Why did the PlayStation Vita fail?

In an interview last week, Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida talked about the possibility of a PlayStation Vita successor and said “the climate is not healthy for now because of the huge dominance of mobile gaming”. It’s a fairly obvious conclusion to make when you look at the Vita today and how it performed on the market. A number of media outlets have written articles on why this is the case but a number of them seem to dismiss the most important part of Yoshida’s quote in regards to “the huge dominance of mobile gaming” and have instead focused on reasons that don’t actually talk about the reality of today.

There are three main reasons why the PlayStation Vita failed to take off, the main one being the dominance of mobile and shift away from traditional handheld gaming, the focus on creating a high cost and high spec portable over a low cost device, and the third reason is how Sony marketed the device and supported the device. All three of these reasons contribute to the failure of the device and the first reason is the definitive cause of why the entire handheld market today has contracted and both devices from Sony and Nintendo have seen disappointing sales across the board.

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The PlayStation Vita was built as a high end portable gaming device aimed at the 18 to 35 year old audience. The plan was to make it the most powerful handheld device and Sony tried to price this as low as possible by subsidising the device cost with propitiatory memory cards. However, the issue here wasn’t cost as such, the market was already seeing a shift away from traditional handheld gaming to devices such as smartphones and tablets which were already offering “good enough” portable gaming experiences on devices they already owned and could play on for free or without spending much money at all.

We’ve seen mobile grow at a very fast rate and there is now a whole range of popular games available for smartphones and tablets including huge hitters like Minecraft, Angry Birds and even Activision’s Disney Infinity series. When the younger market can access these games on mobile and at little to no cost then it’s clear why mobile has pretty much replaced dedicated handhelds among the younger market and this is backed up by NPD who state that kids now spend more time on mobile gaming than any other platform. That’s because kids are now getting their own mobile phones or hand me downs from a very young age, not to mention that parents let kids use their own phones for gaming. This wasn’t the case over a decade ago when kids only had the option of a portable gaming device.

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The fact that Sony weren’t even aiming this premium device at the younger generation goes some way to show why they lost that entire market to mobile, and it’s not just youngsters who are playing on mobile as well. Casual gamers in the 18-35 age range who may have picked up a PSP to play casual games like FIFA can now get a similar experience on mobile too. Mobiles have been able to directly replace the usage cases that handhelds used to provide to kids and casual gamers. It is important to remember that the DS and PSP had a huge portion of this demographic last gen. Consoles also had a large portion of this demographic and continue to do so today because they are able to provide much better experiences than handhelds can with Call of Duty for example. Sony tried to bring console franchises to handheld but this didn’t really capture the casual audience who were happy to stick with console to play the superior version, again another reason that handheld adoption has dropped.

There are now more gamers than ever and the number is only growing thanks to the convenience of mobile gaming. Sony failed to capture this growing market by releasing a device that was not convenient, was expensive and had a huge number of issues in itself. These issues went someway towards alienating the hardcore gaming audience as well who were happy to remain on console, PC or even mobile. One of the main reasons cited for the failure of the Vita is the lack of software from Sony themselves as well as large AAA companies. When the Vita launched it’s clear that Sony did try to push some larger games to the device such as Uncharted, Killzone and Call of Duty but it became very clear very quickly that these games would not bring in a casual audience or even the wider console audience due to the reasons mentioned in the last paragraph, instead it only appealed to a very dedicated niche of gamers.

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We’ve established that the Vita really wasn’t selling in to the younger audience or casual gamers and that even the core audience were having a hard time in understanding the appeal of the device. There are a few reasons for this, the first big one is the cost of the device and memory card costs. Memory card costs did not have any effect on the younger audience or casual audience as they were never really the target market with this device, or at least they were never going to buy one, but the higher cost of entry for the PS Vita was one major contributor to why the PS Vita failed to sell to a number of core gamers. It’s why a number of core gamers chose to stick with their console for gaming and even started to look at mobile more seriously due to the vast number of ports and console franchises being bought over to Android/iOS.

