There is no solution in sight for the PS Vita’s biggest problem: Lack of consumer interst. The easy fix would seem to be new games, but as Sony admitted this week, it’s having a hard time getting those games made.
The PlayStation Vita is an unusual device in 2012. It can run video games close to graphically comparable to those on the PlayStation 3, and even lets you play some home console titles like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale on the go. Its games are released as downloadables on the same day they’re released to retail. Those games are still exceedingly expensive compared to those on mobile devices like the iPhone 5. Speaking of that phone, the Vita also has a number of non-gaming apps, but no essential functionality like an email app or the ability to make phone calls. It’s an expensive bundle of contradictions. It’s not surprising then that Sony has only managed to sell about 2.2 million Vitas since it released in Japan last December. It’s also not surprising that Sony hasn’t been able to lure in third-party publishing support.
“One thing that was surprising and disappointing to us was the number of third parties to [support Vita] after launch,” Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida told Gamasutra, “PS Vita is the best hardware to bring a very immersive game experience onto portable. As we expand our install base and articulate what works really well on the platform as compared to others, it will get easier for us to be able to support from third parties.”
The problem is that developers only have so much money to develop their titles and need to reach the largest audience possible, so they tend to develop for mobile platforms that can guarantee better reach into audiences. Why would Square-Enix develop a PS Vita title when it could spend less making a title that runs on PCs, iOS, and Android? “There are limited resources that third party publishers have, and they have to diversify into new areas constantly; that’s a challenge to get the support we want,” said Yoshida.
Sony is committed to spending a long time and a lot of money to make Vita a success though. SCEA’s John Koller said that his company is planning to support PS Vita for ten years, the same span it promised to support PlayStation 3. “We’re in year one, so we’ll be supporting for some time,” said Koller, “[Vita] does have its own 10-year life cycle. All of our platforms do. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We expect long-term success from all our platforms.”
Without the games, though, Sony can’t sell Vitas. Without Vitas in people’s hands, it can’t convince developers to make games for the system. The ecology for the device as it stands at the end of its first year won’t maintain it for another two years, let alone nine.