Yesterday marked the release of the Play Station Vita and the question on the minds of many is how the Vita will fair against the Nintendo 3DS. It’s easy to look at the Japanese market and make predictions on how the Vita will do based on its reception in Japan, but the truth is that the Japanese market is vastly different to the American market when it comes to what gamers look for in their handhelds. In Japan, if it has Monster Hunter, it will sell. That might be a slight oversimplification of the market for games in Japan but it is a truth nonetheless. When the 3DS got a Monster Hunter game and the Vita didn’t the match was set. That doesn’t mean that the Vita won’t be able to turn it around in Japan, but Sony has to do something to change the perception of the system.
In America, this will not be a factor at all. Monster Hunter is such a cult favorite game that only a small minority of American players know what the game is let alone actually care about it (I include myself in this group, in fact I wish that Nintendo would port Monster Hunter). Games like Uncharted are going to be a must have for the Vita. In order for the Vita to be successful, the Vita needs to be an extension of the hardcore gamer’s console. If the next Call of Duty had a comparable release on the Vita that isn’t just an afterthought (and with the dual analog stick, there is no reason why this couldn’t be the case) the Vita will do gang busters. The Vita is going to need killer apps that really make gamers say “holy crap it has THAT game? That’s freaking nuts” in order to compete with Nintendo. If the hardcore market is going to be the basis for the Vita’s success (and by all indications that does indeed seem to be the case) the Vita will need to create an experience that gamers are going to grow attached to.
I’m a 3DS owner myself and having had my 3DS since September, I can admit that I love my 3DS, and yet I find myself very interested in the Vita for a number of reasons. After having a few hands on sessions with the Vita thanks to Best Buy and Game Stop it’s easy to be impressed by the power inside the Vita. The games look amazing to say the lease. After trying my hand at Fifa, I was amazed at just how great the screen looks. The graphics are incredible for a handheld device, comparable to any HD console out on the market. In that sense the Vita is the stronger system. The Vita could easily replicate any 3DS game with much higher graphics detail. Sony has clear view about what the Vita does best, take the games you love everywhere you go. In this sense their “Never Stop Playing” marketing campaign is perfectly fitting for the device; however, I wonder if that won’t end up being it’s undoing. Sony is clearly marketing their handheld to the hardcore gamer. Consider this, it wasn’t until about two weeks before the handheld’s release that ads were even shown on TV. I was almost sure that Sony would have ads running during the Super Bowl, and yet the game came and went without so much as a mention of the Vita (although this would definitely not have been the case if they had Madden as a launch title for the system). Such an ad would have no doubt gotten the Vita some much needed attention from the non-hardcore gamer. This seems to imply that Sony expects its target audience to already know about the Vita, and true, for the gamer who checks IGN or any number of gaming websites regularly, the launch of the Vita did not come out of left field for anyone. But Sony has almost completely neglected to go after the causal consumer.
However, if the hardcore market fails to attach itself to the Vita, if Sony doesn’t get those killer apps (3rd party games that would make even a 360 owner go out and get one) there is little hope for the Vita. The causal market is already flooded with smart phones with $1 apps that keep people’s attention just fine and the casual audience will not be willing to fork over the $250 plus in order to get a Vita when they have their smart phones. Also, the memory situation on the Vita is absolutely ridiculous. And unless the causal consumer really has no idea about how much they’re getting ripped off with the price of those cards, it is unlikely that they will be willing to fork over the extra cash to a) buy the system b) buy a memory card and c) get games all of which pushes the price of the Vita well beyond $300. The Nintendo name along brings with it the causal consumer, everyone has had some experience with a Nintendo product and most people have quite the attachment to the company and its characters, and yet Nintendo even realized that the causal market would not be able to sustain them indefinitely, thus seeing games like Metal Gear and Resident Evil on the 3DS make the system even more compelling, as they show Nintendo’s desire to appeal to all audiences.
I want the Vita to do well. Competition is a great thing for the consumer and the Vita itself is a pretty damn compelling handheld, and really only time will be able to tell us how the Vita will do here in the States. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see how both Sony and Nintendo incorporate their respective handhelds on their next consoles, which by all indications seem to be right around the corner.
But what do you think? Vita owners, what are your first impressions with the handheld? Is anyone planning on selling their 3DS for the Vita? Or own both? I want to hear from you.