Tiny cars, tiny price

At the start of this week Sony announced UK prices of PS Vita’s download-exclusive launch titles, dazzling fans with low costs of entry. MotorStorm RC will skid onto your memory card for just £4.79, while Top Darts, Hustle Kings and Super Stardust Delta cost little more at £6.49. Even at the top end of the scale, Escape Plan is just £9.99.

The overall reaction to the prices, it would be fair to say, has been overwhelmingly positive. As the announcement came out Twitter was filled with disbelief, astonishment and, prevalently, joy, with many declarations of intent to buy. As a result of this varied pricing structure, Sony has all but guaranteed that Vita’s PlayStation Store will receive a modest battering upon launch — provided that people put their money where their cake holes reside.

Doubled up

In many cases, you’re actually getting more for your coin than is immediately obvious. While information on the cross-platform play of MotorStorm RC was already out there, it turns out that it's not the only title that effectively provides two copies for the price of one. In addition to Evolution Studios’ racer, Hustle Kings and Top Darts each offer up an enticing extra: buy the Vita version and you’ll get the PlayStation 3 download for free, or vice versa. At least in the case of MotorStorm RC, data will synchronise across formats. WipEout 2048 owners, similarly, will be eligible for upcoming free downloadable content of WipEout HD Fury tracks if they’ve already purchased the PlayStation 3 title. Compare that with Nintendo’s current Virtual Console set up, where the 3DS and Wii stores are separate; Sony could have pulled off a master stroke.

Coming to a Vita near you, soon...

These flexible prices set Sony up well to compete with the numerous app stores and digital marketplaces found on the many other mobile devices. However, it must be asked whether this is entirely the right approach. PS Vita is not, despite this decision, moving in the same circles as smartphones; the battle with them is for mind share rather than market share. As a dedicated games console, Vita is already set apart from these devices, and 3DS’ eShop should be considered the real target. The first indications are that Sony will be giving Nintendo a run for its money, with emulated Game Boy titles costing half as much as the likes of Super Stardust Delta at £2.70.

For consumers the costs are undoubtedly exceptional value for money, but is there a chance that Sony is undervaluing its intellectual properties for the sake of creeping closer to iOS / Android price points? Could this result in the same damaging race-to-the-bottom culture that has plagued smartphones? Perhaps not, as Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida recently spoke about the need for publishers to think carefully about pricing, with Vita offering a “variety” of prices in tiers, rather than a completely open free-for-all.

Developing opinions

Are developers happy with how the structure is shaping up? When we interviewed Evolution Studios’ Paul Rustchynsky, director of MotorStorm RC, a few weeks ago the prices had not yet been revealed, but it was with a hint of pride that he teased that players would be “surprised” at the game’s cost.

Lucky number 13

John Mundy, designer of Vita PSN title Escape Plan at Fun Bits Interactive, shared his thoughts on Vita’s pricing with us. Escape Plan is launching at a more premium price point than its first-party contemporaries, though still only weighs in at £9.99. The black and white puzzle title, in which you must guide two characters through trap-laden rooms using the numerous control inputs of Vita, features over 80 puzzle levels, full trophy support, a score system based around time to encourage repeat play and will soon grant players access to weekly challenges.

A decent set of content, then. Is there any concern that it is being undervalued, even at the highest current price for first-party PSN-only downloads? “The price point for Escape Plan is absolutely appropriate,” Mundy refutes. “We don't claim [Escape Plan] to be a huge game. [Escape Plan is] a bite-sized game that hardcore players can devour quickly, but casual players could snack on slowly.” On potential competition with the smartphone market, Mundy notes that those digital stores are of “a slightly different landscape” and that Vita’s prices may not reach those levels. “The varied price model on Vita is a great idea and is a positive step forward. I think Vita’s pricing model will help PSN-only titles for sure.”

Costs effective?

Drake reflects on his download cost

While first-party titles look certain to provide value for money while seemingly striking a sweet spot for developers, we must cautiously look towards third-party publishers. Will they be joining Sony in exercising low-cost downloads to ensure increased sales, or will they instead pull in the opposite direction, stretching the prices higher?

It is also slightly disappointing to see digital versions of retail titles costing close to recommended retail price, given that they are removed from the traditional distribution model when downloaded via the PlayStation Store. On the plus side, they’ll make the PSN-only title prices look even more tantalising.

How do you feel about the price points of download-only titles at PS Vita’s launch? Are they just right, or even as a customer do you think they might be slightly low? Or are you of a completely opposite opinion — despite being in a separate market sector, does Sony still have a way to go in a world where low cost apps are prominent on other mobile devices? Let us know your thoughts.