Vita is Doomed: When WILL Sony Learn?

Recently, GoNintendo posted an article mentioning that everyone was happy to call the Nintendo 3DS an initial “failure” and were thrilled to write stories and blog posts about “Nintendo is Doomed” – but the article asked why there aren’t any “Vita is Doomed” articles.

I am answering the call.

The truth is – I’ve been writing negative press for the PSVita since it was announced and the details were solidified; which proves GoNintendo’s staff nor readers follow me on social networks or are members of my discussion forum 🙂

Now before the pitchforks come out and the torches are lit – followed by the chantings of “Nintendo Fanboy”, let me clarify my position with regards to the gaming industry.

Those that know me are clear that I was 100% anti-Nintendo until as recently as the GBA SP.  Those that know me are also clear that I buy systems to play games on (not watch movies or consume media) – and when a system comes out, if a game or IP appears on it I want – I get the system.  Hate the system, love the games.  Something like that.  I bought an Xbox 360 to play Pac-Man CE for crying out loud and a PSP to play God of War on.

Currently I own three Xbox 360s, a PS3, a Wii, three 3DS systems, three classic DS/DSi, three PSPs, several portable platforms like GP2X and of course a myriad of classic systems including PS1, Gamecube, Dreamcast and even more that go back further.

Do I sound like an anti-Sony or Nintendo Fanboy?  I think my credentials are secure.  I consider myself an eclectic gamer; a brilliant game is a brilliant game – regardless of genre or system.  I’ve seen multi-million dollar Xbox 360 games that suck – and I’ve seen one-man-in-his-garage shareware games that rock.

Now that we have THAT out of the way, let’s talk about the PSVita and why it is doomed.

The simple answer isn’t that it is doomed; it arrived dead; and it did so because Sony learned nothing from the PSP’s outing in the handheld market.  To better illustrate this, let’s talk about what lessons Sony failed to learn.

Lesson 1: Handhelds Aren’t For Console Gaming

Sony’s push with the PSP (and Vita for that matter) has been “The console experience in the palm of your hand”.

The concept is flawed for several reasons.  Console games are specifically designed with a particular equipment, environment and time usage in mind.  They are big screen affairs with multiple-hour story arcs chopped up into 30+ minute segments – featuring surround sound, large detailed graphics, on-line play/connectivity – with the game and assets being pushed from a fast storage mediums like a hard drive.  They are power suckers too – even earning consoles “anti-Green” labels for their consumption (but who cares – it’s plugged into the wall).

Handhelds are designed for almost the exact opposite.  Short, burst gaming with on the go in mind.  Bite-sized entertainment chunks to be had before the movie starts or while waiting for the nurse to call you in.  You’re probably playing alone – or with a co-worker on your lunch break; a friend on the bus maybe.  Chances are, there isn’t an open wi-fi while you’re waiting to pick up your dry cleaning.  Of course, battery life is king.  It’s all about “gaming of opportunity”.

The PSP could have you waiting for four minutes plus before you could even start the game.  The UMD was slow and clunky – eating away at battery life like a flesh-eating virus.  The console experience had to be interrupted when your “twitch time” was over.  The push was for “console games” – and as such, you had to pay the console price – even though it often didn’t make sense in a “handheld” situation.

Sony learned nothing from the PSP’s failure as a portable gaming device.  Load times are still long.  Games are STILL designed to be “console-like” in game play and execution.  They put so much hardware into the unit in pursuit of that goal that the battery continues to take a hit on the Vita.

Lesson 2: Keep It Within the Reach of Mortals

When I say mortals, I mean those of us on a fixed budget.  Not everyone has early adopter “F You” money.  Nintendo got its first big wake up call in a long time; people won’t pay $250 for a portable gaming system.  It doesn’t matter if it is “worth it” or how many internet hooks you put into it; $250 is simply not the impulse purchase anymore – and certainly not one that parents are going to put out for their kids.

Unfortunately, as with the PSP – Sony refuses to drop the price on the Vita during the time frame it could actually help them the most.  The holidays are coming – and coming fast; by the day after Black Friday, big ticket purchases will be locked out of many people’s budgets – especially a $250 game system.  The final nail in the mostly-dead (there is a big difference between mostly-dead and all-dead) Vita will come if they fail to drop the price to at least $199 before the end of summer last-minute vacation monies are spent on churros at Disneyland.

Of course, the $250 price tag isn’t the real kick in the groin, is it?  It is the $100 memory card REQUIRED by most games to be present in the system … which takes us to Lesson 3 …

Lesson 3: You Don’t Win Friends With Proprietary Tech (or salad)

You would think after Sony had failed – repeatedly –  to push their proprietary storage technology (take your pick; UMD, Mini-Disc et al) onto the masses that they would have figured it out by now.  There is no reason you can put in front of consumers to make them ignore the tech elephant in the room.  No, not access speed.  No, not anti-piracy.  No, not security.  Consumer’s lives are littered with SD card technology; from phones to tablets to cameras to other portable devices – SD rules the roost.  It is cheap, accessible – and chances are – you have one gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

Sticking people with a $250 price tag wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back; forcing the consumers into ANOTHER type of memory storage at an INCREDIBLY premium price adding almost 50% price “markup” to the device is what caused the Vita to be DOA.