When it became clear that big AAA titles were not selling on Vita, due to the lack of core and casual gamer adoption, it meant that a number of companies including Sony had to think about whether developing for Vita would be viable. They had to make decisions on whether it was worth developing large AAA games, which had ever-increasing development costs, and whether the titles were likely to see a return over the product life-cycle. With the current small install base, publishers very quickly realised that investing in Vita games would not be worthwhile and so moved resources over to console, PC and Mobile development.

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It’s not so much that Sony and others didn’t invest in big games for the Vita, they certainly tried, but it became increasingly clear that the install base wasn’t increasing or set to increase in a way that made AAA game development on Vita viable. It’s why you now see a majority of indie games on Vita as well as ports of Japanese games. Japan has always been a traditional stronghold for portable gaming and whilst mobile has taken over there as well, the niche who bought the Vita are still large enough to support smaller Japanese titles and ports whilst in the West there is also a small niche to support these types of games. But as above, there was never going to be any support from the niche install base for large AAA developers as they would not be able to generate any sort of profit from their titles.

It’s beginning to look very clear that Sony built and marketed the Vita to an audience that really didn’t exist. Mobile phones were appealing to the younger generation, as was Nintendo’s 3DS which again had a huge number of kid friendly franchises such as Pokemon, Mario and more. In fact if you look at the line up of 3DS games coming out this fall in North America you’ll see that it’s pretty much dominated by franchises aimed at kids. Whilst Nintendo were able to capture this demographic earlier on thanks to lowering the price and providing a good stream of software aimed at the demographic who bought the DS, it hasn’t been enough to stop the decline of 3DS sales and despite a “New” revision of the console being released this year it looks like sales will be down this year at around 7 million compared to the 30 million or so sales the DS was seeing per year at the same point in its lifetime.

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Even the 3DS is now meeting its match as more and more gamers move over to more convenient experiences that can be found on Mobile. Even Nintendo themselves have plans to release titles on Mobile because that is where their audience is migrating to. When games like Candy Crush and Angry birds are appealing to kids and casuals more than Mario and Pokemon then it’s clear to see why Uncharted or Killzone on the Vita failed to take off.

Overall the Vita is a failure because of all the reasons above. It was designed for an audience that had already moved to mobile and was unwilling to pay premium prices for premium hardware and software because mobile could cater to their every need. Couple that with the barriers to entry for hardcore gamers such as memory cards, lack of appealing software and lack of advertising and it’s no wonder the Vita failed and Sony switched their message to market Vita as a companion device to PS4 rather than a standalone device.

The Vita has found a niche audience who will continue to support it but as Yoshida mentioned it’s unlikely we’ll see a successor to this device which is a shame because it really was the best handheld out there for the core gamer.

  • Andy_Dufresnes_Awesome_Posters

    Simple…because the PSP was better.

  • Truth

    Psp vita failed solely because they did everything they could to stop CFW and people from sharing games. The 3ds was and is successful because it has CFW and people are sharing games.

    Take it from someone who has 2 psp 2001 and will buy another one used , its a reason the psp 2001 is being sold for $300 on amazon and other sites right now (NEW). Im glad the vita was a flop because its stupid to stop people from sharing .

    I dont give a F^$% what anyone has to say otherwise and about money for the company its all bullshit, make your product sell it get your money simple. Dont tell me what to do with something after ive bought it.

    With that said im gonna buy a 3DS along with a R4 card or maybe a wiiU, Fuck sony truly they are playing to many scams on people, so much so they had to update the ps4 to let people play there older games on it i read somewhere its sick and greedy the shit sony does and are doing they should just stick to TV, radio, dvd players and alarm clocks, there not a real gaming company only nintendo is .

  • Quang Truong

    I agree with some of the comments. No one carries around game cartridges these days unless you have a pouch. I would lose them too easily compare to the larger disc of the psp. If the Vita had adopted the standard and cheap SD Card. I would certain get the 128GB and buy a bunch of digital games. My PS Vita is certainly on display in my room just gathering dust.

