FEB. 19, 2013 • In its first broad move since announcing that PlayStation Vita first-year targets had been reduced down to 7 million units sold by March 31, Sony Computer Entertainment said street Vita prices in Japan would be reduced significantly on Feb 28. On that date, both the ¥29,980 ($320) 3G and the ¥24,980 ($266) WiFi models would now retail at ¥19,980 ($213). No price changes were announced for either Europe or North America. Vita sales are far behind the Nintendo 3DS in Japan. For the week ending Feb. 3, research firm Media Create reported Vita sales at 8,762 compared to 125,695 (all SKUs) for the 3DS. The PSP, which the Vita replaced, sold more units at 11,056 during the week. To help sell the Vita, Sony will now give owners a free week of the PlayStation Plus on the PlayStation Network, as well as releasing a new ice silver model in the coming months.
Impact: Japan is often a very different market for console systems, yet we can draw some context from recent handheld introductions in North America. Because the PS Vita launched in the U.S. in Feb. 2012, we can make meaningful comparisons to the U.S. releases of both the 3DS (March 2011) and the PSP (March 2004) without needing to make a seasonality adjustment. According to DFC’s tracking of Sony’s and Nintendo’s hardware sales over the years, at the end of 2004 the PSP had sold roughly 3.6 million units in the U.S. By the end of 2011, the 3DS had cumulative U.S. sales if just over 4 million units. Through Dec. 2012 the Vita has sold nowhere near the same numbers coming in at around 1.25 million units.
Given these results, the traditional highly suggested move is to drop the price. Looking back at the 3DS price drop in August 2011, many initially interpreted the move as an act of desperation as the reduction was an unprecedented move for Nintendo so early in the lifecycle of major hardware product. The result was that worldwide sales surged, and currently 3DS has sold more than the DS after the same number of months on the market, though that is less of an apples-to-apples comparison as the U.S. release of the DS was Nov. 2004. Still, the price adjustment had an impact, and no doubt a price drop for the Vita in Japan will spur many fence sitters to commit to the platform. Still, Sony’s experience with the PSP shows that a huge software hit like the Monster Hunter franchise plays a more significant role in moving hardware. So DFC believes a hardware price drop alone won’t be nearly enough to transform the Vita into a long-term viable platform given the tremendous competition from not just the 3DS, but mobile and tablet gaming. But Sony has yet to find that huge hit for the Vita.
In Japan, not one PS Vita game broke into the annual Top 30 list during 2012, according to research firm Media Create. In harsher terms, not one Vita game sold as many as 296,000 units there the entire year. The pattern has been for some Vita games to have a smash first week, after which weekly sales drop back down to averages around 10,000 to 15,000 units sold. Atlus’ Persona 4: The Golden was a record holder selling 137,000 units its first week until Sega’s Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F broke that record selling 160,000 copies in its first seven days last September. Both titles saw a significant drop-off in week two of release. A similar scenario was experienced with Metal Gear Solid HD Edition.
In the United States, Nintendo actually had fewer first-party releases in its 10-month launch period versus Sony’s 11-month launch period and not all of them scored well with critics. However, Nintendo did have major hits with Zelda, Super Mario and Mario Kart that turned out to be system selling games. Sony’s biggest Vita game has been Uncharted: Golden Abyss that has sold nowhere near what the Zelda and Mario games have sold on 3DS. Further, the big brand third-party holiday games that could have given the Vita a boost, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, scored poorly with critics and had sales that were still dwarfed by more than a couple dozen games on the 3DS, even though they were stronger sellers than most other Vita games to date.
On top of hardware price and quality of retail software lineup, the biggest issue the Vita faces is its digital strategy and the resulting channel conflicts. In Japan, digital downloads of Vita titles have generally been cheaper than their retail counterparts. A year ago when we checked you could find Uncharted: Golden Abyss for ¥5,980 ($78) retail and ¥4,900 ($64) for the digital version. Ridge Racer could be found in-store at ¥3,980 ($52) and downloaded for ¥3,580 ($47), while Katamari Damacy was ¥4,480 as a download ($58) and retailed at ¥4,980 ($65).
Here in the U.S. the digital pricing relationship was often reversed. Digital versions of games are often more expensive from the Vita’s PS Store than they are at other sources. Some titles in the table below, such as Assassin’s Creed Liberation, are cheaper on the PS Store vs. buying the physical copy at retailers like Gamestop. Other titles, such as LEGO Lord of the Rings, are more expensive on the PS Store but not available as a download code through major retail partners like Gamestop while other games with higher PS Store pricing are available digitally elsewhere, such as Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The most jumbled pricing has to go to Rayman Origins as it is cheaper on PS Store than the physical copy at Gamestop, yet both are cheaper than the digital download version at Gamestop.com.
Some software seems fairly priced across channels, such as Silent Hill Book of Memories at $29.99 for new at retail or digitally on the PS Store or at Gamestop.com with the used physical copy at $24.99. Still, this doesn’t necessarily give incentive to consumers to purchase a title digitally due to the hidden cost of purchasing extra storage since the Vita hardware does not come with memory cards for storing games unless Sony’s expensive proprietary cards are included with a hardware bundle. Given most retail sized games range from one to four gigabytes, the cost of digital games can get much more expensive when considering Sony’s pricing of its proprietary memory cards.
The Sony announcement about PS Vita pricing in Japan made no mention of other territories, future software lineup, software pricing inconsistencies or memory cards pricing, but DFC believes all these areas must be addressed in order to attract consumers and build retail partner and third-party publisher confidence.