We need to talk about the PSP Vita.
It isn’t exactly lighting up the sales charts. True, it isn’t technically out yet in the West, but if it is true that its Japanese numbers are still hovering around half a million units, then the 3DS almost matched Vita sales in its first week alone. Unless fortunes reverse, and the Vita ends up doing gangbusters over here, I think we can agree that Sony has a problem on its hands.
What frustrates me is why this is happening. For all appearances, the handheld is a marvel of hardware design, is relatively cheap, and has strong launch titles. So why is it that no one is going nuts over it? It seems to me that for all the Vita’s strengths, Sony messed up on the little things, and they’re adding up to a lot. For instance, the Vita’s a pretty good deal considering how powerful the hardware is, but folks are harping on the cost of the 3g data plan (I’m actually not sure why this is happening, considering there’s a wifi model, but whatever). They’re also complaining about pricey, proprietary memory cards that are essentially mandatory, even for boxed games. They’re complaining about the back touchpad, and the fact that no matter how pretty Uncharted is, it forces you to perform gimmicky control maneuvers to show off the system’s abilities.
To put it another way, Sony made a fantastic piece of kit, but forgot to make it easy and enjoyable to use. The Vita ecosystem is locked down and proprietary from every angle. The UMD Passport program is maddeningly expensive, and isn’t even coming out here in the West. And there’s nothing like the 3DS’ Find Mii/Streetpass Quest that tries to outdo iOS apps at their own game. The Vita is powerful, but unwilling to address the current state of the industry in any way, shape or form. I’m not saying Sony should have come out with a slab of glass and metal that ran 99 cent, glorified Flash games, but the details of the Passport system alone suggest that Sony still wants to treat their userbase with a sense of indifference bordering on hostility. I don’t think the Vita looks nearly as bad as its sales suggest, but I do believe the philosophy behind the system is clearly a problem. How many times does Sony have to be told that throwing the beefiest hardware at people is not the path to success? It can’t merely be Japanese stubbornness — even Nintendo is learning to adapt. I suppose that Sony just can’t help being cocky until they’re absolutely forced to hunker down and right the ship.
That might be a problem this time around — the massive success of the PSP meant everyone predicted that the future of the Japanese gaming market was in handhelds. Whereas the PSP was the side project next to the “surefire” PS3, the roles were reversed this time around. If Sony doesn’t get their act together with the Vita, I don’t know what it will mean.