Speculation seeping out of this week’s NPD sales report suggests that Media Molecule’s universally acclaimed PlayStation Vita exclusive Tearaway sold around 14,000 copies in North America during its release window. That number is heartbreaking for a title that not only came close to a 10/10 on this site, but also secured an outstanding Metacritic rating of 87. It didn’t perform much better in the UK either, squeezing into the top forty during its launch weekend before disappearing without a trace. But how much is the outstanding value of PlayStation Plus to blame for the poor sales?

There’s no doubt that the microscopic install base of the paper-based platformer’s parent portable is the primary culprit for the title’s tepid performance. Granted, the majority of the handheld’s owners are passionate about the machine – and that’s actually contributed to an exceptional software attach rate – but with just a few million systems sold around the world, it’s not enough for the release to compete with mega sequels such as Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Speaking of which, the title’s launch date couldn’t have been worse, as it hit store shelves on the same day as the Xbox One and right in between the PlayStation 4’s North American and European roll-outs.

But there’s another problem that’s plaguing Vita software that doesn’t relate to low system sales and shoddy marketing: PlayStation Plus. Ever since the Instant Game Collection expanded to the platform last year, it’s cultivated an attitude of ‘wait and see’ among handheld owners. Rather than pick up big blockbusters like Soul Sacrifice and Killzone: Mercenary at release, numerous posters on gaming forums and websites such as this one regularly stress that they intend to stash their cash until the titles get given away as part of Sony’s subscription service. Guerrilla Cambridge’s solid first-person shooter has yet to join the complimentary collection, but sure enough, Keiji Inafune’s twisted Monster Hunter-esque demon slayer is due out imminently in Europe.

And that’s a problem that’s plaguing Tearaway, too. In addition to the sadness expressed for the title’s poor performance on sites such as NeoGAF, there are also dozens and dozens of posts pointing out that the title will be “free in six months”. It’s hard to argue either, as because the Vita’s library is so small, there will come a point where Sony will have to give away the game in order to fulfil its promise of two free titles per month. With that in mind, why would anyone ever spend money on software for the Japanese giant’s slimline system when you can almost guarantee that the best releases will be part of the Instant Game Collection at some point in the future? We daresay that a handful couldn’t wait to play Media Molecule’s latest, but the majority of you have probably got enough to keep you occupied until Iota and company march onto your handheld without any cost at all.

That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to PlayStation Plus, of course. In a roundabout way, it’s very much a system seller. People subscribing to the service in order to play multiplayer on the PS4 may eventually realise that they’re accruing an enormous library of content as part of their subscription, and that may make the console more attractive in the long-run. It also forces people to keep interacting with the PlayStation Store, so there’s a chance that they may throw a penny or two at other titles when they go to collect their freebies. But the Vita needs big games like Tearaway to sell if it’s to have any meaningful future, and the current situation isn’t really encouraging consumers to spend money on software.

It’s too late for Sony to suddenly stop giving away Vita games to PlayStation Plus subscribers as the precedent, promise, and expectations have already been set. It’s also difficult to lament the idea of complimentary content as a consumer, because the value of the manufacturer’s service is exceptional. But we can’t help but feel that for all of the goodwill that the Instant Game Collection’s garnered among Vita owners, the consistently high quality handouts are hurting the handheld as much as they are helping it. The biggest problem is that we can’t really see a solution.


Do you agree that PlayStation Plus could actually be softening software sales, or do you think that it’s increasing them? Has the Instant Game Collection encouraged you to sit some Vita releases out while you wait for a free version? Bust your bandwidth in the comments section below.

Do you think that PS Plus is hurting Vita software sales? (61 votes)

Yes, people are happy to wait for free versions of the big handheld games

49%

Hmm, I’m not really sure

23%

No, the service is selling consoles and bringing more people to the platform

28%

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