$340 + tax (if you buy local) would make this unit around $370 here in Phoenix, AZ.  For a lot of people that’s a car payment, rent or the better part of a mortgage payment.  Knowing you can get a 160GB PS3 system for $249 (even less used); which gets you a quality Blu ray player too) really puts this into perspective.

While we’re on the topic – removing backward compatibility to screw over the poor folks that fell for your PSP shenanigans doesn’t help your cause.  People that own and love PSP have rich collections of games and film on UMD that they would have liked to have benefited from the Vita’s hardware and screen upgrade.  It isn’t too late to fix this issue.  You’re already grilling them for $340 – might as well put out a $149 UMD reader to allow folks to move their games and movies to the $90 Vita memory card you made them buy.  Sony Fanboys obviously have deep pockets – someone will buy it.

Lesson 4: Cutting Edge Tech Rarely Wins

… and it never has in the handheld market.  Ever.  That’s right.  Don’t take my word for it – look it up.  History is filled with significantly better tech-based handhelds than the victor of the era (normally Nintendo).  Atari Lynx lost.  Sega Game Gear lost.  TG-16 Express lost. Sega Nomad lost. lost (hahahha … sorry, I just had to throw that in there for myself and the other three suckers on the planet that bought that crap).  Neo-Geo Pocket lost.  PSP lost.

Oh, and Vita lost.

Who has been the biggest winner in handheld history?  The ghosting, smearing, black and white, ugly-ass original Gameboy.  Battery life, price and software are King.

Lesson learned yet, Sony?  No?  Shocker.

“This … is why you failed ..”

Lesson 5: Yes, Your Poop DOES Stink

If Sony isn’t legendary for anything else, it is their ego.  Early victory predictions … public smearing of competitive products … you get away with that only if you’ve had the reigning console AND handheld champion of the last generation; neither of which Sony has had.  Notice that Nintendo (who actually won the last console gen with the Wii and won the last handheld gen with the DS) was quick to drop the price of the 3DS and admit publicly they made a mistake.  Sony continues their “but, it’s worth it” attitude and refuses to acknowledge (or fix) their image problem.

Forget the relative “failure” of the PSP.  Forget the “combined” PS2/PS3 sales numbers.  Forget the “shipped” vs “sold” curtains that Sony (the Great and Terrible) loves to hide behind.

Everyone here still remember the hacking, month-and-more outage and subsequent blunderings of the Playstation Network?  You know … the compromised credit cards … the inability to play online … What’s funny is?  I still haven’t heard Sony admit they screwed up – or even offer a genuine apology.  They tried to buy off our silence with a couple of “free game” tokens and some other worthless pleasantries.  But, in the end – Sony continues with the “superior than thou” attitude, despite the endless losses and lack of traction in the market.

The Sony Fanboys … aka the early adopters with “F’ You” money – they bought into it.  They agree with your smug, arrogant attitude (as undeserved as it is) – but they aren’t the ones you need buying your product, giving you market traction and enticing developer support.

You need to win back the people you’ve pooped on … and yes, despite endless press releases to the contrary; your poop stinks too.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it.  The requisite “Vita is Doomed” article; one that is probably true.  The writing has been on the wall for months – all you have to do is look.  Regular $50 “rebate gift cards” for Vita are common place.  Games are being heavily discounted (I saw Mortal Kombat on sale for $9.99).  Gamestop has silently shifted the Vita display away from the coveted front lines and hid it in the back behind the Pre-Owned Wii games (there is a slap in the face) – and replaced it with more 3DS shelf space and even DS space.  Vendors like Fry’s Electronics that allocated tons of space for Vita games now have “spread” the small handful of games out to 5 or 6 stacks per game to give the Vita software section a boost (at least in looks).  Best Buy has blatantly padded their shrinking Vita software section with PSP game boxes (look for yourself).

Sony has said emphatically, “No price drop.”  Don’t worry about Vita’s rep, Sony.  It’s already tarnished.  But – it might not be too late.

Help the brand (and yourselves) by following your competition (and reigning handheld champion for several generations); cut the price.  Drop to $199 IMMEDIATELY, followed with a cut to $169 by Black Friday.  You’re already hemorrhaging cash; don’t worry, the other divisions will continue to subsidize your losses.

Pack in a memory card (even a small one) in EVERY SINGLE SKU.  No bundle crap.  EVERY … SINGLE .. SKU.  Take your AAA game, allow IT to be installed out of the box without requiring a $90 memory card purchase.

You’re already in “rip Nintendo off” mode with Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart games in full development.  Might as well lift the Ambassador program from Nintendo too.   Just as an ambassador should, it banked a lot of good will with scorned 3DS early adopters – it could go far into fixing your reputation as well.

Create a UMD transfer service – run out of Gamestop’s retail chain.  Let a customer come in with their Vita and UMDs and allow an authorized Gamestop employee the freedom to transfer UMD games and movies to the customer’s Vita and NO CHARGE.  Don’t pull a Wal-Mart and try to charge for this service.  You have fences to mend – and fences cost money.  Don’t worry about piracy – your movies are being sold at the Dollar Store and your games (sans a few rare ones of course) are going for pennies on the dollar at large stores.  The Good Will(tm) that just this would bank would go very far in recovering some customers.

Finally, try a bite of Humble Pie.  Oh sure, it sounds yucky at first.  But it is very filling and can give you vitamins and minerals you need to grow healthy and strong (like a Flinstones kid).

Oh, and by all means – try to learn something this time around.  Knowledge is as good as currency in some markets.  Make it part of yours.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+