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Daily Reaction: Should Sony Focus on Core Gamers With the PS Vita?

August 15, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

vitahardcore

With today’s reveal of a Nintendogs clone for the Vita where the talking mutts will give you nightmares, Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss who the handheld’s target audience is, and who it should be.

Seb: Ok, so before I launch into this DR, it’s important to note that we’re core gamers, and you’re probably a core gamer, so we all obviously would prefer the Vita to be a core platform – however, this article is about which approach would be best for the Vita to ensure its survival.

We’ve talked about the Vita already, discussing how Sony could save the platform, and whether the PS4 would turn things around, and since their publication the situation has only gotten worse. The Vita’s NPD hardware sales results are a joke, and E3 only saw brief announcements of ports of old games, a minor F2P game, and barely any third party support.

Yes, some of you will be angrily scrolling down to copy and paste a list of ‘killer’ Vita games, but there are clearly not enough AAA releases, there are too many weeks – and sometimes months – where no games come out, too little advertising, and far too many people who have no faith in the system. That cannot be denied.

Sony knows this and so has proudly announced PlayStation Vita Pets. Agh. Look, I know Sony has always made casual games, from SingStar, to EyePet, to Wonderbook, with varied levels of success, and any game is at least something… but we have to be realistic. Devices are rarely the ‘Jack of all trades’, able to appeal to all audiences – the WiiU tried it, and look what happened – instead, there is a far greater chance of success if devices target a specific audience.

Sony’s general rule has been to mostly focus on the core for the first few years of a PlayStation’s life, and then spread out with more and more casual content as the price comes down. In 2009, Sony’s John Koller told VG247 about their PS3 software plan:

We’ve captured the hardcore. The install base we have now tells us that the hardcore’s purchased. We’re moving on now to continue to support them with a tremendous line-up of games, but also look at softer brands that maybe we had with PS2 franchises we’re bringing over to PS3, or new IP… Think of some of the latter-half PS2 franchises

The problem is, the Vita hasn’t captured the hardcore yet. Sony has a finite amount of resources to spend on developing Vita titles (a very finite amount it seems), and they’re spreading it thin across a wide array of games focused at different audiences. That works on consoles when you have 3rd party publishers supporting the core, but it doesn’t work when publishers ignore the platform. The Vita needs lots of core games from Sony if it’s ever to be embraced by that audience.

I also question the notion that casuals will ever pick up the Vita en masse. Despite having larger casual IPs, a far larger casual audience the gen before, and better brand power, Nintendo is struggling with the 3DS as more and more children are drawn to iPhones, Samsung products, iPads, iPad Minis and Kindle Fires. The kid-gamer market is more competitive than ever before.

Sony couldn’t make a JK Rowling-branded game to sell to casuals, how on Earth do they think they’ll be able to make the Vita sell to casuals?

Core to the Core

Dan: While it may seem that Seb and I agree more often than not, this is one occasion where we disagree – just not completely.

Sony’s decision to not solely choose to develop for the core market on the Vita is not an issue that they are simply creating a game that isn’t for us, but it is that there just aren’t enough games in general. The quote from John Koller is about how the PlayStation 3’s development cycle broke down, but the market saturation for both a console and a handheld like the Vita are completely different. This means that, as soon as any game gets released on the Vita it is going to represent a much bigger portion of the available selection of titles, as opposed to a console, that will have multiple titles releasing every week.

So going back to the question – should Sony only support the core audience? Yes and no, there simply aren’t enough titles to completely satiate any side of the market, so each side will have to sacrifice to appease the other. Now, looking at the price and demographic of potential Vita owners, you should see the issue with the Vita at its very center. A great deal of younger gamers enjoy mobile devices: the 3DS, iPhone/Android, etc…but the cost of those devices (and their games) fall below the Vita as well as potentially offering other utilities – like being a phone.

The core gamer demographic is really a mixed bag of teens and adults, but most titles that fall under that market do not work with the pick-up-and-play mentality of a mobile device. In a sense, this forces anyone looking to play their much wanted AAA title to do it at home, making it now compete with the already amazing line-up of console based games. Either that, or they have to find a way to play undisturbed for an extended period when on the go.

Now, with the opportune times for most people to play a game being on the way to or from school/work and at school or work, it is easy to see that generally anything with a gripping story is going to be cumbersome. If you are out playing with friends, it is much easier to pull out your device and handle some odd thing like picking your virtual tomatoes or petting your imaginary dog, than it is to put your headphones in so you can fully appreciate the voice work during the drawn out cutscene you will need to pay attention to to understand your game’s story.

Ultimately, I don’t think Sony needs to focus on the core gamer, but instead develop titles that a core gamer might also want to play, that fits the schedule of a casual gamer. Instead of always trying to give me a AAA console experience on my Vita, mold our beloved franchises into something more interesting.

The first thing that pops in my head would be mixing something like SimCity and Killzone, much like the iPhone has with their The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth. That way we could keep our favorite franchises but play them in short bursts.

It’s not that Sony shouldn’t focus only on the core gamer, but they should give the core gamer the experience they would want and be able to use while on the go. This, in a sense, would also appeal to the casual gamer more, as they could be exposed to something like the world of Killzone, without having the stress of getting shot in the head 100 times before they learn how to run.

Sony has a real opportunity with the Vita, but they need to stop thinking of it only like an extension of the home console, and instead like a completely new beast that has its own way of doing things.

What do you think Sony should do with the Vita? Is it too late to make the handheld relevant with any audience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, get casual by emailing us at DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net and unlock our core by following us at Seb and Dan.