  • mohammed farid Alsakaf

    I believe there also a reason why the vita failed, its is because in the vita you cant pirate games unlike the psp which is sadly became the main reason to buy the psp.thats why psp gamers switch to mobile becasue it free most of the time.

  • Frank Atkins

    We would have bought the games if they were good like uncharted. I hate Mobil app games. I wanted what they promised. Triple a games.

    They made the memory cards to expensive. They brought out shit games. They brought out to many Japanese games that no one cares about.

    It’s sad. I hold onto it because I fear that I will get rid of it and they suddenly do something with it. I bought day 1 and have regretted it ever since. It could have been so good. They worried so much about stupid app games. Those sell because they are cheap. Make your games cheaper and they would sell. Paying $50 for a digital game is ridiculous.

    Oh well

  • R4wrn3ss

    still costs $120 canadian(BEFORE TAX) for a 64gB mem card and this shit is 3-4 years old.

  • Kendall

    The biggest issue with the vita is Sonys memory card pricing. Even with their poor limited support, if memory was even only a 50% mark up (instead of a 400+% markup) many more people that were even semi interested in a portable would have tried the system. Or if they were going to sell tiers of the system they could have sold one that had 32GB plus of internal memory. If they had done this right, there could have been enough adoption where the new version of the slim didn’t need a cartridge slot and instead had significant internal memory (they always receive a cut of digital sales, but nothing used physical sales).

    Sony should have planned on making profits through software sales and other services. Not overcharge on memory that any consumer can compare to standard sd memory prices to see its a rip off. Hardware profiteering is not accepted. At the very least they should have bundled digital software titles with vita memory purchases so the customer pretend it wasn’t simple extortion.

    The mobile market may pose some competitive threat, but the types of games that work with a phone on the go and the kinds that work with a portable system with dedicated controls and hardware are vastly different. (I have several phones and tablets, and too many games on them, but I use my vita way more.)

    Sony can only profit from titles it owns that are sold on mobile devices, but if they think piracy was bad on the PSP, it is nothing compared to mobile devices. Now my guess is they may be hoping to bring PSNow to mobile phones, where games are streamed to your phone. But the biggest issue is retaining good controls (phones and tablets dont have buttons or dual analog sticks, and if one uses a controller that doesnt hold the phone, it makes it near impossible to try to game on the go unless sitting by a flat surface to set the display device on), as well as a solid network connection (both up and down).

    I think Sony has just lost faith. I mean if Microsoft can recover from the over priced disaster that is the ‘New Kinect’ then Sony should with proper management be able to save the Vita in the US Market. But they have to have a pulse on their audience, and have to be willing to admit mistakes. Sadly I dont think they will.

  • timothytripp

    I was going to buy a Vita until I saw the price of the memory cards. No way. If Sony had supported industry standard Micro-SD cards the way EVERYONE else does, I would have bought one. And I would have bought a lot of games for it too, at least in the $5-$20 price range. I’ve never seen a mobile game on any platform worth more than $20, and they could have made a lot of money if they would just accept that the days of the $40 mobile game are done. But Sony being Sony, they got greedy and shot themselves in the foot on this entire platform. They really could have had something with the remote/PS4 idea too. It’s a shame.

    • Kendall

      Yeah I have 2 vitas (both purchased in the last year) and I bought cards under retail price but still for far too much. Sony needs to drop the price of cards, or even compromise and include a store card for at least half of what they sell for (so a card costing 100 would include a store credit of $50).

      It is generally accepted that consoles make their return through software sales, but they shoot their self in the foot with the memory card prices. you would think the goal would be to get many to purchase both system and memory to entice customers to spend money on games to fill up that memory. But instead of shifting strategy, it appears sony has just decided to quietly declare “F!#$ IT” and give up on the system.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    I liked the PSP better. I still use mine and wish for new games.

