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Divnich Divines: Do Japanese Vita sales spell trouble?

4:00 PM on 01.14.2012 // Maurice Tan

[In Divnich Divines, EEDAR Vice President and videogame analyst Jesse Divnich traverses the bogs of sales data, hype, and good old fashioned game geekery to give you his two cents on hot topics in the games industry]

The PlayStation Vita will launch in key Western markets in a little over a month and so far the high-tech handheld has had a rough start in Japan. Sony announced at CES that it had sold 500,000 units since its December 17 launch, but over 324,000 of those were sold in the first week.

However, Japan has always had a notoriously different market than the West when it comes to game hardware and software. Is there any reason to believe that the present slow sales of the Vita in the East hint at a future sales disaster in the West?

EEDAR's Jesse Divnich doesn't think so.

"The lifeline of any new hardware comes down to the software," Divnich points out.

"If Sony can launch with strong first and third-party content, I don't see any cause for concern with the Vita. Their keystone title Uncharted: Golden Abyss is already getting rave reviews; a title that is more targeted towards the Western markets than Eastern ones.
"The Western and Eastern markets operate very differently, and success in one doesn't always translate to success in the other -- the same is true of failure. It would be erroneous for consumers to take any positive or negative sentiment coming out of Japan for the Vita and apply it to the Western markets."

Since sales in the Eastern markets are not a good indicator for the potential of the new handheld's success in the West, we can stop worrying about those Japanese sales numbers. But what about the potential of the hardware itself? And will the Vita need a price drop relatively shortly after its launch, similar to the 3DS, in order to stay afloat?

"I certainly wouldn't write off the Vita so quickly," Divnich says. "From the titles I've played at various PR events, I am quite impressed with the technologies and capabilities of the Vita hardware. The hardware really does give third-party developers a blank canvas to create some truly amazing and innovative products for the Vita platform.
"I don't necessarily believe that pricing is a concern at the moment. Again, it really comes down to the quality of the software and while what happened with the 3DS early on was concerning, I think we can all agree that the slow start of the 3DS was primarily the result of the software line-up, and not the price point of the hardware. Even when the 3DS dropped to $169, it still didn't move and it wasn't until a few strong first-party titles came out that the 3DS hardware began to take-off."

Divnich's comments touch on four important aspects: the strength of the software line-up, third-party developers, pricing, and developers embracing the hardware.

As Dale has stated as well, the software line-up for the 3DS was initially lacking and after there were a lot more quality titles to choose from, it started selling better. The PlayStation Vita's launch line-up is looking pretty strong, and several big IPs -- both from first and third-party studios -- are already in the pipeline for a Vita release in the months and years ahead. Besides, you know there will be a Vita iteration of any Sony IP that did well on the PSP.  (God of War, anyone?)

As Divnich points out, the pricing is not the biggest issue for a handheld as long as the quality of the software supports it. Perhaps none of the launch titles stir your nether regions right now, but unless you hate handhelds, there's a good chance you'll slowly start to rationalize the price of entry as more games from your favorite genres are released. It's the same process we all go through whenever there is a new console or handheld. The question is how long that process will take for the Western market as a whole.

So the price is not as important as the software that supports it and the potential for a strong software line-up from both first-party and third-party studios is looking good. What about the hardware? The Vita's marriage of touch controls with traditional controls certainly allows for innovative new ways of play. Whether we'll see a large amount of games that will actually offer truly new kinds of gameplay that will blow us away, as opposed to just implementing some unnecessary touch elements to what could otherwise simply be a shinier PSP game, that's something time will have to tell.

Another aspect we shouldn't overlook is the PSN store. This gives the Vita access to a more matured digital distribution platform besides retail, and adds to the total amount of available software to support the handheld on the whole, but it also has the potential to make it easier for popular mobile games to make the jump to the PSN store down the line.

Although some mobile games are fine as they are with touch controls alone, some others could definitely benefit from some analog sticks and buttons. An entire generation of kids might be growing up with mobile and iPad games right now, but that doesn't mean people won't want to play an even better version on a handheld for a few bucks more. I don't think any of us are really craving an Angry Birds Vita, but a Vita version of Chaos Rings for a few bucks more? Sure! As long as proper developer support and forward thinking on Sony's side allows for it, the tired argument of "mobile vs. handheld" may even cease to exist in the near future.

For now, the outlook for the PlayStation Vita is still pretty positive. Let's not focus too much on those continuous weekly Japanese sales numbers from now on, and just see where we are a year from now.

Maurice Tan,
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