Despite positive first impressions and a strong sales debut, Sony’s latest handheld sold terribly last week. According to Japanese console sales figures published by market research company Media Create, 72,479 PlayStation Vita units were sold in the week ending on December 25th. Though that may seem like a respectable figure, remember that the PlayStation Vita hit Japanese store shelves on December 17th, selling over 320,000 units in just over two days.
That means the PlayStation Vita has suffered nearly a 78 percent drop in sales over the first two weeks; even the Nintendo 3DS sold better in Japan during it’s first two weeks, despite suffering a similar drop in sales (from roughly 370,000 the first week to 210,000 the next). Of course the steep drop in demand for the 3DS notoriously spurred Nintendo to slash the price from $250 to $170 back in July, and sales of the 3D gaming handheld have been strong ever since. In fact Media Create reports that over 480,000 Nintendo 3DS units were sold in Japan last week, and you have to wonder if Sony will take similar measures to convince consumers that a portable gaming system is worth $250.
And as long as you’re pondering, ponder this: is any dedicated portable gaming system worth paying for when smartphones have become ubiquitous? If a compact, portable gaming system like the PlayStation Vita can’t succeed commercially in a country where long commutes and crowded homes are common, it leaves little hope that the Vita will be able to compete with smartphones when it launches in North America next year. Given the long lines and network issues that accompanied the Japanese launch of the iPhone 4S, perhaps it’s no surprise that the PlayStation Vita is failing to meet Sony’s sales predictions in that region; it’s hard to justify spending $250 for a gaming device that’s bulkier than your iPhone and offers inferior battery life to boot.
Last week Sony executive Andrew House claimed the PlayStation Vita was designed for hardcore gamers and thus had an advantage over both smartphones and the Nintendo 3DS because of a strong suite of games and social networking features that would “give people a sense of value for their money”, but the steep drop in sales suggests that most gamers are satisfied with the devices they already own. There’s still plenty of time for Sony to turn things around by slashing prices or announcing new games, but it’s still hard to stomach the notion of paying up to $50 for a PlayStation Vita game when iPhone owners can download a puzzle game like Cut The Rope for $1.