  • Nonscpo

    The vita shortcomings were:

    -Proprietary memory card
    -Overpriced Memory card
    -Price entry was too high at launch
    -They wasted money on features that no one asked for (Rear Touch Pad)
    -They promised too much (don’t ever promise AAA games on the go)
    -They didn’t go out of their way to bring apps to their platform
    -They should have future proofed it and put more RAM in it

    However despite it’s niche status, its a wonderful device worth owning, if you like unique gaming experiences.

    • TheChosen

      Huh? More Ram? The Vita allready has 512 Mbyte of it. The problem is not =>its too less Ram. But more like => Its too slow to be useful. The PS Vita has too low processing-amount to use it!

      And btw: The processor of PS Vita runs just with standard ~333 Mhz. It can ONLY run with 444 Mhz (Max clock) when you SHUT-OFF WIFI completely like its done in Uncharted Golden Abyss). Hackers found out a few days ago that its only 333 Mhz in the PS Vita. They told however its 2.5 Mips/Mhz, and thus double fast then old 3DS Arm11 (Without L2-Cache). Normal 3DS onl has 1.25 Mips/Mhz. HOwever New 3DS has now a Cpu-clock of ~804 Mhz! Yes. 800 Mhz! Thats 3x faster than general 3DS.

      And: New 3DS also has a quadcore-cpu now.

      And Instead having a low 1MB L2-Cache like the PS Vita- the New 3DS has now 2 Mbytes of L2-Cache. So yeah- the cpu in New 3DS is VERY GOOD now!

      That was the Vitas REAL Problems:

      => Too slow processor (which is why Borderlands 2 ran like it did, since on smartphones you run those games with 2 Ghz processor-speeds and not 333 Mhz)

      => too MUCH Ram => which leads to => More costs => They should have rather put out a 256 Mbyte Ram- PS Vita which would have enabled the device to use CHEAP SD-Cards instead of expensive as hell PS Vita-Memory Cards which aren`t even there in 128 Gbyte capacity!

      – Another problem => Bad soundquality (for me) => no real soundchip, but just cpu-sound (like its done on cheap PCs)

      – Low amount of games i LIKE (not low amount in general but low amound of games i really WANT and like)

      – The PS Vita simply was in concurreny with Smartphones.

      But you are right with that point: “They wasted money on features that no one asked for (Rear Touch Pad)”.
      Also the decision to make a GPS-Model was stupid. Making more models costs more money and leads to people cannot decide which model to choose.
      They should have done only one model.
      Like i said:
      – Only 256 Mbyte Ram (since New 3DS now also has the same amound and not stupid overloaded 512 Mbyte) instead should have went for faster memory not just slow old Mobile DDR.
      And instead a 333 Mhz-cpu clock they should have doubled it (but i knew from the beginning the PS Vita has not more than about 500 Mhz cpu-clock xD)- and they would now have about the same as New 3DS still and therefore would get a lot of games which New 3DS gets.
      But yeah. Thats it. You cannot change it anymore now. You also have to think about it:
      New 3DS uses a 28nm/22nm Arm11 with custom 2Mbyte L2-Cache and 800 Mhz clock.
      While PS Vita uses a much more expensive cpu-type, the Arm A9- with just 1 Mbyte of L2-Cache and only 333 Mhz clock. So yeah…this clearly was a BAD decision by Sony!
      The Arm11 is much cheaper. And if you put enough L2-Cache to it its nearly the same performance then the A9. Thats the problem. Do your math:
      4x 800 Mhz (á 1.25 Mips/Mhz, but thats only theory since the Arm11 is only 1.25 Mips/mhz if you do not have L2-Cache). I think when you enable Arm11 with enough L2-Cache you get around 1.5-2 Mips/Mhz.
      vs. 4x 333 Mhz á 2.5 Mips/Mhz
      So its not even close now. The New 3DS is much faster than PS Vita now in cpu-regards. And in many other regards too. However not in graphics of course.
      Since New 3DS doesnt have much multithreading going on and thus you don`t need that much ram. Just that simple, isn´t it?
      But you know they will do more multithreading once they will Patch New 3DS finally to enable more cpu-cores being used? New 3DS is now capable of:
      – H.264 accelleration (used in Youtube/Videos on the web)
      – 4 cpu-cores too. Much faster Arm11-variants.
      – Voice-Chat (you can easily enable that now, they could add it via an Update)
      – Text-Chat or Downloads in backgrounds
      So yeah. Its really nice how Nintendo improved the 3DS to make a pretty impressive 16x faster device in cpu-regards (compared to old 3DS Arm 11@ 268 Mhz).
      And if you now take the numbers of old 3DS:
      2 x 268 Mhz á 1.25 Mips/Mhz. You get around 0,66 Gigaflop. Not much right?
      And compare that to PS Vita => 4 x 333 Mhz á 2.5 Mips/Mhz. About 0.8 Gigaflops per Core. Times 4 = 3.2 Gigaflops (About Wii-niveau).
      So yeah. Pretty nice. But PS Vita is not that much faster than people thought those days back in 2012. Its not even 5x faster. If you take into account that 2 cores are gone because of PS Vitas architecture- one used for OS only and one for sound- you have only 2.5x faster.

