strongest launches in recent years it’s hard not to be cautiously optimistic. Spread across retail and download, Vita already has a robust range of titles including WipEout 2048, Escape Plan, MotorStorm RC, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack to name a few. With titles such as Gravity Rush on the horizon, things are looking very rosy.
Do you think that Sony has put on a good show and learned some crucial lessons for the launch of its latest system, or do you feel that it's still made critical mistakes with Vita’s launch? Let us know in the comments below.