Google+

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why the Sony Vita Is Struggling

After a strong start, the Playstation Vita has struggled as of late. It's tempting to just point and laugh at Sony, but that's not really fair, since the Vita is a great piece of hardware with lots of cool features. Something is going wrong, though, and Sony needs to fix it.

I really don't see that happening.

Handheld games live and die on three things: affordability, battery life and the game library. If a handheld has all three, it will thrive. If it has two out of three, it will succeed. If it has one or none, it's dead.

Let's run a comparison between past handhelds and get a feel for if this holds true. Side note: When comparing battery life, we're comparing between systems of the same generation. 'X' means that the system has that function, while 'O' means that it does not.

System Affordability Battery Life Library
Atari Lynx
O
O
O
Game Boy
X
X
O
Game Gear 
X
O
O
TurboExpress 
O
O
O
Game Boy Color  
X
X
O
Game Boy Advance   
X
X
X
N-Gage  
O
O
O
Sony PSP  
O
O
X
DS 
X
X
X

So far, the axiom has held true: Whomever has the most affordable handheld with the best battery life and library wins. Let's stack this up with the 3DS. When the 3DS launched, here's how things looked:

SystemAffordabilityBattery LifeLibrary
3DS
O
O
O

Now, of course, things have changed. The affordability of the system has increased greatly, and the library has increased as well. The 3DS still loses the battery life war to iOS and Android, but among dedicated gaming handhelds it wins.

SystemAffordabilityBattery LifeLibrary
3DS
X
X
X

The 3DS failed at launch. Now it's succeeding, even thriving.

Compare this to the Vita. It's more expensive than the 3DS. It has worse battery life, and the library is lackluster. The refrain among Vita gamers is "just wait!"

"Just wait! There are a ton of great games on the way! The Vita is going to be so good!" Be that as it may, as things stand right now there's a paucity of games for it. I'm not just talking about regular games, either. I'm talking about games that get people talking.

Sony is still searching for that elusive system-selling mascot. Uncharted comes close, but it's story-driven. There are only so many side stories and backstories you can tell about Nathan Drake before you run out of space in one man's life. Unless you start making games in the Uncharted universe delving into, say, Sully's past, you really can't load up on Uncharted.

(By the way, I would totally play a game based on Sully's past. Put it in the 60's with Cold War intrigue? Yes. I would play it.)

So right now, The Vita looks like this:

SystemAffordabilityBattery LifeLibrary
Vita
O
O
O

It loses the affordability battle. It loses the battery life battle, and it loses the library battle. You tell me: How is Sony going to pull out of this?

Nintendo pulled out of its 3DS nosedive by drastically lowering the price and releasing some of the games that it promised at launch. Sony could do the same if it chose, but now they're in the unenviable position of losing money on its console division and its handheld division. On the horizon, there are a few games ready to launch for the Vita, but none that are ready to capture the hearts of millions. Games like Gravity Rush may look good, but the vast majority of people have never heard of them and won't have any idea what they are.

I'm not banging on Sony, mind you. My stance on them has softened considerably in the last few years. It's always good to have another handheld around to push Nintendo a bit, as well. Still, I'm hard-pressed to find a way that Sony can fix up the Vita enough to make it viable in the long-term.