Looking For Hits: The Vita’s Early Mistakes

Looking For Hits is a weekly discussion between PlayStation LifeStyle’s Managing Editor Sebastian Moss and Game Revolution’s News Editor Daniel Bischoff that talks about the biggest news stories of the week.

Today, LFH takes a look at the ways Sony stumbled and missed a step in the Vita’s early days, delving into their flawed marketing and game announcements, lack of big IPs, annoying updates and whether you should buy a Vita.

What do you think of Sony’s marketing of the Vita? Is enough money being spent, and is it being spent in the right way?

Daniel Bischoff: I don’t think Sony’s marketing for the Vita in the US has been in any way successful. I haven’t seen the TV ads since the first week of launch. Is the hardware on store shelves? Hell yes, there are more than enough Vitas to go around.

Arguably the biggest selling point hasn’t been hammered home at all. The Vita’s strong software lineup made it a must-buy at launch in my opinion. Why isn’t Drake jumping across Lumines blocks while a WipEout racer flies by? Get that into a commercial and you’ll get people interested again.

Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t seen any of those horrible commercials. Might be too many people with bad intentions out there.

Sebastian Moss: I love the idea of that Lumine-jumping Drake, and it’s already better than the Vita ads I’m seeing here in the UK. There seems to be an aversion to simply saying “This is a Vita, it can do this, it can play this, here’s some in-game trailers”. Ads don’t even mention that it has dual analog sticks. It just looks like they’re advertising a PSP.

And then there’s the question over whether Sony are spending enough money on the Vita. Sony (poorly) invested $50 million into marketing – the most they ever have – and that makes it sound like a lot, but really, it isn’t. The average AAA game has marketing costs of $20 million-$100 million, and they’re just games, this is an entire platform. Kinect had a marketing budget of $500 million, and it’s just a peripheral that could sell 40 million or so. Sony said they hope to rival the PSP and sell 70 million.

Why do you think there were virtually no Vita announcements at GDC or PAX – not even trailers of known games like LBP and Resistance?

SM: This truly baffles me. I do not understand why Sony seems to have dropped the ball with hyping the Vita since it released. I expected a “what’s coming” montage trailer on the day the Vita came out to get people’s blood pumping – it didn’t happen. I expected a couple of Vita games at GDC, or at the very least trailers of the big known name games that are right around the corner – it didn’t happen. I expected Sony to be doing everything in their power to ensure that people were as excited as possible about their new handheld – it didn’t happen.

I don’t expect a slew of games to be announced or shown if they aren’t ready, but Resistance is out next month, it should have been virtually finished by GDC.

E3 will certainly have a bunch of Vita games, but the truth is that winning the “Best E3 Show” award isn’t as important as keeping people excited about their product from day one. I struggle to find enough Vita news each week, which is a sad state of affairs this early on.

DB: How does this baffle you? It seems obvious to me that Vita announcements are being held back for E3. Let’s say Sony doesn’t bring the next PlayStation with them to E3 2012… what are they going to do then?

Sony needs the Vita to blow every other gadget out of the water during its first holiday season. The best way to do that is to strike hard and fast during E3, and have a major release every month though the holiday season. Besides, no one cares about GDC or PAX East. E3 is the money show.

SM: The Wii U will be the big talking point, it will be the big game gadget of the holiday season, along with the iPhone 5. Sony can’t win that war, so they shouldn’t try.


There have been three firmware updates this month, but hardly any feedback from Sony about what they do. Should Sony be more transparent about what’s in the update, even if it is to just say “it stops piracy”?

SM: Short answer – yes. Piracy (and I mean piracy, not homebrew) is bad, most people can agree on that – so if I have to download a 100mb update every week or so to stop the handheld following the PSP then it’s worth it. But if Sony wants us to put in a but more effort to play PlayStation, they should put in a little more effort into keeping us informed. Releasing an update and not even mentioning it on the PS Blog? No. Some people have slow internet, or download caps, so they need to be able to set some time aside. There’s also a lot of people who are still nervous about updates as they might disable features or change terms and conditions. They have to clearly tell people what they are installing.

