Vita Could Be in for a Rough Spring in Japan

As a happy Vita owner, it saddens me that Sony needed to drop the price of the device before good sales became a regularity.  To me, $250 was fair, even if the memory cards are a bit on the high end.  (I don’t really do digital, but that stings people who do.)  Reality isn’t always what we want it to be, and the machine spent the first 14 months of its Japanese life selling poorly.

With a price cut and highly anticipated game launches at the end of February, followed by several key software launches, it’s no surprise that the Vita had a great March.  The rest of the Spring, however, might be the real test for Sony’s second handheld.  Time and again, charts prove that software is the best way to sell hardware.  Even before its price cut, the release of a single game could cause a big spike in Vita hardware sales; Persona 4 The Golden, Hatsune Miku, Gravity Daze (Rush), and Gundam Seed Battle Destiny were the best examples of this in Japan.  It was those two and three-week stretches with no game releases at all when things would dip down to embarrassingly low levels.  April and May present such situations.

Games are usually released on Thursdays in Japan, and nearly every system gets something new, but the Vita will be without a new software release on April 4th…or 11th…or 18th.  That means that it will have gone a straight month with no new games.  In fairness, April isn’t often a big sales month, and the other systems aren’t exactly getting a downpour of big titles, either; but the fact remains that on those shipment days, nearly every other system has something scheduled.  I can say “nearly” because the Wii-U is flopping around on the floor right now with the same problem Vita was having six weeks ago: not getting any games and being outsold by the PSP.

Summon Night 5 for PSP

When the Vita does finally get some new games on April 25th, it only gets four new titles (Labyrinth Cross Blood, Picture Girlfriend Kiss, and a couple of love adventures), compared to nine for PS3 and five for PSP.  It is getting more than the two that 3DS gets on that day, but one of 3DS’s new games is Starry Sky, part a long-running multimedia series that can’t be counted out.  The console market doesn’t always overlap with the portable market, but consider this for April 25th: on that day, PS3 is getting Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen, The Legend of Heroes Second Chapter HD, Steins;Gate, and a new Mugen Souls game, among others.  Holy crap.  With a variety like that, I can easily picture a scenario where a gamer who has a PS3 but not a Vita (which, mathematically, is several million people) chooses to spend his/her money on software for PS3 that day instead of new hardware.

After April 25th, you know when the next Vita game release is?  May 23rd, when it gets Valhalla Knights 3.  It’ll be up against Tamagochi and Shin Megami Tensei IV for the 3DS.  I can’t say whether or not Valhalla Knights 3 will be a heavy hitter, but the 3DS’s SMTIV and PSP’s Summon Night 5 (out May 16th) definitely will be.  On May 30th, it gets some study software (of which there is already a lot), and one singular game, a love adventure whose promo artwork is this:

And while that might sell a few systems, keep in mind that the PSP is getting three similar games on that day.

A welfare check is helpful in the short term, but it stops coming eventually, and that’s why most people need jobs in today’s world.  A console price drop can be the same way, presenting great sales in the short term but dropping off after the initial burst.  It needs to keep “going to work” — getting a steady flow of software — to have sustainable growth.

I love my Vita and can see its potential as serious force in the handheld gaming realm; I want this thing to succeed because if the user base grows, that means those of us who have one will get even more great handheld games.  But looking at the confirmed Japanese release schedule for April and May gives me a nervous feeling in my gut — one that feels all too familiar.    Hopefully my fears don’t become reality.