Three Ways to Save the Vita, and Why Sony Won't Do Them

The Vita isn’t doing great. I wouldn’t call it a failure, but it’s not exactly flying off the shelves. Sony could fix that, but in typical Sony fashion, they’re going about it the wrong way. Here are three things they could do to turn things around, but definitely won’t.

1. Drop Prices

The Vita hardware and software need to be cheaper. I think a $50 slash in the price of hardware would work. Sell it at $199, where it can compete with Google’s Nexus 7 (because let’s be honest, Sony wants this to be more than just a gaming machine), and bundle in one of those expensive proprietary memory cards. Right now, buying a Vita, a memory card and a game will cost about $350. There’s a long list of gadgets that you could get with that same amount of money or less, most of which can play games that look as good as what the Vita offers.

Software needs to come down from $50 to $20. It doesn’t matter if the games offer console quality experiences. People are not conditioned to pay that much for a mobile game. That’s console game pricing. If I’m going to spend that much on a game, it’s going to be one I can play on my big TV.

Now they don’t have to slash prices to iOS app store lows, just bring them down to something more reasonable. Make the Vita a PSN game machine. Stuff it full of $10 to $20 downloadable games. If we’ve learned anything this generation of consoles, it’s that downloadable games can be some of the best, most memorable experiences, even if they’re short or not as graphically impressive. We’ve also learned that for many people, good enough is good enough when it comes to mobile games. I’d honestly buy this, before buying this (I know that's a link to the 3DS game. Seems it didn't even come out on Vita). It’s cheaper, satisfies my Spidey addiction, and works on my current devices.

Sony won’t do it because:

They can’t afford to take the hit on the hardware, not right now. Sony is not as strong as they used to be, and eating that cost is too risky. They’re being conservative with their cash and it shows. Cross Buy games? More apps? Those are relatively easy things to do that could result in more users, which would then result in more third party support (something they desperately need). The Cross Buy thing is cool, but it’s not a system seller. It’s a nice perk to those already invested in the Sony ecosystem. I can play many of the same Steam games on my laptop and my more-powerful desktop. It’s a nice perk, but it doesn’t make me play games on my laptop more.

Slashing prices on hardware and software makes sense, but only if they have the funds to support it. They don’t. Sony’s doing what they can to add value while keeping profit margins high.

 

2. Integrate Google Play

This would be a game changer. Sony’s already got a line of Android phones. Instead of trying to push their half-assed PS certification app to their non-gaming devices, why not try to bring Google’s superior play store in? The Vita already has all the features needed for smartphone games to work. I’d even settle for a curated Google Play experience, like Amazon’s app store. If the Vita could play the games I have on my smart phone and offer physical controls, it would jump to the top of my must-have gadget list (FYI - the Nexus 7 works with an Xbox 360 controller). This would also help with game pricing. Mix in some “big budget” $20 Vita games with all those cheap $.99 phone games and you’ve got a compelling and diverse ecosystem.

Sony won’t do it because:

So many reasons. Admitting that their current store and pricing strategy is no good will never happen—those old Japanese companies have a lot of pride in their legacy experiences, even if they’re crap now. Technically, it might not be possible, and developing a way to make it happen could cost a lot of money. Also Sony is crazy about preventing piracy. The Android market has all kinds of emulators and piracy-friendly apps and modder-friendly tools.

 

3. Focus on the new

Has anyone played Cool Boarders recently? It didn’t age well, and it looks like crap. That’s the case with most PSone games. I appreciate Sony’s willingness to go back to the well, but the water’s not as pure as Nintendo’s. Many PSone and early PS2 games can’t stand the test of time. So many advances have been made in 3D game design, that it’s difficult to play those old games as anything other than a curiosity-fueled experiment or a nostalgia trip.

Give us Crash Bandicoot and the God of War games, give us PSP classics like Patapon and Wipeout, but leave Jet Moto where it is. Trotting those jagged old games out and pricing them at $5 to $10 isn’t a huge selling point. They’re old and gross. Give the people new games at that price point, that will move systems.

Sony won’t do it because:

It’s easy money and a nice bullet point for a press conference. The original Playstation came out in America in 1995.  That’s SEVENTEEN years ago. That coveted 18 to 24 demographic every game company seems to aim for? They were kids, toddlers even, during the PSone days. I like to revisit the classics from time to time, but never to the point that I wish I could have them with me at all times. I want new games. Why would I buy a Vita, with all its high-tech hardware, to play 17-year-old games?

Nintendo’s got a much larger, richer library, and they don’t parade around the press circuit every time a classic NES, SNES or GBA library is available for download on a new system. Go to the 3DS eshop. There are a ton of classic games from a bunch of different systems just sitting there, ready for download. Nintendo knows some type of backwards compatibility is expected these days. It’s barely even worth mentioning anymore. Unless you’re Sony. Then the world should know about how you can finally play gems like Battle Arena Toshinden on the go.

 

What’s the takeaway? Sony should bring new, affordable games to a cheaper system with a better ecosystem. What they will do instead is continue to bring $50 games to their too-expensive system while trumpeting their back catalog of old titles. Good work Sony.