Roundtable: The PlayStation Vita’s Launch, Starting Lineup and Competition
Sony’s next generation handheld, the PlayStation Vita, launches on February 22nd of this year in North America and Europe. Sony has recently announced the launch titles, game pricing, and memory card pricing details for the handheld — all of which are extremely important in determining the success of a console’s launch. How will these details affect Vita? The PSLS staff formed a roundtable to offer our readers our answers to questions about that very subject.
Our participants are:
- Anthony Severino, PSLS Editor-In-Chief
- Sebastian Moss, PSLS Managing Editor
- Cameron Teague, PSLS PR Manager
- Heath Hindman, PSLS Senior Editor
- Nick Michetti, PSLS Daytime News Writer
1. The U.S. launch lineup for the Vita in North America is strong, including titles such as Uncharted, ModNation Racers, Gravity Rush, Escape Plan, and more. With such a front-loaded launch, how important is it for the Vita’s launch window and beyond to be filled with big games? How long do you think that the Vita can go without a significant release after launch?
ANTHONY: That’s a great question, and easily my biggest fear about the Vita. Sony has the launch in the bag when it comes to software. But not much else has been revealed for the Vita’s future. There’s Resistance: Burning Skies and Sound Shapes, both of which are favorites of mine. Sony needs plenty of software from third-party partners to ensure a strong outlook for the Vita far beyond launch. First party software cannot sustain the device alone.
SEBASTIAN: It’s amazing how many people still say that the PS3 has no games when it’s clearly not the case. The big problem is, once word gets out that a platform has no games, some people will always remember it as a barren system. To avoid the same thing happening with the Vita, Sony has to ensure a steady flow of content throughout the year. I’m particularly interested to see more from third parties.
There needs to be games out every month. After all, the Vita is a several hundred dollar investment — it’s only fair that people have something to play. As for big games, it should be the same as normal consoles, which have one or two big games during summer and a huge blowout of games in the holiday season.
CAMERON: I believe Sony is doing the right thing by having such a heavy release of games along with the console. Sony, however, cannot afford to rest there — they must continue to push the envelope and give their consumers plenty of options. There are a few really big titles at launch, highlighted of course by Uncharted, so Sony should be able to survive the first month or so without another blockbuster. Another one shouldn’t be too far off, though — maybe Resistance? Of course, all of this depends on how well the handheld does at the box office.
HEATH: If people weren’t stupid, it should be fine for like a month. Humans are fickle, though, and want new things “nownownow” — even though they haven’t explored the current stuff. So I’d say 2 weeks is about a good time until the next wave of Vita games starts to come in. Hopefully some good announcements come in the near future.
NICK: The Vita might be able to go as long as two months or so from launch without another major title releasing for the platform. Launch day will provide over 25 titles and the launch window is about a month out from the Vita’s initial launch date, so for the short term, the Vita won’t be hurting too much for games. The launch has so many titles that most gamers will take at least a little while to catch up on them.
However, the ultimate question of when Vita needs another significant release is actually dependent on the 3DS’ performance in the market as well as Vita’s sales. If the 3DS receives a number of hit titles during the Vita’s launch window, then the Vita will need hits of its own to have a fighting chance, especially with a minimum of an $80 difference between the two platforms. If the Vita’s sales aren’t holding up well, then releasing software to make the argument for gamers to purchase the console will be even more important than usual.
2. When the Vita launches, it will be going head-to-head with the Nintendo 3DS, which has renewed energy in the handheld market. Mario and Mario Kart are already part of the system’s lineup. The biggest third party title of the 3DS’ lifespan thus far, Resident Evil: Revelations, launches in North America in the same month as Vita. Despite what appears to be a robust slate of launch titles, is the Vita headed into an uphill console war against Nintendo?
ANTHONY: Well, because of almost a year head start and over 4 million 3DS units sold in the US (as of the time of me typing this) – plus a Monster Hunter release in Japan – it’d be silly to say that the Vita doesn’t face an uphill battle with Nintendo. No one should ever count Nintendo out of the handheld market. That said, I don’t think the 3DS poses the same threat to the Vita that the DS did with the PSP. The Vita is a FAR superior device, and I don’t just say that as a PlayStation guy. I’ve owned a 3DS since launch, but anyone can see that the Vita is the closest that any handheld has come to actually living that dream where console-quality games are possible on the go. It’s almost as if they’re not even competition — the Vita is in a league of its own.
SEBASTIAN: Sony are particularly unlucky that the second coming of the 3DS has happened just as they are about to launch a new handheld. To the more casual market, the Vita was never an alternative anyway, but core gamers who want their Mario, Zelda and Resident Evil as well as COD and Uncharted could be torn between the two devices. Never underestimate Nintendo — they’re brilliant at marketing, have some of the best developers in the world, and they’ve proven that they aren’t afraid to take the plunge with drastic price cuts. However, the PSP still sold 70 million units, despite having to fight off the DS. It’s clear there is a place for a higher powered handheld, with more console-like games.
CAMERON: Anytime you launch months after your main competition — especially competition that has already reduced its price — it’s going to be a struggle from the get-go. The key for the Vita will be not only its launch window lineup, but for the 2 or 3 months after that. People need to see that Sony is going to support the Vita. In order to see that, they need to have great game after great game shoved in their face. The 3DS is picking up some steam, but I personally don’t think it has the software library or features that the Vita can give a gamer. That’s what Sony needs to hammer home with its advertising.
HEATH: I think the “war with Nintendo” is overblown. Sony and Nintendo are both selling video games, but the audience doesn’t overlap as much as fanboys like to think. Real gamers are likely to get both (even though “gamer” has lost a lot of its meaning these days), because people who like games beyond a casual level will seek out and obtain the best games. Every system has great games on it, so that crowd will get both systems — and at least a few games for each, I’d predict. More casual folks, on the other hand, have their certain tastes and a specific “comfort zone” (which I don’t think will be swayed much). Some people want Mario and Zelda, so they’ll get the 3DS and that’s that. Some people want Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed so they’ll get a Vita and there’s not much Nintendo can do about it. The Vita will sell what it will sell, regardless of Nintendo’s market moves.
NICK: Yes, at least for the near future. Millions of 3DS units were sold at retail this holiday and the platform has two games that have sold one million copies each. Right now, the momentum of the handheld console war is on Nintendo’s side. Vita can catch up with 3DS, but the handheld will need aggressive support from both Sony and third parties, in addition to a possible price cut before the end of 2012 to narrow the price gap between the two handhelds to do so. Now, if the reception to Vita is stronger in other territories than it has been initially in Japan, then maybe less will need to be done to compete against Nintendo. The short-term outlook of the handheld console war really does depend on how Vita is received during the rest of its territory launches, though.