      While New 3DS is now double/Triple than PS Vita by standard, when you take into regard, one cpu-core of PS VIta is locked to OS fully (not usable in games) and one of these 3-cores left has to be used for sound-calculations (which 3DS doesn´t have to waste, since 3DS has its OWN sound-calculation-unit, a 133 Mhz one).
      So it stands:
      4x 804 Mhz á 1.5-2 Mips/Mhz (not a full cpu-core is locked for OS, only parts of it) =>normally 4 Gigaflops- however with added L2-Help easily faster than that. So lets say 1 core is still done for OS/3D/Face-Recognition =>More than 3 gigaflops left for gaming if you use all three cores.
      vs: 2x 333 Mhz á 2.5 Mips/Mhz (2 cores not usable => only 2 cores left) => only about 1.6 Gigaflops for games itself. Another 0.8 Gigaflop is spend for downloading in background and another one is spend on enabling sound-calculation. So yeah. Now you have the clear answer why Borderlands 2 ran like it did. 1.5 Gigaflops lol. Compare that to a Smartphones A9 running at 2 Ghz, it has easily 5 gigaflops! And that is just 1 cpu-core xD Take that by 2 and you even have 10 Gigaflops.
      so you get the clue.

      • Jesse F

        I think you’re confusing many things.

        The PS Vita does not have a 333 mHz cpu, it is the exact processor you mentioned about smartphones having: the A9 running at 2 gHz. And to add to that, it had a 128 mb dedicated PowerVR Series5XT SGXMP Quad-core GPU.. The original PSP had a 333 mHz clock that was downgraded for most game to 222 mHz clock.

        You clearly have never played one, as it is a VERY capable machine, and it smokes the New 3ds. Could you run Borderlands 2 on a 3ds at all? Could you run Killzone: Mercenary on a 3ds? Watch a gameplay video and come back and tell me you can.

        • Kendall

          Looks like we have a clean up hitter. (Nice response)

    • Kendall

      Agree about memory, and the rear touch pad. In fact the touch pad truly is awful, trying to use a touch pad on a surface with no texture that you cant see, silly (seriously) It would have been better if they had removed it on the 2000 and added a port for accessories to allow grips to attach that had L2/R2 buttons. Also I never understood why the system included two cameras (specifically the rear, but even one is barely necessary)

      Another thing they could have tried to leverage was games that could utilize the vita as a second player with an alternate function. (Examples: A shooter, with someone coordinating tactics on the vita. Or a game game that is fps action for the main player, and the vita coordinates defenses (like the toy solider’s games, but separating the tasks between two players). This could even be done with a PSTV.