When I began to do some research for the purpose of writing this article, I did so with the intention of uncovering some statistics that paint a much less bleak picture of the PlayStation Vita’s struggles at retail than has been portrayed in the media and amongst the gaming community recently. After delving into some of the numbers though, it became increasingly evident that it was going to be pretty tough to sugar-coat the Vita’s troubling launch sales. Does this mean that the Vita is doomed? Hardly. Sony’s second handheld has barely been out for two months in Europe and North America, and just a couple of months longer in the company’s homeland of Japan, simply not long enough to warrant a sentencing either way. But how bad are things for the Vita right now? What will it take to pull it out of this early slump? Can it recover? Let’s start by looking at some actual data (thanks to VGChartz
for the sales information).
Japan Handheld Launch Sales
The above chart shows sales for the first 19 weeks at retail for the four most recent handhelds, the length of time the Vita has been out in Japan. Despite a reasonably strong launch week that saw numbers fall just shy of the 3DS, you can see that from the second week on the Vita has tracked considerably lower than any other handheld. In fact, it has failed to sell 10,000 units or more in five of the last seven weeks, a dubious milestone that none of the other devices fell victim to in their first five months. You can also see that the last three handhelds converge on an eerily similar number in their respective 19th weeks (about 30,000), more than three times as many as where the Vita currently sits.
USA Handheld Launch Sales
The scene in the United States, where the Vita has only been out for a couple of months now, is considerably less grim. After a comparatively slow start, the Vita has stabilized into a fairly steady rhythm of 25,000 – 30,000 units per week over the last month, outperforming the 3DS by a significant margin during the same time period. Still, at about half a million total units sold so far, the Vita has sold nearly 170,000 total units less than the 3DS had at the same point, less than half of the PSP, and barely a third of the DS.
Europe Handheld Launch Sales
In Europe, the pattern is somewhat similar to what we saw in Japan with the Vita getting off to a strong start before tracking below the others for much of the next eight weeks. The numbers aren’t nearly as alarming as we’re seeing in Japan with around 25,000 units sold last week, but it’s early. It might also surprise many of you to see how strong a start the PSP got off to in Europe back in 2005.
So what do all these charts and numbers mean? I think it’s immediately fairly evident that the Vita has gotten off to a slower start than any other major handheld we’ve seen in the last two generations, in some cases quite considerably. It’s interesting to note, however, the patterns of the other three handhelds as well. We now know that the DS went on to sell a staggering 150 million units worldwide, more than double the number of PSPs, but it's unlikely anyone would have guessed that by looking at the respective numbers they achieved in their infancy. Furthermore, the 3DS sold sluggishly early in its lifespan, and only continued to plummet if we were to take these charts a few months further, but has since recovered to have one of the best first years ever seen on a gaming platform. Even the DS had some rather alarming numbers for lengthy periods during its first year. How is this relevant to the Vita’s current conundrum? It shows that the sales race is a marathon, not a sprint, and that there are still many events to occur over the Vita’s lifespan that will ultimately determine its level of success.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss might be the only compelling reason to own a Vita for a while yet.
Not the least of which are big game releases. The Vita had a respectable launch library with titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss
, Lumines: Electronic Symphony
, and Rayman Origins
, however few (if any) of them are widely considered to be must-haves worth dropping $300+ for. To make matters worse, the stream of quality software since then has all but dried up with no particularly notable titles having been released since. A major game release can and will have a major impact on the sales trend of a new console. Games like Nintendogs
(DS), Monster Hunter Freedom
(PSP), and Super Mario 3D Land
(3DS) had huge and lasting impacts on sales for their respective platforms, while Mario Kart DS
, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
(PSP), and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
(3DS) performed similar wonders in western regions. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be many exceptionally compelling titles on the horizon for the Vita at this point, and with the notoriously slow summer months quickly approaching, hopefully Sony has some exciting software to reveal at E3. A couple of big exclusives can go a long way to bringing the Vita back to respectability, especially in Japan where brand recognition with franchises such as Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy become immediate system-sellers.
Resistance: Burning Skies looks great, but an unlikely candidate for system-seller.
Another luxury the Vita has yet to be afforded is the holiday season. Perhaps it was Sony’s strategy to launch their new handheld early in the year in order to build up some momentum for the holiday rush, which always yields massive hardware sales. In the Holiday 2005 season, the PSP sold more than half a million units worldwide per week leading up to Christmas while the DS eclipsed a million units a week more than once. The spikes in the graphs above for the DS in Japan and the US were due to Christmas coming shortly after launch as well. This last winter, the 3DS sold over 800,000 units a week for five consecutive weeks during the holidays, peaking at over 1.5 million during the week just before Christmas. If the Vita can build a more respectable software library by the end of 2012, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t benefit from some impressive holiday sales of its own.
And then there’s the price drop. The price points seemed attractive enough when Sony announced them at last year’s E3, prompting attendees to applaud enthusiastically in response to the surprisingly aggressive price that matched the rival 3DS and its seemingly inferior technology. Less than a year later though, and it seems like a price drop may be necessary in order for the Vita to remain competitive, given that the 3DS is now considerably cheaper and boasts a far more impressive library of games and a sizable user base. Before the price adjustment, 3DS sales consistently failed to sell 100,000 units a week and even dropped to as low as 41,000 one week, but jumped to over 300,000 for a few weeks after the change and never sold fewer than 180,000 units in a week since, culminating in the impressive 17 million-unit user base that currently exists, larger than any other handheld has held in the same time frame. It may be a bitter pill to swallow both financially and in an ego-bruising kind of way, but a price drop would undoubtedly be an effective remedy to rev up Vita sales through the summer until it reaches that vital first holiday season.
That pretty much sums it up. (credit to Road at NeoGAF)
I’m sure Sony is planning on at least a good six-year lifespan for its impressive new handheld, so what I’m trying to stress here is that it’s impossible to determine from the first couple of months just how it will perform over such a length of time. In addition to blockbuster releases, holiday seasons, and price drops, there are also hardware revisions, bundles, marketing campaigns, changing market conditions, and who knows what else that will all factor into determining whether the Vita will eventually be considered a failure or a success. Does this mean that Sony can sit back, relax and wait for good things to happen? Obviously not, as there is much work to be done and several important strategies to be worked out. But as with the doom and gloom that surrounded the 3DS last summer, there are far too many events yet to influence the Vita’s position in the marketplace for anyone to get too worried about its slow start. Look at the graphs posted at the top of this article, rewind to each respective time period, and ask yourself if you could have seen the outcome years later based on the first few months. Then try to make an accurate prediction as to where the Vita will be a year or two or five from now. Good luck.