A comment from Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House, which had been misconstrued to suggest Japanese exclusivity for the company’s new console, PS Vita TV, was today addressed by SCE Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida. Curtailing the overblown and misheard quote, Yoshida tweeted out: “For people wondering about PS Vita TV outside Japan, we are just saying now ‘PS Vita TV releasing first in Japan’.” Tacked onto the clarification were the enticing words, “Stay tuned,” suggesting that more news for Vita TV’s release schedule is on the way. Then again, Sony simply testing the system’s viability in Japan—a test which it has surely passed, having already sold through its Amazon Japan stock—is still plausible. Regardless, North American and European gamers were clearly dissatisfied with the micro-console staying in Japan, meaning gamers in other regions want to buy a Vita TV. The question is, how many? Does PS Vita TV have a viable target market outside Japan?
The system certainly has some powerful selling points. Clocking in at $99.99 (or, more accurately, $149.99, since a $50 DualShock 3 controller is required), Vita TV is affordable and therefore accessible to many. It also brings popular Vita games away from the Vita’s heretofore-exclusive archive and puts them on big-screen televisions everywhere, along with a host of streaming functions. However, as my CCC colleague Jenni Lada points out in a recent piece, the card-sized console isn’t without its flaws. Most pertinently is that it renders the Vita, a system which Sony has been struggling to right after years of waffling, utterly superfluous.
If it can play the same games and stream the same content on a bigger screen and has a sexier price tag, it’s better than its competitor, right? This train of thought will steer potential buyers away from the PS Vita—which, ironically, has just undergone its first redesign—and onto the discounted Vita TV. Of course, the Vita TV can’t play all Vita games; removal of the handheld’s unique touchscreen cuts games like Tearaway and the Gamescom 2013-announced Murasaki Baby out entirely. You could argue that unsupported games like the two above, which can still only be played on the Vita, add value to the handheld. And you’d be right. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make the Vita relevant. If anything, the absence of touch-dependent games will only piss gamers off, in much the same way of day-one DLC that clearly should’ve been included in the original game. Ripping value from one system and stapling it to another isn’t adding features; it’s just displacing them in a failed effort to have your cake, eat it, and make money in the process.
The eating part of that little analogy comes into play when and if Vita TV hits European and North American shelves (and, presumably, the other regions that Sony has confirmed to be aiming for with the PlayStation 4). The question then becomes, “Who is Vita TV for?” Is Sony targeting PS3 and PS4 owners who may be looking to expand their viewing and gaming options, or is the Vita TV its answer to the casual market? Maybe they expect Vita owners to pick the thing up? The high concentration of Vita owners in Japan—a country currently buying up Vita TVs like hotcakes—will attest to that; although, we are currently without any financial records to indicate such a correlation.
Let’s narrow it down a bit. From the basic design and concept all the way up to its video reveal, Sony is gunning for one core feature with VTV: interconnectivity. It can play physical Vita games, sure, but that’s taken a backseat to streaming gameplay and movies. Moreover, gamers who are without a companion (or rather, parent) PlayStation device like a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 (which will likely be in consumer hands long before VTV hits internationally) won’t get as much out of the system. Granted, while this may lessen the appeal of the console, it also serves as an invitation to PlayStation products—an easy entry point to ingratiate consumers with PlayStation Network and its many supported consoles.
Think about it: You, a hypothetically PlayStation-less gamer, know that Vita TV is only going to run you $150 (no, not $100; you have to buy that controller). From there, you’re but a stark $200 away from owning a PlayStation 3 and gaining access to its many games, and you already have a second controller for it, and you can stream your favorite games around the house if need be. You could even find a cheap system without a controller at that point. Of course, consumers rarely throw $200 out on impulse, so it’s doubtful Sony expects Vita TV to snowball so rapidly (which is probably why Sony delayed the PS4 until February 22, 2014 in Japan, despite claims of wishing to ensure game availability at launch). However, the appeal is there, and gaining access to PSN and its Instant Game Collection will get people on board with the PlayStation population. From there, it’s that much easier to justify buying that new console.
So, gamers without a PlayStation console stand to benefit greatly from Vita TV, as do PS3 owners who’ve had their eye on some Vita exclusives. But what about Vita owners? Why should they give a crap about Vita TV? That’s arguably the system’s biggest flaw; at present, there’s virtually no reason for Vita owners to buy a Vita TV as well. They can already stream gameplay through the PS3/PS4-to-Vita crossplay feature, and if a bigger screen is reason enough to upgrade, then they really shouldn’t have bought a handheld system in the first place.
Conversely, there’s little reason for gamers to pick a $200 Vita over the $150 Vita TV aside from the small list of games that will remain Vita-only. Ultimately, this serves to undermine the Vita’s marketability and shoehorn it into niche status indefinitely, at least in the States. However, the benefits of Vita TV could outweigh that downturn, particularly for markets outside Sony’s homeland.
There are three other factors to account for: 1) Japanese gamers have shown greater support for the Vita but are still supporting the Vita TV en masse. 2) Sony will profit no matter what system gamers buy, be it a Vita or Vita TV, and 3) the growth generated by Vita TV will make it easier to secure developer support for the Vita as a platform, not just as a handheld. The first suggests that, rather than aim for dual-platform success in every country, Sony can push set-top consoles hardest in the EU and North America and let Japan do their handheld work for them—a position easily defended given the company’s recent actions. The second draws a parallel to Nintendo’s 2DS system: As I’ve said in a previous article, it may be needless, but it isn’t worthless because every unit sold is revenue for Sony and one more gamer under the PlayStation banner. The same applies to Vita TV. And the final factor, improved developer support, will only be a boon for both Vitas.
That’s the key thing to take away from all this. Sony isn’t adding Vita TV to the Vita; it’s splitting the vote and banking on its bigger consoles to win the day. While it will lessen the company’s handheld impact, Sony stands to come away with a number of victories with Vita TV, not the least of which are an expanded player base and improved software support. Vita TV is a new platform, and at $150, a damn attractive one that can add a heretofore untapped market to the mix.