I’d also like to see greater communication about future updates like the promised, and greatly needed flash, or PS1 support, or remote play that actually does what they advertised and plays Killzone 3.

DB: Transparency is a must, especially when I’m forced to buy a bigger memory card because all my spare space is being used by “piracy stopping” firmware blocks. The best DRM is the kind that actually adds features to the device. I could give a shit about Sony’s problems with piracy on the PSP. They have my money for this device, make me want to use it.

I mean it, don’t just issue a firmware update to get ahead of the pirates. That’s only going to piss off the honest consumer who forked over the cash to play games on the Vita legitimately. I’ve got downloaded games, I’ve got boxed games, I have PSN games, I have two memory cards, I have the cradle so I can watch movies on my Vita at my desk. You’ve got my money, quick messing around and start adding features.

With the possible exception of Gran Turismo, Sony lacks any killer IPs that are guaranteed to be huge sellers like Halo or Mario. Does this cause a problem for Sony when they try to launch a new product?

DB: Certainly Sony’s first-party software is strong with critics and fans of the PlayStation platform, but hardware only ever truly transcends the niche market when it gets strong support from third-party publishers and developers. I would argue that titles varying from Uncharted to Hot Shots, with Resistance coming up, provide good back up for third-parties, but Summer is on the way.

There’s almost nothing to look forward to on any platform, much less the PlayStation Vita. Hopefully for Sony, kids will hit the streets and mow some lawns to pick up a PlayStation Vita for themselves. Every piece of new hardware has a lull after the first month on the market. Obviously the Vita is no stranger to that.

SM: The problem is it didn’t have a lull after the first month – it started off as a lull. The PSP sold 500,000 units in the US in 2 days, the Vita has taken well over a month to do that. But at the same time, it shows how the PS brand itself used to sell a ton of handhelds: “PlayStation” was the killer IP. That’s not the case now, the PS Vita has a far tougher battle – iPhones, Androids, iPads, people who have committed to the Xbox ecosystem. That’s why Sony really could have done with a surefire hit IP that was always guaranteed to give them an early lead of a few million. If they’d had a Halo-type game at launch, people wouldn’t be crying about how it is doomed – just like how people stopped proclaiming the 3DS would fail after they released their big franchises.

It will be a long, hard battle for Sony to gain the market share that really makes the average third party game get a Vita version. But, luckily, Sony seems to have taken a smart decision with some third party games. Realizing their own weaknesses, they brought on Acti to do Call of Duty and Ubi to do Assassin’s Creed (and probably Rockstar to do GTA). Those are killer IPs, and if they are fully fledged unique titles that are properly marketed, they could completely change things around for the Vita.

Would you recommend that someone buys a Vita now, or waits until more games are out, and the level of support the handheld will receive long term is clear?

DB: It really depends on what kind of gamer you are. Part of the problem with that question is that if people don’t buy PlayStation Vitas now, the software lineup will continue to lag, updates will trickle out slowly as they are now, and the hardware won’t push forward like it needs to.

If you’re going to get a PlayStation Vita, you might as well hop in now and play all the games throughout the hardware’s life. It’s likely not to get a redesign any time soon (at least for years) and it’s a pretty fantastic device if you ride a bus or train or if you travel a lot.

The only reason to NOT get a PlayStation Vita is that you’re hoping someone else will get it for you!

SM: I’ve got a Vita and I love it, I really do, but I haven’t used it that much in the last month. Once you’ve WipEd everyone out, completed Uncharted, planned all your escapes and finished Unit 13, there’s not much you can do. Multiplayer is still mostly rubbish on the Vita as there’s only a few titles that use it – but these aren’t complaints about the Vita, these are complaints about a gaming device in its early days, ones which are always applicable. If you can put up with not having a massive backlog (unless you don’t mind rebuying PSP games), then it’s definitely worth a shot. If you are a multiplayer gamer, or a singleplayer gamer who expects a ton of games to play straight away, then wait awhile. Also, E3’s right around the corner and there might be some games that turn it into a must buy. Amazon also always do some E3-themed discounts, so keep an eye out for that.

Next week, we’ll be on Game Revolution to discuss the biggest multiplatform news, and back here the week after.